Sturridge must shine, says Ballack

Englishman will have to fill gap left by Drogba and Kalou during African Nations Cup
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The Independent Football

Michael Ballack has said that Daniel Sturridge will have to compensate for the loss of Didier Drogba and Salomon Kalou when the two Chelsea strikers play in the African Nations Cup in January.

Sturridge, 20, has had an innocuous start to his Chelsea career but he was given the whole of the second half in the draw against West Ham on Sunday as Carlo Ancelotti's team struggled to make an impression. It was just his fifth appearance for the club since his free transfer move from Manchester City in the summer, and there have been questions asked about his attitude.

Giving Sturridge an opportunity was Ancelotti's way of showing him that he still has a chance at Chelsea despite the probability of a major signing in January – the club are weighing up moves for Luis Suarez of Ajax and Sergio Aguero, from Atletico Madrid. Ballack said that the club had coped in the past with losing major players to the African tournament.

Ballack said: "We have to hope that nothing happens with Nico [Anelka] because he is our main striker and he was in good shape last week. Hopefully, he can transform us, especially for the period in January, and hopefully there will be no more injuries. Sturridge, of course, is still a young player but now he has a big chance to show his quality – that is why he is playing for Chelsea. He had an injury but now he is back."

One of Jose Mourinho's highest-profile signings when he arrived from Bayern Munich on a free transfer three years ago, Ballack said that the players were looking forward to playing against their former manager's new team, Internazionale, in the Champions League first knockout round.

"For Jose it will be special and also for us. We haven't spoken about it much but when the game comes closer obviously there will be enough going on in the papers, but in the dressing room it's not a big thing as we have to focus on all our games. We know him but he's not on the pitch so obviously it doesn't help us, but it helps him more because he knows the players."

The draw at Upton Park meant that West Ham stayed off the bottom of the Premier League and midfielder Mark Noble paid tribute to manager Gianfranco Zola's words of inspiration before the game against Chelsea.

West Ham play Portsmouth on Saturday in a game that will reveal much about which club has the strength to fight their way out the relegation zone "He [Zola] said some words that you could tell were coming from the heart," Noble said. "It wasn't to make us feel good or play better, it was coming from the heart. It's nice to see that in football now, you don't normally see that. Sometimes it's a little bit fake to get you going, but you could tell he was really saying what he felt. It was nice to see, and I think the boys showed that for him."

Noble said that Zola was so impressive in training that the manager had to apologise to the players on his first day in the job for humiliating them on the training pitch. "I'll never forget his first day," Noble said. "The ball got zipped into him, and he Cruyffed [Cruyff turn] a player and then in one move he chipped Rob Green. That was a Friday afternoon, and you can't be chipping the keeper. He apologised after, and it wasn't a flash apology, he was genuinely sorry."

Matthew Upson has hinted once again that he may have to leave the club in January if West Ham's owners, the Icelandic bank Straumur, have not found a buyer by then. "It's a difficult question because there are so many things out of my control and things that may happen," he said. "All I can focus on is the next game, getting myself right and being in the best form I can to pick up points for West Ham."