Loftus-Cheek good enough for leading Chelsea role - Ballack

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The Blues star has received backing from a legendary midfielder that he once looked up to while making his way through the Stamford Bridge academy

Ruben Loftus-Cheek was told as a youngster to "watch Michael Ballack" in Chelsea's academy at Cobham Training Ground and the legendary former midfielder believes the 22-year-old is into the final stages of proving "he can play a good role in a big team".

Ballack enjoyed a distinguished playing career in which he won a host of major honours in Germany, before doing the same in England after moving to Stamford Bridge from Bayern Munich in 2006.

Loftus-Cheek was only 10 when Ballack joined his boyhood club, and 14 when he left, but as a powerful player himself, he was told to look at how the former Germany captain imposed himself on games.

Ballack believes Loftus-Cheek can use his physique to offer even more for the Blues’ class of 2018-19, but hopes the England international can maintain a current strike rate of four goals in six games and cement a place in Maurizio Sarri’s plans.

"I say use your strength. His size is a natural gift and he has used it in the past," Ballack told Goal, courtesy of Enterprise."He just scored three goals and that has a big impact. He should work hard and go in that direction. He has been compared to me, but comparisons can sometimes put pressure on.

"It is the same if people compare him with another ex-player, he has to find his own way. As a player, he is able to play a good role in a big team. It is interesting and nice to hear [that he was told to copy my game].

"He has a big advantage because he has the body to impose himself. He has the personality when he steps on the pitch, people recognise him and he can naturally intimidate his opponents. He should use that, not be overconfident but use his body to also intimidate the opposition players.

"He needs to find a way to be a consistent member of the squad and to make that next step now. It is really important at a really good club to be in the first XI and develop himself week-in, week-out on the pitch, not just to come in as a sub. Of course, it will be really difficult but that should be his target now in the near future - be in the first XI.

"Even if you are happy at the club, you need to ask for it. His type of player, midfielders who drive in the box, are really rare. There’s lots of players around who can read the game well and are technically brilliant and defensively orientated but to be able to score in the box sets you apart.

"Chelsea have had fantastic players like that, the best example is [Frank] Lampard. That’s something he should develop and that’s a difference between really good players and world class players in that position."

Ruben Loftus-Cheek Michael Ballack GFX

Loftus-Cheek has seen increased game time over recent weeks after his hat-trick against BATE in the Europa League, as the Blues prepare to face them again on Thursday.

The 219 minutes he has managed in his last three games is considerably more than the 99 he had managed prior to his current run, with Sarri looking to make tactical tweaks to his engine room.

Ballack sympathises with the battle for midfield places, with the likes of Ross Barkley and Mateo Kovacic also in the mix, but insists that is good for Chelsea.

"This is a big squad and there’s a lot of competition in the Premier League," Ballack added. "I am smiling because I know about internal battle for places a little bit. That is normal for a club like Chelsea for the level that they want to play.

"They have multiple options for one position. There’s many good players in that position. That’s a luxury but not a worry for them."

Qualification to the knockout rounds from Group L in the Europa League is almost complete for Chelsea and, in all competitions, they remain unbeaten in their last 16 games.

Michael Ballack

Manchester City are still regarded by many to be strong favourites for the Premier League title, despite being just two points above second-placed Chelsea. Ballack acknowledges that City pose a huge challenge to the chasing pack, but believes teams like his former club need to be looking at denting the confidence of Pep Guardiola’s side by beating them in crunch clashes.

"I don’t know if they can make 100 points every season, it seems difficult," he concluded. "Especially with the tight competition in the Premier League. Of course, this achievement shows the quality that City has. It is something that should challenge Chelsea and with the squad they have, they are able to do it.

"They are unbeaten right now in all competitions and they should develop a mental quality ahead of a game directly against Man City. That game could affect Man City as a team. In football a lot can happen, I wouldn’t say Man City have won the title already.

"The new coach and the way they play, they are able to compete and they should maintain it and try to win it. Hopefully at Chelsea they don’t think that Man City are too good! That would mean you give it up early. They are a strong opponent, of course, but they can be beaten.

"You have to be extremely consistent and strong in the long term to compete. Man City barely drops any points. When you see their matches, they have a plan in the way they play. They also have a great depth of their squad, this is a really challenging situation for everyone.

"For me, Chelsea's squad is good enough to compete in both Europe and the league easily. I know from my experience in the past, if you find a good squad balance, you can compete in both competitions."

Michael Ballack is working with UEFA Europa League partner Enterprise Rent-A-Car on their Legendary Journeys campaign. To discover more and to enjoy special rates across Europe, visit www.enterprise.co.uk/UEL.

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