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Last Updated: Monday, 15 May 2006, 16:09 GMT 17:09 UK
Where will Chelsea play Ballack?
By Simon Austin

By signing Michael Ballack, Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho has acquired one of the finest goalscoring midfielders in world football.

The only problem is he already possesses such a player in Frank Lampard and the England international must have been concerned when he heard of Ballack's impending arrival.

But Mourinho offered emphatic reassurance to Lampard when Ballack was unveiled at Stamford Bridge on Monday.

"My intention is to play both together and try to extract the best they can give to the team," Mourinho said in answer to one of three questions he had pre-prepared for himself at the news conference.

Unfortunately, he did not talk about exactly how the duo can fit into the same team - nor did he allow any questions from the floor.

So it is left to the rest of us to ponder how Chelsea will line up next season.

Mourinho has played 4-3-3 for most of his two seasons at the club, with two wingers supporting lone striker Didier Drogba, and Claude Makelele anchoring Frank Lampard and Michael Essien (Eidur Gudjohnsen in 2004/5) in midfield.

But there were signs he was unhappy with his wingers - Damien Duff, Arjen Robben, Joe Cole and Shaun Wright-Phillips - toward the end of last season and he did not start with any of them in the FA Cup semi-final defeat by Liverpool.

"This kind of player is very individual in their game," he explained.

"If they're good they can win matches for you. If they're not good they lose possession of the ball and the team loses balance and compactness."

Jose Mourinho and Michael Ballack
Mourinho insists Ballack and Lampard will play together
Instead, he started experimenting with the diamond system that had served him so well when he was at Porto.

It did not work in the 2-1 defeat by Liverpool, but things would surely be very different with Ballack introduced into Chelsea's midfield and the predatory Andriy Shevchenko partnering Drogba in attack, if the Ukrainian can be prised away from AC Milan.

Ballack has the talent and versatility to play anywhere in midfield in such a formation.

His agent, Michael Becker, told BBC Sport: "Michael has played in all the midfield positions for Bayern.

"He is one of the world's best attacking midfielders, but is also genuinely two-footed and can play on the right or left. He can also anchor if he needs to."

Ballack said he would be happy to play anywhere he was asked to.

"I am quite flexible - I can play at the back, the front of midfield, and that flexibility is in the side as well," he said.

Jose knows my strengths and the goals I score from midfield
Michael Ballack
But the player, who has scored 14 goals for Bayern this season - and not one of them a penalty - added tellingly: "Jose knows my strengths and the goals I score from midfield positions."

Makelele, who was again outstanding last season, is likely to continue to anchor the midfield, with Lampard at the tip of the diamond.

That could leave Ballack tucked in on the left, with Essien on the right.

Others, including pundit Pat Nevin, have suggested Mourinho could copy the 4-2-2-2 formation often used by the Brazilian national team, with Makele and Essien in front of the back four and Lampard and Ballack behind the strikers.

Some fans have been disappointed with Essien's input following his 26m move from Lyon last season, but Mourinho remains a big fan of the Ghanaian's athleticism and physicality.

The club is likely to be fighting on several fronts for much of next season and Mourinho will need to fully utilise his massive squad.

But this could be the formula he uses to bring the Champions League trophy to Chelsea for the first time.

And it may yet mean one, or more, of those wingers passing out of the revolving door at Stamford Bridge.

SEE ALSO
Chelsea announce Ballack capture
15 May 06 |  Chelsea


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