Former German captain Michael Ballack’s playing career may be winding down but his competitive edge remains and here on Wednesday he will be looking to inspire Bayer Leverkusen to victory over one of his former club’s Chelsea.
Leverkusen trail Chelsea by two points in Champions League Group E with two matches remaining and Ballack hopes he and the Bundesliga side will take advantage of his former team-mates low morale after they lost 2-1 at home to Liverpool on Sunday in the Premier League.
A Chelsea win would put them in the knockout rounds for the ninth successive season and they start as favourites having beaten the Germans 2-0 at home in September.
Ballack underlined his current good form by scoring in Leverkusen’s 2-0 win over Kaiserslautern in the German league on Friday.
After their defeat at Chelsea, Leverkusen breathed life into their European campaign with a 2-0 home win against Belgium’s Genk, when Ballack scored, before Valencia were beaten 2-1 at Bayer, but they went onto lose 3-1 in Spain.
Leverkusen need at least a point from the match to stay on course for the knockout phase ahead of their final European game in a fortnight at Genk.
Ballack is in his second spell with Leverkusen, having signed for them in July last year after four seasons at Chelsea, and he is desperate to beat his former club.
“It’s a fantastic game to have at home and I think everyone has been waiting, with growing anticipation, to have this one at our own stadium,” said the 35-year-old.
“We have to give a good account of ourselves, we all know the situation in the table, it’s very close.
“We have played well so far, but we have had a few ups and downs, but we have the chance to take some points at home and against Chelsea, that is a special game.”
Chelsea manager Andre Villas-Boas insists owner Roman Abramovich has faith in him despite the Liverpool defeat which was their third defeat in four league games and they face several tough games in quick succession.
“You have to be competitive and serious every week. Our focus is now Leverkusen to try and get the three points to qualify, then Wolves and Manchester City,” said Villas-Boas.
Ballack admits he is wary of a Chelsea team under increasing pressure as they already lag 12 points behind Premier League leaders Manchester City.
“I don’t know how Chelsea will be now, but it’s part of a good team’s character to produce their best when under pressure and they will want to give their best performance,” he said.
“That makes them dangerous, I expect they will be stronger than the first game, they didn’t have their best game, while we played well for the first 60 minutes.
“We have to have self-confidence at home and believe in getting our third victory (in the group).”
Ballack is out of contract in June and despite dropping hints this will be his last season, the former Germany star has left the question of his retirement unanswered.
“He had been producing good performances for weeks now, I have many wishes, but it is not Christmas yet,” said Leverkusen coach Robin Dutt who clearly wants to keep hold of Ballack.