Hopes of UEFA Champions League glory may have disappeared again at Stamford Bridge, but Michael Ballack insists Chelsea FC remain on track for success this season with the Premier League title top of the wish-list ahead of Saturday's showdown with leaders Manchester United FC.
Chelsea were ousted from Europe's top competition by FC Internazionale Milano – led by the Blues' former manager José Mourinho – at the last-16 stage. It was a huge disappointment for a club who make no secret of their continental ambitions.
"That was very bitter for us and disappointing, but we have to accept it," Ballack told UEFA.com. "We have shown some great performances in recent years, but you also have bad days when you can be eliminated. This is how the competition works and it happened."
Chelsea visit United with just a point separating the pair, and with an FA Cup semi-final also on the horizon, there is no time to dwell on defeat by Inter. "We have to look forward again," Ballack said. "
We are still in the race for the championship and the cup and that's what we focus on now. [The title] is our main goal, but it will still be difficult. Three teams are fighting for it now. It's very tight."
Whatever the outcome at Old Trafford, the Germany captain sees the run-in going to the wire. "It will be very close until the end," said the 33-year-old, whose team hold a three-point lead over an Arsenal FC side also in contention. "I think that as the end is approaching, the more exciting it gets. I hope we will be the lucky ones in the end."
United are striving for an unprecedented fourth successive English title and Ballack admires Sir Alex Ferguson's side for being "hungry, never taking it easy". Motivation is not lacking among the Chelsea ranks either. "
We must be even more focused and hungry, to give this little extra to finally get them," the former FC Bayern München player said.
"It is something very special when you can win a league title, because it is the one that you play all year for. It's not only about us, the players, but the fans and everyone. This is what everyone wants and that is why we want to take it back to Stamford Bridge for the first time since 2006."
Ballack arrived soon after that Premier League triumph and has enjoyed adapting to the "different pace" of the English game. "It is always hard to compare [different countries]. The fans are closer to the pitch. It is more physical and maybe a bit faster. You have to get used to it. But having said all this, I feel really comfortable here."
A Bundesliga champion with 1. FC Kaiserslautern and Bayern, Ballack is looking forward to staying at Chelsea and bringing more success to the club. "I feel good here and I will try to play at the highest level for as long as possible, that's my goal," he concluded. "Chelsea have given me the opportunity to play in a top team with top players, so I will try to be as successful as possible here."
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