Ballack relishing 'emotional' return to Chelsea

Michael Ballack said Bayer 04 Leverkusen's Group E meeting with Chelsea FC will have special resonance as he prepares to face the club where he enjoyed four successful years.

Michael Ballack at the press conference ahead of his Chelsea return
Michael Ballack at the press conference ahead of his Chelsea return ©Getty Images

A member of the Chelsea FC team which agonisingly lost the 2008 UEFA Champions League final on penalties, Michael Ballack is readying himself for a sentimental return to Stamford Bridge when Bayer 04 Leverkusen face his former employers in their Group E opener.

When the midfielder left Chelsea in June 2010 to rejoin the club with whom he enjoyed much of his early success, he did so with fond memories. A fruitful four-year spell yielded a Premier League winners' medal, three FA Cup final victories and a League Cup success.

Describing his feelings when the draw was made, the ex-FC Bayern München player told UEFA.com: "I was very happy. For me the draw could hardly have been any better. I am looking forward to travelling there again, to playing there. Emotionally this will certainly be a special match for me."

Many of his team-mates will no doubt say something similar given that the Bundesliga outfit are returning to Europe's premier club competition for the first time since 2004/05. That season Ballack scored a penalty at Stamford Bridge in Bayern's 6-5 aggregate loss in the quarter-finals.

"We have a bit of international experience thanks to the Europa League [last season, reaching the round of 16], but of course it's completely different to be playing in the Champions League," said the 34-year-old. "I know from experience that it's a different level. Yet in the opening match in London, where we can go without any pressure, we may spring a surprise."

Chelsea's record of seven matchday one wins from nine attempts illustrates the size of the Rhineland side's task, however. Unsurprisingly, the former Germany captain expects the west London outfit to be among the contenders vying to depose FC Barcelona as European champions.

"You must always rate Chelsea as strong," explained Ballack, who also experienced UEFA Champions League final disappointment with Leverkusen in 2002 against Real Madrid CF. "You just have to look at the names of the players to know what they are made of. Beyond any doubt, they have huge potential."

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