Essien and Obi Mikel set for start of season

Chelsea have been given a pre-season fitness boost after assistant coach Ray Wilkins confirmed that midfielders Michael Essien and John Obi Mikel should be ready for the start of the new Barclays League campaign.

While Wilkins was delighted with the rehabilitation work of both players, Carlo Ancelotti's number two insisted the fitness of their World Cup stars would require careful handling to prevent them "hitting the wall" by the end of the year.

Essien and Mikel missed out on the World Cup finals with Ghana and Nigeria respectively because of knee injuries.

But the extra fitness work carried out during the summer break has put them both in contention for a return to action in time for the August 14 kick-off.

"There should be no problem whatsoever," said Wilkins. "Mikel is slightly in advance of Michael Essien but they are both working very well indeed.

"They have been working double sessions for the last week and we will get them really firing before the season starts."

Essien's return is much anticipated by the Blues. The midfielder last played for Chelsea in December as complications following knee surgery ended his season and the chance to play in South Africa.

Wilkins is also ready to manage a fitness plan for those players who did take part in the tournament.

England trio Ashley Cole, Frank Lampard and John Terry will return before the end of the month along with Didier Drogba, Florent Malouda, Nicolas Anelka, Deco, Salomon Kalou, and Branislav Ivanovic.

"Normally after a World Cup, you find with those players who come back from it, it is about December when they seem to hit a wall," added Wilkins.

"It is very important we manage them in the correct manner and we get them to a level where they won't be as fit as we want them to be, but as they creep into the new year their fitness will come back.

"We have to get the players we have got here training now into the right fitness condition so that they are prepared to play, because we might not be able to use the guys coming back from the World Cup for the first couple of games. So these young men have to be primed and ready to perform."

That could mean an early season debut for new signing Yossi Benayoun from Liverpool.

"Yossi is doing well," added Wilkins. "He has said the pre-season training here is so different to what they did at Liverpool where they didn't use a ball. They ran and they ran and they ran.

"But here we use the ball all the time and we feel we get the best out of the guys by using the ball day-in, day-out. I think Yossi is quite enjoying himself."

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