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Drogba: Chelsea stars 'need time'

Didier Drogba admits Chelsea have missed the experience of the players who left Stamford Bridge last summer during their recent miserable run.

The Blues sold or released proven internationals Michael Ballack, Ricardo Carvalho, Joe Cole, Deco and Juliano Belletti during the close season, promoting youngsters Josh McEachran, Jeffrey Bruma, Gael Kakuta, Patrick van Aanholt and Daniel Sturridge.

Injury and illness robbed them of Drogba, Frank Lampard, John Terry and Michael Essien for part of the season, and Ray Wilkins was also controversially sacked as assistant manager, arguably sparking their worst run of results in the Barclays Premier League for almost 15 years.

The key players are now all back, while star striker Drogba also has faith Chelsea's youngsters will eventually come good.

He told Sports Illustrated: "We've had a lot of injured players, and the team has changed from last year. We lost five great players in Ballack, Belletti, Deco, Carvalho and Joe Cole.

"And we replaced them with young players like Bruma, Kakuta, McEachran and Van Aanholt.

"They are good players, but they need time to adapt."

Drogba has struggled to rediscover his own top form following a bout of malaria.

The 32-year-old revealed he was laid low for two months with the illness.

"At first, the tests didn't show that it was malaria. The doctor thought it was flu, so that's why we lost time," he said.

"While we thought it was flu, I was playing, because for me I can handle flu.

"I lost fitness, but I was working hard and trying to help the team.

"For me to be playing now, it's already a good start because it was a difficult moment for me to have malaria - very difficult."

Drogba smashed in 37 goals for Chelsea last season but has managed just nine so far this term.

He said: "It's maybe not what I was expecting, but I've had malaria and surgery before the beginning of the season for my hernia to make sure I'll be okay for the next few years.

"I won't say I'm happy because we're having a difficult moment, but when you look at the amount of games I've played and the number of goals and assists I've had, I know it's not the best, but it's not bad. And I can continue to improve that.

"I'm not worried about my performance.

"If we win the league and I score only 10 goals, for me it's fine."

Meanwhile, Branislav Ivanovic was today close to signing a new four-year contract at Stamford Bridge.

The 26-year-old defender, who scored one and made the other in Saturday's 2-0 win over Blackburn, has just 18 months left on his current deal.

Talks over extending it have dragged on for some time, while AC Milan and Juventus are reportedly interested in the Serbian.

But Ivanovic is keen to stay and is not far from putting pen to paper.

Speaking after Saturday's game, he said: "I want to stay and I hope it will be sorted out soon.

"We are talking about my new contract but we will see in the next couple of weeks.

"I don't want to say anything wrong. I hope things are going the right way. This is all I can say."

Ivanovic joined Chelsea two years ago from Lokomotiv Moscow for a reported £9m.

He has become a key member of the Stamford Bridge squad, first at right-back and now at centre-half.

Although he prefers the latter role, the return of Alex from injury and the possible arrival of a new defender may see him revert to the former, which has been a problem position for Chelsea of late.

The Blues are understood to retain an interest in Benfica's David Luiz and reports today claim they have made an improved offer to the Portuguese club, having had a £17m bid rejected for the player last month.

PA Media