Chelsea's Michael Essien set to return in January

Chelsea midfielder Michael Essien
Chelsea coach Villas-Boas says Essien is likely to return to action in January

Chelsea midfielder Michael Essien is set for a first team start in mid-January after recovering from a serious knee injury.

Chelsea coach Andre Villas-Boas says Essien is nearing the stage where he could compete for a starting place.

"He (Essien) will return to the squad in mid-January and will be available for matches," said Villas-Boas.

"I think that in three weeks, he will be in a position to compete for a starting place."

Essien ruptured his anterior cruciate ligament at the start of pre-season training, just the latest in a series of injuries that have disrupted his career.

He has been plagued by knee injuries during his time at Stamford Bridge.

Essien sustained another cruciate problem in September 2008 that ruled him out until the following March.

The midfielder also missed last year's World Cup after tearing medial knee ligaments during training for the Africa Cup of Nations in January 2010.

He was not included in the Ghana squad for next month's renewal of the Africa Cup of Nations which is being co-hosted by Equatorial Guinea and Gabon.

Essien joined Chelsea from French club Lyon in 2005 in a £24.4m deal and has gone on to establish himself as a key player at Stamford Bridge.