Better than Ballack? Hodgson backs Loftus-Cheek to shine against Panama

Roy Hodgson paid a huge compliment to England's Ruben Loftus-Cheek by declaring he is potentially better than Michael Ballack.

Ruben Loftus-Cheek has "more strings to his bow" than Bayern Munich legend Michael Ballack and can excel for England against Panama, says former Three Lions boss Roy Hodgson.

Chelsea midfielder Loftus-Cheek played under Hodgson during a loan spell at Crystal Palace last season, scoring twice in 24 top-flight appearances as the Eagles recovered from an awful start under Frank de Boer to finish 11th in the Premier League.

The 22-year-old made his World Cup bow in an impressive cameo off the bench in England's opening 2-1 win over Tunisia in Group G and is set to play from the start against Panama with Dele Alli struggling with a thigh injury.

Hodgson, who oversaw England's group-stage exit in Brazil four years ago and the dismal last-16 defeat to Iceland at Euro 2016, likened Loftus-Cheek to Ballack, who won the Premier League with Chelsea in the 2009-10 season and played in the 2002 World Cup final with Germany, and believes he is potentially a better player.

"I'd say he goes by people more than Ballack did," Hodgson told the Daily Mail. "But I think he's got Ballack's power and his pace and his strength - he's definitely got that.

"He's maybe got more strings to his bow than even Ballack had. That's a bold thing to say, I know, but he's so good at going past people. He's got that deceptive turn of pace. That ability to receive a ball in tight situations and then come out very quickly on the other side and open a game up.

"That's a skill because passing players can't do that. Passing players have to pass it and then get it back again.

"Ruben can twist and turn his way out of tight situations and, as I say, open a game up. And then he's very powerful going forward.

"I think he can add more goals to his game. I'm sure he will as time goes on."

Asked if Loftus-Cheek is ready for the occasion, Hodgson added: "I do think he's ready, yes, definitely, 100 per cent. I think he showed that in his cameo against Tunisia the other night.

"I think Ruben's internal midfield play is something that makes him very versatile. He could play in a central role in a four, but luckily for me he can also play as a wide player in a four.

"But if you play with a defensive midfield player alongside him he could certainly do that, I'm sure."