Guangzhou Evergrande have refuted speculation they are poised to complete a move for Chelsea's Didier Drogba, after the Chinese side claimed they have had no contact with the Cote d'Ivore international.

Drogba, 33, has been linked with a move away from Stamford Bridge for a number of weeks, with the striker's Chelsea contract set to expire at the end of the season.

Reports in China suggested Guangzhou were preparing a lucrative offer for the Chelsea hit-man that would have made him the highest paid player in the world.

However, the Chinese national champions moved to play down their reported interest in the Chelsea forward on Monday, revealing they have no plans to make a move for the player.

"We have had no contact with [Chelsea's] Drogba whatsoever, nor have we authorised anyone to contact him," said a Guangzhou spokesman.

"The recent reports on Drogba are pure speculation; he is not in our plans."

The news will encourage rivals Shanghai Shenhua to step up their pursuit of the striker, after they secured the signing of Drogba's former Chelsea team-mate Nicolas Anelka in December.

Shanghai director Zhou Jun was quoted earlier this week as saying: "We will wait for Guangzhou for 10 days... if they do not act, we will."

Meanwhile, Chelsea have been given a massive boost ahead of Saturday's clash against Sunderland after Michael Essien made his comeback from a knee injury in a reserve match with West Brom.

Sky Sports reports that the Ghana International completed 75 minutes of Monday's game, which Chelsea ended up losing 3-2.

Essien underwent knee surgery after rupturing the anterior cruciate ligament and meniscus in his right knee during pre-season training over the summer.

The midfielder is highly unlikely to feature at Stamford Bridge at the weekend but is expected to be available for first-team action in the coming weeks.