LONDON // The Chelsea striker Didier Drogba has admitted the champions must raise their game quickly if they are to avoid having to play catch up in this season's title race, while also revealing he has been hindered by a hernia problem since joining the club - in 2004.
Despite the obvious strength and experience of the Premier League champions' squad, Chelsea have lost all four of their major pre-season friendlies culminating in Sunday's 3-1 Community Shield defeat by Manchester United. With the season just four days away, Drogba conceded "The [United] game showed we are not ready yet. We have to step up our game if we want to start as well as we started last year.
"Of course we still fancy our chances. That is what we are here for, that is why we are working hard in training "And maybe a reason we are not quite ready yet is that we have been working so hard in training, especially those players who have returned late after the World Cup or who have been injured. "We have a lot of players who have only been in training for one week or 10 days. That is too short to be fit to be ready for the big competitions.
"We have to improve our game. I just hope it doesn't take too long because there are only a few days before the start of the season and last we showed how important it is to get off to a strong start. But I think we need two or three weeks to be fully fit." That is especially true of Drogba who came on as a substitute at Wembley just one week after having a hernia operation. Incredibly, the 32 year old Drogba, who won the Golden Boot last season with 29 Premier League goals, revealed he has suffered the hernia problem ever since he joined Chelsea in 2004.
"For the last six years I have been struggling with it," he said. "I couldn't really work, it was difficult sometimes for me to play some games. I also had to miss some training sessions. "Now I am really happy because it has gone and I feel more free. No more tensions in the abductors [muscles]. I am really happy I've had the operation at last." In that time Ivory Coast centre forward has scored 132 goals in 261 appearances in all competitions for Chelsea.So how has he managed to achieve that level of consistency despite the nagging hernia injury?
"I learned how to play with it, how to deal with it. I had to adapt my game to it, so now maybe I will have to change my game again," said Drogba. "It is really a strange feeling not playing with the pain because sometimes last year I needed some tablets to play. Now I am not even asking. It is a good feeling." Ryan Giggs, the United veteran, suggested the arrival of Mexican striker Javier Hernandez, who scored on his debut in Sunday's win over Chelsea could offer United an extra dimension this season
"Probably towards then end of the season we needed that player who could come off the bench and change the game," said Giggs, "but now we have strengthened in those positions and hopefully that will give us an edge." Like Drogba, United's talisman striker Wayne Rooney is also some way of achieving full fitness in the wake of the World Cup. But in a U-turn to his usual anti-international friendly stance Sir Alex Ferguson, the United manager, has greeted England's match against Hungary tomorrow, branded an inconvenience by most managers, with a smile.
Ferguson said: "I don't know if Wayne or for that matter Park Ji Sung are ready for the start of the season. But the international friendlies they are involved in will help them and because we don't play until Monday there is that extra bit of recovery time for both." @Email:firstname.lastname@example.org