To any Italian football man, there is nothing quite so beautiful as the result and so when Carlo Ancelotti called upon his Chelsea players to give a "reaction" to their defeat in Hamburg last Wednesday, it was quite clear what his priority here at Wembley would be.

Pre-season victories might lack the hard currency of Premier League points but there can be no doubting their capacity to pep spirits ahead of the real business. There was a rousing finale in this surprisingly entertaining Community Shield for Ancelotti's team, sparked by the substitute Danny Sturridge's direct running and willingness to have a go, but when the dust had settled, the defending champions were forced to digest a fourth successive defeat.

Before Hamburg, it had been Eintracht Frankfurt and before that it was Ajax. Their only pre-season win came at Selhurst Park against Crystal Palace and that is not a sentence that anybody might have expected to write in mid-July. No Premier League champions of recent vintages have endured such an indifferent warm-up.

Will it make any difference this time out? Probably not, and Chelsea must surely be backed to get off on the right foot at home to the newly promoted West Bromwich Albion on Saturday. Yet the concern for Ancelotti ran deeper than the irritation of defeat, and of seeing his friend and rival Sir Alex Ferguson hoist aloft what the Manchester United manager hoped would not be the last trophy of his season.

Chelsea looked flat and laboured for much of the afternoon, only crackling to life in an attacking sense in the last 20 minutes; they afforded their opponents too much space in midfield, where the man-of-the-match Paul Scholes rolled back the years and they endured nervous moments at the back where even Ashley Cole, usually the epitome of consistency, had an off-day.

United made capital down the right flank, particularly through the excellent Antonio Valencia. The stars of the show were almost overwhelming in red.

Ancelotti's problem, he admitted, is that the bulk of his key players, those who returned from their World Cup exertions on 26 July, as eight of his starting line-up here against United did, are some way short of peak fitness. He said that this was a factor in their allowing Scholes the room to show off his breathtaking range of passing.

Despite the double sessions in Cobham and in Germany last week, where the club toured for five days, Ancelotti predicted that his World Cup players would need "another two weeks" before they could fire on all cylinders. "It's not been a good pre-season," Ancelotti said. "Obviously, it's not good to lose here to United. We've lost four times and that's not good."

Much will depend this season, as ever, on Didier Drogba, the talismanic striker, but he is among the most extreme examples of the club's fitness worries. He came on as a 60th?minute substitute and his best moment was when he won possession and almost played in Florent Malouda as Chelsea belatedly got the bit between their teeth. But, following minor groin surgery after his return from South Africa, Drogba can look back upon a mere 75 minutes in total of pre-season action.

He will enter the season needing a fair degree of fine-tuning and the same appears true of Nicolas Anelka. The Frenchman was a frustratingly peripheral figure in the lead striker role and he was contained too comfortably by Nemanja Vidic and Jonny Evans.

One of the biggest set-backs of Chelsea's pre-season was when the first-choice goalkeeper Petr Cech tore a muscle in his calf in training and was ruled out for four weeks. He has only 30 minutes of action under his belt, from the Palace match. Ancelotti reported that Cech had returned to training on Tuesday and would certainly play against West Bromwich while the defender Alex, another calf injury victim, would also be available. Jose Bosingwa, a long-term absentee with a knee injury, needs at least another two or three weeks. Cech had hoped that a summer without a World Cup - the Czech Republic failed to qualify - would ensure his freshness for the season. He has been beside himself with frustration.

It takes a lot to rattle Ancelotti and, with characteristic deadpan delivery, he said that "fortunately, it's pre-season. There is the time to come back to win". He was not worried; it would be all right when the curtain went up against West Bromwich. "We must look forward with optimism and trust. We will be at the top."

Chelsea, however, have to pick up the pace.

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