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Last Updated: Wednesday, 22 February 2006, 16:08 GMT
Chelsea and Barca set for battle
By Phil McNulty
Chief football writer

Chelsea boss Jose Mourinho (left) and Barca manager Frank Rijkaard
Mourinho and Rijkaard pit their wits for the second year running
Barcelona were involved in a new row over the much-criticised Stamford Bridge surface as they prepared to meet Chelsea in the Champions League.

The Catalan giants attempted to extend their allotted one hour training time on the pitch on Tuesday.

But their bid was thwarted when Chelsea and Uefa officials stepped in.

Barcelona have been critical of the surface - even hinting Chelsea have deliberately allowed it to deteriorate ahead of Wednesday's game at 1945 GMT.

The Catalan giants refused Chelsea's offer of facilities at their training headquarters at Cobham, Surrey.

And under Uefa regulations, they were allowed one hour of training on the pitch ahead of the clash in the last 16 of the Champions League.

It is understood Chelsea were mystified by Barcelona's desire to continue playing on the surface, despite their publicly-stated fears about it cutting up.

The state of the pitch will affect us more
Barca skipper Carles Puyol

Earlier, Barca skipper Carles Puyol said the pitch would harm their hopes of avenging last season's defeat at Stamford Bridge.

Chelsea have been watering the pitch ahead of the Champions League game, something Puyol says could stop Barcelona's free-flowing style.

Spanish defender Puyol said: "The state of the pitch will affect us more.

"We like to move the ball quickly and play at a high tempo. We're not used to playing in these conditions."

Yet Puyol added: "If we concentrate hard and not give the ball away in midfield where Chelsea are strong we should be able to cope.

"There are no excuses. We are experienced enough to play on all kinds of surfaces."

The poor state of the pitch has been the main talking point ahead of the long-awaited fixture.

Former Barcelona president Joan Gaspart, in London in his role as a senior member of the Spanish football federation, has accused Chelsea of dirty tricks.

"I don't find it normal and I don't think it is correct," he said.

"The pitch is already in a bad condition and now they are watering it.

"I don't know if they have done it to make training more difficult but it's not right. I am sure it was done with bad intentions."

However, Barcelona coach Frank Rijkaard refused to add to the pitch debate after arriving in London.

He said: "Chelsea will be affected by the pitch just as much as ourselves. They have quality players with good technique and skill and they would prefer a better pitch.

"We are not complaining."

Interview: Chelsea boss Jose Mourinho

Interview: Barcelona coach Frank Rijkaard

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