Chelsea deny claim of sabotage to hit back in pitch battle

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The Independent Football

Chelsea have denied suggestions they are attempting to sabotage Barcelona's Champions' League visit by pouring sand on the Stamford Bridge turf. The Premiership champions have said the pitch is undergoing "routine maintenance" to improvedrainage.

The two clubs were involved in a row over the state of the Stamford Bridge pitch before their Champions' League meeting last season. The Spanish club believed Chelsea had deliberately allowed the surface to deteriorate ahead of the game. Barça claimed it was an attempt to disrupt their more fluid style of football, but in the event they won the match 2-1.

Now, with the European champions due to return to Stamford Bridge in less than a fortnight for a group game, Chelsea have taken advantage of the international break to work on the pitch. A Chelsea spokesperson explained: "Whilst the Chelsea players are away representing their national teams, an 18-day break between home fixtures has allowed our ground staff to carry out routine maintenance work on the Stamford Bridge pitch.

"The drainage system is being improved with additional drainage channels dug to ensure the pitch remains in top condition. There are few times in the season when we can ensure our pitch remains in perfect condition.

"The international break allows us to carry out this work towards our aim of maintaining our playing surface as one of the best in the League. Recent years have seen much investment going into the pitch. The latest work on the drainage will improve a system installed as part of a complete overhaul that took place in the summer of 2003.

"That saw the old pitch removed right down to its base and new drainage ducts put in place, spaced four metres apart. It was half the spacing distance of the previous ducts and ensured the near-instant removal of any volume of water the pitch was asked to absorb. Since then, severe waterlogging, that had been such a problem in past decades, has been eradicated."

Meanwhile, the Chelsea striker Andriy Shevchenko has again denied that he betrayed fans of his former club Milan by kissing the Chelsea badge.

Shevchenko was criticised for his actions by Milan supporters but the striker, who claims he is struggling to find his form at Stamford Bridge because of World Cup fatigue, has again attempted to defuse the ill-feeling.

Shevchenko, in Rome for Ukraine's European Championship qualifier against Italy told Corriere della Sera. "I'm not a betrayer. Each of us takes the decisions in life he considers most right and these decisions must be respected.

"I have earned the respect of supporters by working on the pitch and the only jersey I have kissed and the only one I'll continue kissing is the one of my national team. My story with Milan, and with Milan as a city, is ended as a football situation. But, for the rest, it will not end."

* The Football Association have given Joey Barton more time to respond to the charge he faces for dropping his shorts in front of Everton supporters. The Manchester City midfielder now has until midday on Monday to answer the charges of improper conduct and/or bringing the game into disrepute.