The old enemy, the same complaints, but a different target for Jose Mourinho. The Chelsea manager's hostility towards Barcelona comes in many different forms but yesterday he singled out Eidur Gudjohnsen and suggested that his move to Spain had turned the Chelsea old boy into a diving cheat.
Barcelona's influence over referees is not a new subject for Mourinho, although it has been lent a different edge by his inclusion of Gudjohnsen, who spent six years at Stamford Bridge and was welcomed back by the supporters like a long lost son earlier this month. Once again, Mourinho has strayed close to the rawest emotions of this tie - and once again he will expect to ignite tensions.
The debate over Gudjohnsen's conduct started in earnest on Saturday when, after an innocuous tug of his shirt, he clearly dived to win a penalty against Recreativo Huelva - an act that has absorbed Spanish football this week. Mourinho prefaced his answer to an inquiry about the perception that the Catalan team are benefiting from favourable decisions with the solemn announcement that he would not "run away from the question" - and he certainly kept to that pledge.
"It is a big surprise, especially with Eidur - he has played in English football all his life and three months later he gets that penalty - it is Spanish competition," Mourinho said. Gudjohnsen has in fact played in the Netherlands and his native Iceland, but there is no dodging Mourinho's main point: Spanish football has changed him for the worse.
There are no exemptions when Mourinho goes on the warpath but attacking Gudjohnsen, a real old favourite at Stamford Bridge, might cause a sharp intake of breath among the Chelsea support. The Icelander has had nothing but praise for Mourinho since he left, although the striker did seem to make a big deal of miming being stabbed in the back at training last night - much to the amusement of his Barcelona team-mates.
Earlier on, Mourinho had made it clear that he believed Barcelona enjoyed certain favours in domestic competition without ever making it explicit. "I know the number of penalties they get at home, I know the amount of times they play against 10 players," he said. In La Liga this season alone there have been three red cards shown to opponents of the European champions, although they did win the fair play award last season.
The point scarcely needs to be made that with players like Arjen Robben and - although he professes to have changed - Didier Drogba, Mourinho finds himself on exceptionally thin ice when it comes to diving. However, he was talking directly to the Italian referee Stefano Farina when he said he hoped "all three teams" - both sides and the officials - would strive to have their best performances. "That's my dream for the game.
"What happens in the Spanish league, I want to ignore," Mourinho said. "Whether it was a penalty or not [against Recreativo Huelva], or whether they were helped or not, it is not something for me to comment, it is for opponents like Real Madrid to do that."
On occasions like these, with Mourinho, and especially Frank Rijkaard, his Barcelona counterpart, the pervading sense is that they are skirting around their real contempt for one another. In Barcelona, they are still sore at Mourinho's allegation about Lionel Messi's "theatrics" when Asier Del Horno was shown a red card at Stamford Bridge in February; and when it came to digging up that old animosity yesterday, the fault lay with the Spanish.
Or more specifically, the local sports newspaper Mundo Deportivo, who persuaded the brilliant Argentine to impersonate another tortured young soul for their front-page picture. Messi was pictured in the role of Hamlet, gazing at the skull in his hand, with the quotation in the headline: "Ser o no ser?" ("To be or not to be?"). It may have been the wrong line for that scene, but you get the idea.
Faced with the choice of being antagonistic or not being antagonistic, Mourinho will always choose the former. His parting shot was the most cutting of all. As he rose to leave, he was asked by the Spanish what he thought about the question of theatrics. "Why don't you ask Eidur?" was Mourinho's riposte.
The games between his side and Barcelona, and this is the sixth, have so often soared to the heights - none more so than the encounter at Stamford Bridge in March 2005 which Chelsea won 4-2 - it is a shame that the rest is so childish. Messi was later brought out by Barcelona to shrug his shoulders and say: "You do what you have to do to win football matches".
Not something the purists will want to hear and even all the old festering grievances and sly digs finally found their way through to the temper of Rijkaard.
The chain-smoking Dutch coach considers himself well beyond all these disputes, but as he was constantly pushed on Mourinho's comments he snapped back that it "took a poor man's mind" to dream up so many insults.
Rijkaard may look unflappable but the state of Group A may be a cause for concern if Chelsea take at least a point tonight. Cue the second conspiracy theory of the day: that Mourinho will happily lose away to Werder Bremen if it contributes to Barcelona being eliminated in the group stages of the competition. The Chelsea manager said that was not the case.
"I have no personal agenda with Barcelona. I am not trying to help out Werder Bremen or knock out Barça," he said. "That is not my fight - we will play the same way we play ever game - to win and to play well."
Amid all the claim and counter-claim, Mourinho did make the point that this was the tie of the night and that both teams and the officials "all have a big responsibility" to make sure the game rises to the occasion.
The pressure is on Rijkaard this time, with Barcelona level on four points with Bremen and both of them trailing the leaders Chelsea on nine. He will have to attack and Messi will be crucial - the Argentine can, to borrow another line, be bounded in a nutshell and count himself a king of infinite space. Even without the theatrics.Reuse content