Jose Mourinho's doom-laden predictions after Chelsea were not seeded for the Champions' League draw came to pass yesterday when his club were drawn against Barcelona in the group stages of the competition. It is the third successive season they have faced the current European champions and will do nothing to ease the current pressure on Mourinho's players.
After defeat to Middlesbrough on Wednesday night, Chelsea were drawn in a tough Group A with Barcelona, last season's Bundesliga runners-up Werder Bremen and the Bulgarian champions Levski Sofia. The scale of their task was by far the most eye-catching aspect of the draw although in Group F Manchester United have drawn Celtic, who they have never played before in competitive football.
Had Roy Keane, whose appointment as Sunderland manager is yet to be confirmed, not retired this summer that would be a match laden with even greater significance. United will feel, however, that they have a good chance of progressing despite drawing Benfica, the team who beat them last season, and FC Copenhagen, arguably the smallest club in the competition, who knocked out the Dutch team Ajax in qualifying.
Chelsea and Barcelona's enmity is long-standing and dates back to their meeting in the knock-out stages in 2005 when Mourinho accused the referee Anders Frisk of a clandestine half-time conversation with the Barcelona coach Frank Rijkaard during the first-leg match. Chelsea eventually won the tie after a 4-2 win at Stamford Bridge but the fall-out from the Frisk affair resulted in the referee retiring after death threats were made against him.
Barcelona got their revenge the following year by winning at Stamford Bridge and eliminating Chelsea. Yesterday the chief executive Peter Kenyon called upon the two sides to put their differences behind them. "There was a big sigh when the draw was made," he said. "We have played them three successive times and I guess you could say there is all to play for.
"We have great respect for them and we have a good relationship between the two clubs. I hope people concentrate on the football, this is what the Champions' League is all about. The fans want to see the big teams playing against each other.
"Winning games not only means that we will qualify for the knock-out round but it also means that we will improve our Uefa coefficient to make sure we are in the first pot in the future and we don't have to face Barcelona again. The likes of [Andrei] Shevchenko and [Michael] Ballack have improved our team and we shouldn't overlook the young players we have brought in, which is Chelsea's future objective."
The Barcelona president Joan Laporta said that the two clubs had a good relationship. "The players and coaches are professionals and they play tough but as professionals they know they have to compete and also have a good relationship," he said. "There are good relations at all levels."
Eidur Gudjohnsen, who went to Barcelona this summer for £8m, will be returning to Stamford Bridge sooner than he anticipated and the games between the teams will be played back-to-back this autumn. Kenyon also said that negotiations for Ashley Cole's move to Chelsea had been going on for three weeks and he was hopeful of a resolution before the transfer window closes next Thursday.
Kenyon said: "That would be nice [to complete the deal], we have seven days to do it and we have been talking to Arsenal for three weeks. Arsenal know our position and we would like to think we could get a deal. If not then we still believe that we have a good team."
Kenyon said it would be too "simple" to think that the two clubs could come to a compromise over the price for Cole. On the prospect that the left-back could be swapped for William Gallas he said: "You would think that would make it easy but I am not sure it has. That might happen but William might stay with us."
The Arsenal vice-chairman David Dein said Gallas could form part of the Cole deal, but he described negotiations were currently at "a state of impasse". Dein added that Jose Antonio Reyes was "an Arsenal player and may remain an Arsenal player". He confirmed that the club had received an offer for Reyes from Atletico Madrid but that the offer had been rejected.
Arsenal have been linked with the France international left-back Eric Abidal as a replacement for Cole although Dein denied that they had made a formal approach to his club Lyon. In Group G, Arsenal will face Porto, CSKA Moscow and Hamburg SV.
Liverpool drew PSV Eindhoven, Bordeaux and Galatasaray in Group C which will mean a return to Istanbul, the stadium where Liverpool dramatically beat Milan to become the 2005 European champions.
Champions' League draw>
* GROUP A Barcelona
* GROUP C
* GROUP F
* GROUP G