Critical week in pitch battle at Stamford Bridge

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The Independent Football

Chelsea will wait to see how their dreadful Stamford Bridge pitch stands up to three home games in a week before deciding whether to relay it with fresh turf.

The club are due to play Colchester United in the FA Cup on Sunday, Barcelona in the Champions' League next Wednesday and Portsmouth in the Premiership just three days later. The pitch, which already resembles a ploughed field has attracted widespread criticism, not least from Barcelona, but Chelsea admit they have missed the biggest window of opportunity to give what is traditionally one of the most vulnerable surfaces in English football a facelift before the end of the season.

They claim that hasty action at this time of year would make relaying the pitch a much more difficult operation than at the end of the season.

Barcelona, who completed the relaying of their own pitch at the Nou Camp last week, seem to be convinced that Chelsea coach Jose Mourinho is content to let the Stamford Bridge surface become even worse before next Wednesday's tie to unsettle the Spanish league leaders' artistic stars. Their former Arsenal left-back Sylvinho said: "I cannot believe it, but I have heard they are making the condition of their pitch worse. I played in England for two years and I have heard many complaints about the pitch."

But Chelsea spokesman Simon Greenberg explained: "The big problem is that relaying a pitch at this time of year makes it much more difficult to lay a new one in the summer.

"The pitch here has always been a difficult one. Last year it contributed to Scott Parker picking up a bad injury playing for us. It is all about where it is and where it can get the benefit of natural growth.

"We missed a good window to relay it earlier this season after we had played Charlton at Stamford Bridge and then did not have another home game for two weeks, but the surface deteriorated badly during that time.

"Now we have three home games in a week coming up and you need two weeks more after that to let a new pitch settle. If you play on it before then the new grass can move around and be just as difficult.

"So we have simply not decided yet whether to do anything drastic about it until we have seen how it stands up to the next week."

Chelsea's next Premiership opponents Portsmouth relaid their Fratton Park pitch at a cost of around £100,000 after they had lost 1-0 at home to Everton on 14 January, but manager Harry Redknapp and his players are still far from happy with it.

Workmen toiled under floodlights right up until the Friday night before their FA Cup clash with Liverpool on 29 January, but three games on, Redknapp said: "It is still not a good pitch on which to pass the ball."

Meanwhile, Chelsea's Portuguese centre-back Ricardo Carvalho has revealed that Mourinho could not contain his anger following the shock 3-0 defeat at Middlesbrough on Saturday. Mourinho paid tribute to Boro in his post-match interview, but Carvalho has revealed he was less complimentary to his own players.

"He made his feelings known in the changing room after the game. He was very angry. The defeat against Middlesbrough is a setback for us in the Premiership, but we are going to learn from it and it will stand us in good stead for future games."

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