If indeed it was premeditated, a part of the Jose Mourinho masterplan to win the match which could define his season, the Chelsea coach made his latest psychological strategy look like the most spontaneous gesture. After half an hour of edging around the minutiae of the tactics and the reputations of those involved in tonight's match, Mourinho abandoned protocol at his press conference here yesterday and made one last extraordinary attempt to wind up the Barcelona manager, Frank Rijkaard.
As the questions about the gravity of Chelsea's injuries became increasingly more detailed and probing, Mourinho narrowed his eyes, glared back and brought matters to a head. "Do you want to know my team?" he asked. The answer was unanimous, so for good measure the Chelsea coach did not stop with his own side. He also went through what he believed would be Barcelona's as well and, in case we had forgotten, he added the referee's name too.
In high-stakes European competition it would be no exaggeration to say that a Champions' League coach naming his own side and predicting the other before a match is about as rare as the same man offering to pilot the flights to away games. If you dare to ask Sir Alex Ferguson for his team, he takes it as a personal affront. Arsène Wenger just shakes his head and Rafael Benitez points out politely that there is nothing to be gained by revealing his hand.
Rare but not unprecedented, because students of Mourinho's career will remember that he did the same at this stage of the competition when his Porto side went to Old Trafford to eliminate Manchester United from the Champions' League. On that occasion he was responding to a particularly bad-tempered Ferguson press conference but mercifully stopped short of predicting the United side.
Yesterday, Mourinho went a step further: first he named the Barcelona line-up, then his own, before jumping to his feet to make an abrupt departure. It would have been the perfect theatrical flourish if only the door leading off the stage in the Nou Camp's press room had not been locked to prevent him from making an immediate escape. His undoubted intention was to prick the patience of Rijkaard and, as usual, he succeeded.
That is no mean feat when you consider that Barcelona's chain-smoking, deep-thinking philosopher-coach has publicly lost this temper only once and that was with Rudi Völler at the World Cup 15 years ago. When the Dutchman came in to give his side of the story, it took him some time to rise to the bait which Mourinho had set, but as he found his laid-back training methods criticised and had to listen to the line-up the Chelsea coach had predicted he finally bit.
"I trust my players and it is not true that we have not prepared," Rijkaard said. "Chelsea showed up three days ago and trained behind closed doors and now they are giving their line-up out so I don't know why they have been so secretive. We are trying to get ready for the match. When people [Mourinho] talk like that before a match it suggests they are not calm."
As a brief skirmish it served only to heighten the anticipation that surrounds this game between the bolted doors of Chelsea's defence (14 goals conceded in 41 matches) and the flashing blades of Barcelona's attack (58 goals scored in 31 matches); between Rijkaard's laissez-faire approach - training on Sunday was voluntary - and Mourinho's meticulous, intensive preparation.
The Chelsea coach confirmed that he will play Didier Drogba, who has been out with a thigh strain since the FA Cup victory over Birmingham City on 30 January, and William Gallas, whose groin injury in the defeat to Newcastle United on Sunday is not serious. But there was not such good news for Damien Duff, who is out after hurting his knee at St James' Park, but Mourinho repeated his insistence that he would not complain about injuries.
Do not mistake this return to the city where he worked for four years as some kind of glorious homecoming for Mourinho, because there is not the warmth here for a man who was an anonymous coach at the Nou Camp. The golden boy of European coaching does not like to be reminded of his humble past as an interpreter for Sir Bobby Robson and he snapped back at a Spanish reporter who referred him back to those days.
"In five years I have progressed a lot in my life," Mourinho said. "You haven't." Nasty, but then we needed to be reminded that there is at least one big managerial ego resting on tonight's game as well as the prestige of Europe's two emergent clubs.
As for the actual Barcelona line-up, Rijkaard was sticking to tradition: "He'll have to wait until tomorrow," he said, "to see if he is right."
THE LOWDOWN ON... BARCELONA
How do they beat you? With brilliant, dazzling, attacking football. Barça possess arguably the greatest attack in football. Samuel Eto'o is the spearhead, Ludovic Giuly provides an explosive threat down the left while Deco pulls the strings in midfield. World Player of the Year Ronaldinho completes their armoury.
How do you beat them? Barcelona's defence can be generous. The Catalan club conceded six goals in six games during the group stages.
Key man? Ronaldinho. It may well take a stunning strike from the Brazilian to break through the resistance of an obstinate Chelsea defence.
Any familiar faces? Two former Arsenal left-backs, Silvinho and Giovanni van Bronckhorst.Reuse content