If your anticipation for Saturday’s game against Manchester United feels more than commonly high, it would hardly be surprising. Quite apart from anything else that’s in the air, that anticipation has had a whole international break in which to build – an entire fortnight in which we’ve only really had one Ross Barkley pass to interest us (though it was a very good pass).
So I’m looking forward to everything about Saturday’s resumption. Everything except one thing. The kick-off time.
Now, I’m really quite flexible in this area. I’m not one of those 3.00pm purists who thinks the game went to the dogs the moment that Sky got involved and who additionally wishes that Bovril hadn’t stopped being the half-time drink of choice. 4.00pm on a Sunday has a lot going for it, in my opinion. So, even, does 8.00pm on a Monday. (Any night game at home is good, including Friday.) Not so sure yet about 6.00pm on a Thursday, but I’m keeping an open mind.
But 12.30pm? I don’t know. I appreciate that it works very well for people in Asia. But it never quite feels right to me, up in the stand – always feels slightly like the wrong part of the day. We’ve said it before in this space, and no doubt we’ll say it again. Lunchtime is not a time for football. It’s a time for lunch.
Any measures one could take? I suppose one solution would be to do a version of that thing people do when they go on short trips abroad, perhaps for work, and try to avoid jet-lag on their return by ‘staying on UK time’ while they are away.
So the idea would be that, a few days before a scheduled lunchtime game, you would set your clocks forward two and half hours, adjust your meal times/bed times/working hours, etc, so that, when Saturday came around, 12.30 felt like 3.00. You would be ‘staying on football time,’ as it were.
To some extent, as I understand it, the players already do this – or a version of this. Or, at any rate, they certainly get up earlier for lunchtime kick-offs than they do for later ones. So why not us, as well? Something to consider, possibly.
Or perhaps one should just bite the bullet. After all, it can’t really be said that lunchtime kick-offs have never delivered for us. For example, the 6-0 clobbering of Arsenal in 2014 was a lunchtime game. (It was also Arsene Wenger’s 1000th game in charge, you will recall, which seemed like a real landmark at the time, although, of course, we didn’t know at that point that he still had three million more games in charge to go.)
And so, now you mention it, was the 3-0 demolition of Manchester United in 2006, when Joe Cole scored and celebrated extremely vigorously with the lower of tier of the Matthew Harding, as you do when you’ve just won the league.
So, 3-0 against United, 6-0 against Arsenal… Thinking about it, maybe lunchtime has got more going for it than I credit it with.
Whatever, this upcoming meeting with United is unarguably a game with everything, whenever it kicks off and whichever way you look at it. Chelsea’s swift, imaginative, attacking football has been earning plaudits even from neutrals. The commitment, under Signor Sarri, to entertainment above all else has caused long sighs of admiration and approval wherever the team have so far gone; and we have in Eden Hazard arguably one of the top two players in Europe on current form; and one who can be relied upon to tear into any match, but particularly this one, with a dazzling combination of pace and invention from the very beginning.
Memories, of course, of the last meeting between the two sides – in the FA Cup final at Wembley last May, with Eden Hazard carving a private path for himself the entire length of United’s half and giving Phil Jones no option but to stick a gate in the way without the required planning permission.
And then memories of Hazard scoring the winner from the spot, although, in truth, my actual match memories rather run out after that. True, I might have a few more recollections if I hadn’t spent most of that game squinting painfully into the blazing sun that bore down on a portion of the Chelsea end throughout that afternoon and early evening, and which rendered three quarters of the pitch at any time invisible to anybody who hadn’t brought along one of those special cardboard devices you use to look at solar eclipses.
But even those who were in the shade that day have informed me that I didn’t miss all that much in an encounter that was as tight as our encounter with Liverpool earlier this season was fluid. It’s hard to feel that this weekend’s game will be quite so conservative.
Bring it on, in any case. And, frankly, at whatever time you like.