Going anywhere nice for the winter break?
I’ll be at home, I guess. I didn’t get round to booking anything. Well, it was tricky timing, wasn’t it, coming so close to Christmas? And the schools aren’t on half-term yet, which might have made it a bit easier, family-wise.
Also, of course, there was always the possibility (remote, but it was there) that we might end up being involved in an FA Cup fourth round replay in the very week set aside for our break. And that could have left me in the difficult position of having to say I couldn’t make it because I had booked a holiday.
Imagine the embarrassment of not being able to make your own FA Cup fourth round replay because you had booked a holiday. Awkward doesn’t begin to describe it.
Still, here we all are on the eve of the first ever ‘mid-season player break’, as the Premier League chooses to refer to it, where, in a system pleasingly familiar to anyone who has ever worked in an office, everyone gets time off on a rota basis. However, in a way that would definitely have caused some hard questions to be asked in all of the offices I ever worked in, not everybody gets the same amount of time off.
Indeed, I am delighted to observe, surveying the chart on the wall, that we and Manchester United get the longest gap between games – a juicy 16 days. And we kicked off five hours before United did last weekend, so we win. We are official Premier League Mid-Season Player Break champions 2020. Whatever else this season yields, we’ll always have that.
And who knows how critical those extra five hours could prove to be? These are the tiny margins that, as the experts will tell you, make all the difference in elite sport. That little edge over our top-four rivals at this pivotal moment in the season could pay huge dividends in our battle for continuing Champions League football in 2020/21, in terms of fitness and focus when the chips are down. Well, here’s hoping, anyway. (Beating United in our next home game, somewhere off in the mists of the distant future, would also help.)
Like most supporters, I suppose, I’m not broadly in favour of weekends off. I think we already get quite enough of them, what with the international breaks that rip whole lumps out of the autumn fixture list and leave us all staring blankly out of the kitchen window on more Saturdays and Sundays than we would really choose to.
Nevertheless, health and safety are paramount, and I take the point about the threat of burn-out and injury in a sport where fixture congestion is certainly an issue. And if burn-out and injury are threats for the fans, then I guess they must be threats for the players, too – and perhaps even more so.
Nevertheless, momentum is always important, for players and fans alike, and, as Pat Nevin pointed out on this site the other day, certain members of our squad who are currently on a roll, such as two-goal Toni Rudiger and Reece James, would probably rather the season allowed them to carry on rolling at this point. So maybe even the players would prefer to be getting on with it, the same as we would.
What’s not open to dispute, I would suggest, is that, for this Chelsea team at least, a break is deserved. At the basic level of delivered effort, and in terms of shifts put in, we have seen some exceptional and unstinting exertions on our behalf these past months – and not least in those matches where the results have been frustrating.
In fact, the effort expended in last weekend’s draw against Leicester alone warranted at least a long weekend for everyone concerned. Actually, the energy expelled making the leap that propelled Rudiger to a position roughly 19 feet off the ground ahead of that equaliser in itself deserved at least a lie-down for a couple of hours. (Goals thumped in from distance rightly earn their share of acclaim, but the pleasure of the spring-loaded header that goes in from the distance of the penalty spot should not be under-estimated.)
Can every Premier League side go into this vacation period feeling quite so sure that they merit it? Can Arsenal? Can Spurs? I very much doubt it. Which leads me to wonder: maybe mid-season player breaks in the future should be awarded to teams according to need. No doubt you could do the sums using the stats on distances run, chances created, possession of the ball during away games, etc. It would be a bit like Nectar Points and after a while the best-earning teams would have enough to buy a weekend off.
Tricky to work it into the schedule, I appreciate. But worth considering. And I know where those calculations would leave this current side of ours: on holiday.