Twelfth night delight


Thursday 5th January, 8pm

Chelsea @ 17/4
Man City @ 4/6
Draw @ 3/1
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It has been a slightly confusing few weeks to be a football fan.  Indeed, many will have awoken from a deep sleep on New Year’s Day – delirious, drooling, encased in a sticky, translucent cocoon formed of port and Bailey’s – wondering if they actually imagined the whole of the last month.

Was the World Cup in Qatar just a dream?  Did it really happen?

Right after Christmas – slightly ill-prepared and curiously bereft of ceremony – Premier League football also returned to consciousness.  And it has been a bit like re-starting a long-running TV series after a lengthy break – the characters and their actions remain familiar, but the direction of the overarching storylines can only be vaguely recalled.

Is Jürgen Klopp still one of the good guys?  Does Miguel Almirón still have magic powers?  Has that whiny Cristiano Ronaldo character just been written-out of the whole story with absolutely no explanation?  Did he just vanish into thin air?!

This pervasive, intangible sense of unease and confusion was not helped by the fact that the first round of post-Christmas fixtures was an inchoate wodge – thoroughly devoid of the kind of searing drama to which we had become accustomed during the World Cup.

Not a lot really happened.  Despite not playing particularly well, all the big clubs managed to pick up points.  Only a simmering Antonio Conte provided any real hint of future intrigue.

But the New Year clashes suggested genuine excitement was on the horizon.  Spurs, for example, lost at home to Aston Villa; turning the temperature up even higher beneath the Conte pot.  Newcastle dropped points.  Chelsea dropped points.  And, most surprising of all, Manchester City dropped points.

And so it finally feels like things are ready to really hum again.  Squads have finally been repleted.  The Argentinian players have returned – like Frodo Baggins following the completion of his epic quest, the World Cup winners have been recuperating in some sort of mythical, footballing Valinor; a land of immortals – and are once more set to do battle.

And to cap-off this escalating sense of anticipation, we have at 8pm on Thursday night the first proper clash of heavyweights since the resumption of domestic hostilities: Chelsea v Manchester City.

‘Just when I thought I was out…they pull me back in!’

Manchester City, despite constantly being heralded as an extraordinary side full of the best players in the world, keep carelessly failing to win every game.  And currently find themselves a daunting eight points behind table-topping Arsenal.

Although a lot was made of Erling Haaland not being at the World Cup – keeping him in a state of box-fresh readiness – the reality was that no Premier League club had more players in Qatar than Manchester City, and no Premier League club contributed more on-pitch minutes in Qatar than Manchester City.

Could all this extracurricular activity have a bearing on results in the coming weeks?

But while City could certainly do with a win on Thursday, Chelsea are absolutely desperate for one.  Currently sitting 10thin the table – below Brighton and Brentford – it is abundantly clear the squad is yet to coalesce under Graham Potter.

And with the papers linking the club to more promising young footballers than a desperate, lip-syncing pop singer, that desired stability is going to be even harder to establish.

January 5th is, of course, Twelfth Night.  A date in the Christian calendar that signals the end of the festive season.  But are Chelsea or Manchester City on the eve of a great epiphany?  One decisive performance could set the tone for the rest of 2023, could establish an exciting new narrative in the Premier League story.  Could this be such a pivotal episode?

To paraphrase William Shakespeare: if football be the food of love, play on…

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