In a perfect world this would be the weekend we celebrate a stunning win double – a twin triumph for the forces of light and beauty that from time to time rise up and make us feel good about the game that nowadays is so frequently obliged to fight its way out of the gutter.
Arsenal would turn back the Chelsea juggernaut with an explosion of creativity and finishing artistry from Cesc Fabregas and Andrei Arshavin and Arsène Wenger would immediately end his rather disconcerting flirtation with the F word, thus reassuring us that the world is not about to fall off its axis.
Hugely relieved and exhilarated, we would then watch his fierce admirer Pep Guardiola guide Barcelona, so thrillingly restored in the obliteration of Jose Mourinho's Internazionale in mid-week, back to the top of La Liga with a clinical destruction of the team only Real Madrid's money could buy.
Such triumphs would hardly be definitive at this early stage of the season but they would surely make the blood run a little stronger.
Wenger and Guardiola are certainly the pick of the managerial bunch these days when we come to assess the quality of a club's football and the purity of its ambition. Nor is it surprising to learn that when Guardiola's days as a midfield defensive bulwark of Barcelona were drawing to a close he expressed a desire to finish his playing days under the tutelage of Wenger. At Highbury, he reckoned he could refine his ambition to be a manager who could both win and shape the values of the game to which he had so fiercely devoted his life.
Wenger admired Guardiola but decided he was a little too old for his purposes. It meant that the player had to rely more heavily on some of the philosophy of his first great mentor, Johan Cruyff, and his own instincts.
In the spring against the reigning European champions, Manchester United, and this week against the perennial masters of Serie A, Inter, we saw quite how viable was this particular package. Indeed, if as expected Barça reinforce the lesson they gave at the Bernabeu last season, while winning 6-2, and explain to Real once again that great teams are made with imagination and patience and not the mere outlay of vast amounts of money, Guardiola might even be said to have moved more than a few steps ahead of the man he once singled out as his potential inspiration.
What he has inculcated so surely, with the help of such brilliant midfield dynamos as Xavi Hernandez and Andres Iniesta, is an insatiable appetite for dominating opponents at every phase of a game. Against Inter we were reminded of two things. One is Barça's sheer domination of possession, their ability to drain the life out of the opposition. The other is that when they lose the ball it is the most fleeting complication to their game-plan. They win it back, quickly, ferociously.
Wenger's image of erudition no doubt suffered the merest flesh wound when he reacted profanely to questions about Theo Walcott's chances of making a World Cup which comes after what could well prove the most decisive of all Arsenal's campaigns to return to the high ground of great achievement. But he did suggest a sharply rising level of tension before the litmus test to be provided by Chelsea tomorrow. It is understandable enough. Even his warmest admirers have to worry that, unlike Guardiola, he still has to prove that his team is complete, that along with the virtuosity there is enough, say, competitive venom.
There can be little doubt, certainly, about the question which most haunts Wenger, and which is bound to have already disturbed Guardiola as he considers his chances of becoming the first coach to successfully defend the Champions League title. It asks simply if there is any team in Europe currently equipped to stop the march of the team most likely to rip up into small pieces the weekend dream.
Of course it is Chelsea, a long time source of angst for Wenger that can only be augmented by the fact that it is Nicolas Anelka, one of his shrewdest investments in unformed talent of the highest potential, who is providing such a superb dimension to a team who have been so brilliantly regathered by coach Carlo Ancelotti.
The Italian has his own place in the weekend intrigue in that in Madrid he was widely believed to be Real's second choice, behind Wenger, to supervise the latest incarnation of Los Galacticos. The third option, Manuel Pellegrini, has carried Real to the top of La Liga, but with scarcely one approving critical notice. The consensus in Spain is the work of the respected Pellegrini will be thrown into new turmoil this weekend, despite the return of Cristiano Ronaldo.
By comparison, Ancelotti is a picture of serenity. His achievement has been the practical one of avoiding the politics of Stamford Bridge and aligning himself closely with a powerful dressing room. He has recovered the baton left not by Mourinho, who made a team in his fierce image of tight and practical football, but the one of Guus Hiddink, who pragmatically drew the best of what was available.
Ancelotti, like Hiddink, saw the Chelsea glass was at least half full and with Anelka ever more confident in his role alongside the destructive power of Didier Drogba, and the result is Wenger must fear again the force that swept Arsenal out of the FA Cup semi-final last spring. Afterwards, Wenger spoke of a team which had regained the authority and the power of natural winners. "They know how to move you around to where they want you to be, they have great experience and great strength," he conceded.
What Arsenal have is so much of Barça's ability to make the heart stand still with the sublime touch and the vision of their play. It is why they will carry so many hopes – and at least as many fears – when they step out tomorrow afternoon. The problem is one the great Barça know well enough after their ordeal at Stamford Bridge in the semi-final of the Champions League – and something that even the dreamers have to acknowledge. It is that Chelsea are not so much an old dream as maybe the new reality.
Terry follows the Beckham route to World Cup fortune
It is at least a little reassuring that John Terry, England's warrior captain, has so swiftly disassociated himself from a brochure touting his availability for major World Cup sponsorships.
However, we may be dealing with a few niceties here. Terry (pictured) doesn't deny that the e-mail came from a firm appointed to investigate his potential to heap more reward on top of already substantial commercial revenue and a cool £170,000-a-week from Chelsea.
It is also a fact that before the national team's last hapless mission to the World Cup finals the squad negotiated a commercial deal which was said to have guaranteed each member something in the region of £250,000. This was separate from a series of literary deals which distributed pain equally among the reading public and the accountants of leading publishers.
What would be quite interesting would be some rough accounting of the commercial worth of the England captaincy to Terry's predecessor David Beckham.
In this light, Terry's enthusiastic helpers might be said to be merely seeking to squeeze a few more pips out of a very juicy cantaloupe. It's the way of the world, of course, and we know that come the World Cup kick-off our captain will be entirely concerned with the nation's glory. Don't we?
Blair's rich project will win few votes
How odd that Tony Blair's son Nicky, who we are told once had political instincts well to the left of his father that until recently were being honed by his experience as an inner-city teacher, is said to be contemplating a career as a football agent.
Does Nicky realise exactly quite how reviled are the denizens of the world he is supposedly eager to inhabit?
Does he know that many believe they are at the root of all the beautiful game's greatest problems? Does he have a clue that in their flashy greed, Monaco apartments, economy with the truth and unlimited ambition to plunder the system, they have long displayed absolute shamelessness?
But then, on the other hand, he could have gone the extra yard and followed his dad into politics.Reuse content