The big difference between Chelsea's 3-2 defeat to Stoke last season and 2-0 win on Monday was Nemanja Matic's dominant display in midfield, writes Matt Stanger...
It's that time of year, when we look back with fondness and wonder. So, here for your delectation are Football365's top ten players of the year. Please don't get angry, okay?
John Nicholson and Alan Tyers look at some of football's pundits and commentators and try to pin down what makes them good, what makes them bad, and what makes them ugly. This week it's professional Welshman, Robbie 'Eau De' Savage....
Dresses like, and resembles, the missing BeeGee. No lapel is too broad, no jacket too boxy for Rob. Inhabits that odd milieu of men who consider themselves extremely macho yet also have the haircut of a 12-year-old girl. Not hard to imagine him chewing the ends of his locks in a quiet moment. Has an Armani logo tattoo: that's a tattoo celebrating some clothes made in a factory for a fraction of their retail price. Overall sartorial impression is the living embodiment of the expression 'more money than sense'.
(Robbie Savage has since tweeted Johnny to say that he no longer has an Armani tattoo)
Hired to say the sorts of things that other footballers couldn't or wouldn't: not afraid to slag off a Fellow Professional. Enjoys discussion of the argy and indeed the bargy. Loves asserting the primacy of his ex-pro opinion over the filthy public's.
Strengths and Weaknesses
When he first appeared on the radio, was genuinely refreshing in that he was speaking about players he'd played with and against that season, indeed often that weekend. Inadvertently made you realise how rare it is for ex-players to convey what it actually feels like to play professional football. Was trenchant and seemed to revel in saying controversial things when others were too polite. He'd also talk about usually off-limits topics, such as how much money you earned as a footballer. All good.
With each year retired, and each year in the cosy confines of the studio, he has become less of a wildcard. Perhaps the 'daft lad' schtick just wore thin in time. Perhaps it is the tendency of things to regress towards the mean, perhaps it's institutional laziness, perhaps Robbie himself reckons that there is more long-term gravy to be had as a regular pundit rather than an agent provocateur (apologies for putting the image of Robbie in bra and knickers in your mind). Seems to have become domesticated, which is a great shame because as a court jester there was a place for him, but as serious pundit there isn't. Or there shouldn't be, because, self-evidently, this is not his strong card.
Tactical genius or tactics truck?
Robbie is not without his good qualities but we think we can say, without fear of contradiction, that nobody would call him a genius of any description. His default technique is merely to state the obvious as though it is insight. Thus when Chelsea are top, he'll say he thinks they can win the League, similarly when Arsenal are top, or Manchester City, it is they who will be champions. And that's it. Sometimes, during phone-ins he would simply keep repeating a sentence over and over to berate a caller in an ever-increasing pitch of goaty bleating. This may be why he doesn't seem to do phone-ins much anymore. When you've been replaced by Ian Wright, you know you've failed a basic coherence test. That being said, these days, phone-ins seem to have become the last repository for stupid people to say stupid things. All the intelligent and witty discussion now takes place elsewhere, leaving contributions from people who really shouldn't be relied upon for entertainment and certainly not for enlightenment. So really, as a medium, it should fit Robbie as snugly as one of his tailored shirts.
(Robbie has since tweeted Johnny to say that he still does 6-0-6 on Radio 5. So there.)
Leg squeezer geezer?
A major leg-squeezer. The smell of deep heat and an unsavoury incident in the tunnel is never far from Robbie. Absolutely loves having been a pro footballer, the life of kings to Robbie, and frankly it is impossible to imagine him having been anything else except perhaps a man who works in a hair salon in Alderley Edge.
(Robbie has since tweeted Johnny to say that he does not 'hang around' Alderley Edge, although we never said he did)
A quick perusal of Robbie's online activities reveals a man absolutely steeped in the culture of banter. Whether it's joshing with an Andrew Flintoff about a loud tie or getting off a good one at the expense of a John Hartson about a golf handicap, there is just none more banter than Robbie. Everyone is addressed by their nickname if possible - a classic Bantersaurus technique. Thus Mark Chapman is forever 'Chappers'. The Banterman likes this because it suggests the matey insiderness of all boys together. Either literally or metaphorically Robbie is always flicking a wet towel at you. For him, farting is the language of comedy and the wearing of a tight shirt on television the source of endless hours of puerile fun. Indeed, at its worst, being around Robbie must be like being around an eight-year-old boy who has eaten too many sweets. When he was hit in the face by a ball during one commentary, to everyone's amusement, it was manna from heaven for such a Bantersaurus, physical pain and embarrassment being a major part of the Bantersaurus manifesto. If you were one day to find, unlikely though it may seem, that a footballer had shat in your shoe for a hilarious practical joke, you would be identifying Savage, R as the prime suspect without delay. Were you to object to this, he would genuinely think you were aloof or simply no fun.
We like Robbie's goat-like warbling voice. There, we've said it. This being said, we also like atonal German electronic music and self-harming has often seemed an attractive lifestyle choice. You better keep your cliché counter well-oiled when Robbie's around because he uses them liberally, largely because they offer a ready-made form of expression that is superior to anything he can think up on his own. As a man addicted, albeit unconsciously, to the art form, mistaking familiarity for originality, he would say he is a Marmite pundit and he would say it with gusto and pride. He would then explain what that meant, thus making saying he was a Marmite pundit in the first place utterly pointless. And he wouldn't understand why this is very annoying.
Why does he get gigs?
Initially, because he was that full-bore, irritating Welsh bloke that people loved to hate (but secretly a lot of us found him somewhat loveable). Being different counts for quite a lot in an industry afraid more often than it is brave. But as he has become more firmly embedded in the belly of the BBC beast, the rougher edges have been knocked off, and something has been lost. If he had any value, it was as that silly, little bit thick bloke with the daft hair who wanted to fart around a bit. Strip that away and what do you have? You have a man who thinks that whoever is top of the league could win the league, and where's the fun in that?
John Nicholson and Alan Tyers
See extracts from Alan's new book 'Tutenkhamen's Tracksuit: The History of Sport in 100ish Objects' here.
Check out John's new series of crime novels about a football fan, set in Middlesbrough, are here.