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?
Watching the football on TV at the weekend. Everything seems normal. There's your BT presenter. You know. Wossisname. He's done a slick and snappy intro. There's your pundits. Steve McManaman has made an interesting point about the challenges facing somebody or other. Martin Keown's said a thing. It was perfectly okay.
Later, Michael Owen will be offering expert analysis.
You sigh, but that's the price you pay for having been born in the same country as Michael Owen. If you were from, like, Chad, you wouldn't have Michael Owen on your telly. Just imagine that. No Michael Owen on your telly. What a place to be alive.
Still, on balance, Chad's probably awful, what with the desert and the terror bombists and being named after a date-raper in an American high school movie. And we here in Britain have democracy, and Wickes, and an increasingly impressive range of craft ales, and football is on the television ALL THE DAMN TIME. And if Michael Owen is the price to pay for all that, then so be it.
Get that right up you, Chad.
So yeah. Football is on the telly. Good football men are talking about football. Everything is proceeding as normal.
A French lovely man is now doing some punditing in a delicious accent. What a nice voice. And he seems clever. And lovely. Your missus DEFINITELY would. So would you, to be fair, given the right combination of Pernod and violins.
It's Ginola, right?
The French lovely man is now on the actual visual TV screen, as well as talking. Something is odd.
The French lovely man who talks like David Ginola is not, actually, David Ginola.
In fact, he's some sort of journalist.
And a French one, at that.
A French journalist. That has to be the lowest of the low, doesn't it? Why is there a Frenchman on the TV who is not David Ginola? Why have corners been cut in this manner? Is this what I pay my subs for? Did our World War One heroes give their lives so that football on our TV could be introduced by an off-brand, Happy Shopper Non-David Ginola Frenchman?
The penny drops.
This is a pre-season friendly.
Everything looks like actual football. It feels like actual football. Certainly, everyone involved is treating it like actual football. The Frenchman, Julian Laurens, is good. Macca and Martin are Macca and Martin. The Artist Formerly Known As England's Michael Owen is exactly like he always is, that weird mixture of nagging urgency and K-hole vapidity. Somebody is commentating who is possibly human or possibly some malfunctioning software.
It's Arsenal against Monaco in the Fruit Pastilles Detroit Techno Lesser Spotted Milky Bar Cup, live from the north London 900-quid-baby-stroller-tragically-stabbed-talented-up-and-coming-musican interface retail-meganexus that is The Emirates.
Apparently, incredibly, they're currently showing the end of Benfica against somebody. They may, for all we know, have shown the entire match. Of Benfica. Against whoever it was. Or was it Sporting Lisbon? Whatever. Who could possibly give one actual half of a fraction of a feck? We'll tell you who. Dicks, that's who.
Manchester United are playing Liverpool also in the United American States Of Donut and people are pretending it means anything, staring at us like we're stupid, like they don't know that this is all pretend. They think there are lessons to be learned. But there are no lessons to be learned other than there are no lessons to be learned and, as Brendan Rodgers might say 'this is a lesson in the monetisation of the faux' right before quoting something from the new Neutral Milk Hotel album and flashing a peace sign.
Meanwhile, back in the real world, if you count Glasgow as real and not a construct of an especially psychotic video games designer, Celtic are actually already out of the Champions League after being beaten in the qualifying round by a sodding lot to not many by some side from somewhere else. Except now they're not. The actual football receives almost no coverage at all despite being proper competitive football. It's probably a conspiracy by Alex Salmond, or against Alex Salmond by someone who is bigoted against something. Yeah. You know it, we all know it.
So get this artificial friendly muck off our telly. We're happy to do other stuff in the meantime until the actual football season starts. We've got a hinterland, bitches, and so should you. Rip up these plastic flowers. Spit out this thin gruel. Tell them to stick this methadone where the sun don't shine. Pre-season football is like a hand shandy and Pot Noodle when you want a bloody steak and a ride. It is dry-humping in asbestos underwear sold as dirty sex.
The televised pre-season friendly is the full-kit wonker of football. Get that sh*te off our telly now. Unless there's at least one lesbian watching someone make a lemon drizzle cake, we ain't interested, pal.
John Nicholson and Alan Tyers
Check out John's new series of crime novels about life, death, sex and UEFA Cup football.
Or Alan's illustrated sports books here.