Outside The Box: Five things we've learned from 'Five Things We've Learned'
There was a time when you could watch a match for sheer enjoyment and not know much more at the end than you did at the start.
Some post-match analysis or a match report might help you spot something you otherwise would not have done but learning something new never came into it.
In the past few years, however, newspapers and websites have decided that viewers and spectators must learn from what they have just seen. Perhaps one or two things is insufficient; three or four is getting there but six of seven would be overkill. Five things we learned (FTWL) is just right.
It has spawned a genre all of its own and, with 10 Premier League games over 38 match days, FTWL means it's now possible to learn 1540 news things every season. Throw in some Champions League, FA Cup and League Cup and it's truly remarkable that, after several seasons of the phenomenon which must add up to over 10,000 'things', there's still so much to learn.
Just in case you weren't paying attention, however, here are five things we have learned from Five Things We Learned.
1. Winning manager does something good
Their team may have been battered for 90 minutes, had no shots and given away enough chances to lose several games but if they can find a late winner, the previous 90 minutes of learning is irrelevant.
Instead, we learn this team is resilient with a never-say-die attitude which will be morphed in some way to suit whatever the main pre-match storyline was.
The opposite of this can also result in the same outcome where a team misses a hatful of opportunities and finally grabs a scruffy late winner.
Rather than resilience, this will help us to learn that the team has calmness and trusts in the philosophy of the manager. Once they win of course.
If a new manager comes in, we will also learn - shockingly - that the new manager is doing something that the previous manager didn't.
2. Losing manager does something bad
That decision between Player A and Player B that the manager had to make? Well, once they lost the match he got that wrong.
If they concede from a set-piece, that goal will again show their vulnerability from them, particularly if they were marking zonally and didn't have one player (why not two, or even three?) on each post.
The fact that putting men on the posts is a form of zonal marking or that, statistically, the team may not have conceded a goal from the previous hundred set pieces will not prevent us learning about their vulnerability.
3. Small, seemingly insignificant moment was, in fact, crucial
Remember the throw-in in the right-back position after two minutes that the full-back threw down the line rather than inside to a team-mate? No? Well you should have done because what that proved was this team was going back to basics with their tactics and taking no chances.
There is virtually nothing too small which can't be blown out of all proportion and recontextualised once the result of the game is known.
FTWL will help the poor, unsuspecting reader to realise that the significance of the tip-off when the first touch came from the player on the left-hand side was, in fact, a clue that they recognised the weakness of the right side of their opponent's defence.
And you thought it only happened by chance?
4. Under-used player should be used more often/may have missed chance
These two are interchangeable depending on how that player performs - the quality of their opposition, competition in which they are playing or that they haven't produced the same performance over a significant period of time are, again, irrelevant to the discussion.
Much like a jilted girlfriend in a tabloid story, a player returning from injury can "show the team what they have been missing". This is particularly crucial if that player is fast or likes to run and shout a lot because it demonstrates to everyone how much they care.
FTWL loves such players, particularly if they can produce a stat on which to build the argument like the number of touches it took that player to provide an assist while doing a sprint in the opposition's final third. That's always a classic.
5. Something random to get to the fifth thing we learned
Even for FTWL veterans, there are some matches which are so bad and devoid of incident that reaching a fifth item of learning becomes difficult.
This is where the event which has nothing to do with the match comes into its own and can provide a bit of a smile to follow the previous four things we've learned which we've already forgotten because modern attention spans are so short.
It might be a marriage proposal at Anfield ("they won't be walking alone - ha); some birds on the pitch at St James' Park ("home of the Magpies" - hilarious) or something to do with Arsene Wenger's coat as some sort of symbolism to do with Arsenal's struggles around injuries/inconsistencies/defending, depending on what particular crisis they may be in.
This last one is crucially important because, apparently, people can't get enough of laughing at a 66-year-old man who is feeling the cold trying to put on a garment to warm himself up.
Not that any of it really matters because once FTWL gets a few hits or fills up the required space, it doesn't really matter how much guff has gone into it.
A bit like now, for example.