Every season has its defining features. Last year will be forever remembered for its famous final minute title decider. 2004 was the year of Arsenal's Invincibles side. This season, in lieu of any sort of drama in the title race, is rapidly becoming the year of the foul.
In the past few weeks fans have winced their way through a series of excruciating tackles. Callum McManaman inexplicably escaped retrospective action for a potentially career-ending challenge on Newcastle's Massimo Haidara. Demba Ba was unceremoniously booted in the face by former Newcastle teammate Fabriccio Coloccini. In two of the more bizarre incidents, West Brom's Youssouf Mulumbu was sent off for picking the ball up and kicking it at West Ham's Gary O'Neil, and Luis Suarez was banned for ten games for biting Branislav Ivanovic. In the FA Cup semi-final between Chelsea and Man City, David Luiz was on the receiving end of a Sergio Aguero challenge that Gareth Southgate described as "the worst tackle I've seen in a semifinal since Roy [Keane] tried to castrate me".
If it's true that the art of tackling is dying, then the spate of horror challenges this season could well be the death rattle, a final, vitriolic outburst before it becomes regulated beyond recognition. But which sides are the most responsible?
For all their negative press over "bullying tactics" or the accusation that they'd be better suited to rugby rather than football, Tony Pulis' Stoke City and Sam Allardyce's West Ham United aren't the table toppers when it comes to ill discipline (although to be fair, Pulis' charges are second placed).
That dubious honour instead falls to a somewhat unlikely recipient, at least in terms of media profile. Aston Villa are frequently daubed with altogether more pleasant monikers than their aforementioned competitors, such as "youthful", "enthusiastic", or at worst "inexperienced". Doubtlessly, a good deal of their disciplinary issues stem from this latter trait, although the younger squad members are aided and abetted by the likes of Fabien Delph, who has picked up the joint-most yellow cards this campaign.
Newly promoted Southampton, enjoying a relatively comfortable mid-table campaign, have the best record, receiving less than half the yellows that Villa have and being one of the three teams to have not been shown a red all season - the other two being champions Manchester United and Sunderland. However, a look at the latter team's record reveals the fact that total card counts don't tell the whole story.
Although Sunderland have avoided a sending off all season (you wouldn't bet against that changing under fiery new boss Paolo Di Canio), in Craig Gardner they have the most booked player in the league, with an impressive ten to his name. Fans of the Football Manager series will point to red card magnet Lee Catermole's lengthy stints in the physio room as another crucial reason for Sunderland's deceptive overall stats.
However, in this modern age of instant worldwide social media, we're blessed with a whole new way to check off our proverbial Santa's list of who's nice and who's naughty.
Granted, we've had stories of footballers engaging in hedonistic decadence for decades but now, with Twitter, it's at a whole new level. Research done by Ladbrokes has found that, on average, Man City are mentioned on Twitter once every 0.3 seconds (around 285,000 mentions a day), demonstrating just how popular the platform is amongst the footballing community. Before we relied on the press to report these tales, which inevitably allowed for clubs and individuals involved to interfere and get a bit of a favourable spin on it or stop publication altogether. With the spontaneous and immediate nature of Twitter, we're frequently treated to the uncensored and unmitigated innermost thoughts of players - and its pretty hard to put a PR spin on calling someone an "overweight lady boy".
That last comment comes from the inimitable Joey Barton, but he's by no means the only player to make himself look a twit with Tweets this season. James McClean has carried Sunderland teammate Gardner's torch for the digital world, referring to his omission from the Republic of Ireland squad at the start of the season as a "f*cking joke". The pressure of having a club's survival hopes resting on his shoulders obviously got too much for QPR's Chris Samba, who, after one too many jibes about his rumoured £100k a week wages went on the defensive, asking (not without some justification) "with out us what would u tweet about".
However, the award for most outspoken Twitterer without doubt goes to West Brom's Peter Odemwingie. Until this season, the Nigerian striker had quietly earned a reputation as an industrious player who could always be relied upon to bag a few goals. That all changed when he made several appeals to his club to let him join QPR in the January transfer window, culminating in him turning at Loftus Road at the eleventh hour to try and force the move through (and you know when Harry Redknapp is turning down a deal on transfer deadline day, something can't be right). Since then, his ostracisation from the West Brom squad has lead to innumerable rants where he's done everything from apparently admit to using steroids to suggesting that the entire situation was an elaborate cover up and that he'd received private apologies from the upper echelons of the Baggies hierarchy.
This season could well prove to be a fascinating crux in players behaving badly. As the stakes in terms of money are raised ever higher, poor disciplined players are going to become greater and greater risks, and with this inevitable stamp down (excuse the pun) on bad challenges, it could be that players turn to Twitter to vent their frustrations rather than seeking out retribution Roy Keane style.