Friday, December 31, 2010

When It's Time To Change

The Heart of the Arsenal Central Defense

photo by Daniel Paixão Fontesvia PhotoRee

I suffered through Wigan playing Arsenal the other night; it wasn't exactly the most exciting game to watch from a neutral's perspective, although I did enjoy the ending. [Ed. Note: can I count myself as a neutral if I was actively rooting against Arsenal?  In fact, is there really such a thing as a neutral?  I look at neutrals the same way I view "Undecideds" in politics. Either you care, or you don't; and if you don't care, why are you watching?]

The Wigan side was composed of four players and seven interchangeable avatars: Charles N'Zogbia, Tom Cleverly, Hugo Rodallega, Ben Watson (who stood out mainly for his bright red hair and penalty kick) and seven "Who's that?" guys.  Give them credit, though -- they played their hearts out and obtained a result against an Arsenal side that should have been flying sky high after their recent victory over arch-rival Chelsea.

Regarding the Arsenal side they tied, though, one must address the elephant in the room:

If Mick McCarthy, Ian Holloway and others face the FA's music for squad rotation, surely Arsene Wenger must be nervously staring a fine in the face after replacing eight of the men who began Monday night's game against Chelsea?  Le Professor must have suffered calendar confusion, and mistakenly assumed that Wednesday night's EPL match was an early round League Cup encounter, to make as many changes as he did. 

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Three Blind Mice

Referee Mike Jones and His Linesmen Scurrying Away from Stamford Bridge
photo by hoyasmegvia PhotoRee

December 28 / Stamford Bridge / London, England
Chelsea may have earned themselves three points at home today versus Bolton, but the win was far from convincing. Escaping with the points largely due to the referee's blind eye, the Blues pulled themselves back within hailing distance of the league leaders.
But have no doubt about it: without the clear assistance of referee Mike Jones and his linesmen -- the Three Blind Mice of this piece's title --  Chelsea's performance was not enough to satisfy the doubters, and Carlo Ancelloti must still be wondering where his steadfast defense and offensive firepower disappeared to when the weather turned cold in England.
Chelsea looked rusty and creaky this evening, especially in the less than inspiring first 45 minutes of the game. Playing in front of a home crowd, the Blues appeared confused and disorganized, despite having most of their "big name" players back on the pitch. They appeared fragile and old, most closely resembling a fine piece of heirloom china, only fit to be taken out of the cabinet when esteemed company is being entertained, and held firmly in two hands the whole time for fear of breaking.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Tie Me Up, Tie Me Down

photo by sindesignvia PhotoRee

December 28 / St. Andrews / Birmingham, England

Lee Mason is shite.  There, I've said it.  The Premier League has the odd combination of the word's best footballers playing alongside the world's worst referees, and Lee Mason is right up there in the pantheon of losers with Mike Dean.  Missing an offside?  Maybe.  Missing a handball?  Possible.  Missing a foul?  Everyone has an off day.  Missing all three on a play in the 89th minute that costs United two points?  I'm sorry sir, but it's three strikes you're out, and straight to the third division for you.

Mason's bottle job cost United a hard earned victory against a dull and dreary Birmingham side that wouldn't have scored if they weren't allowed to whine, moan and cheat.  For much of the game Birmingham's offense consisted solely of falling over anytime a United player drew close by, in a baseless effort to draw opportunities for their free kick specialist, Sebastian Larsen.  I used to like watching the Blues, but this year they seem unispired, insipid, and just flat out boring.  In fact, after the drivel that they produced today in the name of offense, I hope the crowds at St. Andrews are enjoying the best football the Championship has to offer next season.

The affair this evening opened cagily enough, with United looking remarkably fresh despite starting virtually the same side which played a short 48 hours ago (Gibson replacing Park was SAF's only change, qualifying as a miracle in the current days of constant squad tinkering).  Although the Reds had the better of the opening twenty minutes, the Brum squad gradually pulled themselves back into the match as the free kicks began to pile up in their favor. 

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Notes, Asides, and Tuna Jumpers

photo by bucklavavia PhotoRee

farlieonfootie's favorite whipping boy Ed returns from a brief -- and failed -- attempt at organizing a strike with his latest piece of drivel:

Arsenal Mugs ChelseaWas the Arsenal squad that jumped Chelsea Monday evening even close to the same team that played against Manchester United two weeks ago? 

Arsenal showed something that’s been said before here at farlieonfootie, which is that sometimes the team that wins is simply the team that beats the other team to the ball.  Arsenal played with an enthusiasm and intensity last evening that’s it’s been lacking for most of the season; they pressed Chelsea at every turn.  They scrambled for the ball like it could be their last game.  In short, they played like Blackpool plays every game (yep, you read that right).  And for that reason, for what might be a first for me this year they were actually fun to watch.

Arsenal has plenty of talent.  Though they’re small up front – limiting their ability to be effective on crosses – they certainly have plenty of skill with Van Persie, Fabregas, Nasri, etc.  But I think that their style of play, while elegant, sometimes lends itself to losing sight of the intensity needed at this level.

Of course, it didn’t hurt that they smelled blood in the water from Chelsea, a team that has gone from the top of the table to one with seemingly has no depth and no real vision.  Drogba is still a beast up front, and in an odd turnabout, he seemed to be the only Chelsea player who was working hard and trying to win.  In the middle, Lampard was a non-factor, as was Malouda, who’s gotten icy cold in the last month after a feverish start. 

When Arsenal played United, they appeared to play not to lose.  No one was attacking the ball; passes were sloppy and defensive; and they ended up looking weak despite the fact that they’ve been near the top of the table all year. 

Let’s all hope that the man in the oversized down snuggy can keep them playing at this level.  It’s better for Arsenal and the league to see a good fight.

Still Leaking

photo by donjd2via PhotoRee

The 148th meeting between Arsenal and Chelsea Monday afternoon was a match much like many others between the two clubs.  For large portions of the game I had the feeling I'd seen this movie before: lots of tiki-taka Arsenal possession, passing and probing, but no worthy Gooner end product, with Chelsea looking to spring Drogba on the counter-attack for a morale-crushing blow.  But ten minutes in the middle of the match told the tale of how things have changed of late between the two clubs, and provided a dramatically different ending than we've become accustomed to, as Arsenal cruised -- that's right, cruised -- to a 3-1 victory.

The papers are full this morning of Carlo Ancelloti's obituary as Chelsea coach, which may be true, but in my opinion at least, would represent a totally undeserved fate for the suave Italian.  The news is also chock-a-bloc with opinions as to how the ghost of Ray Wilkins is still haunting Chelsea's Christmas present, but I feel this is an oversimplification.  Clearly there are problems at Chelsea: age, lack of depth and even more damning -- lack of spirit -- among them, but the bigger question is how did it come to this for a side who won the league -- according to the London-based pundits -- back in October?

The newspapers are also full of Gooner pride, and bold predictions about how Arsenal have finally overcome the dreaded Blue menace, and are now confident enough to go on and win the title.  I don't think so.  This is a good but ultimately flawed and inexperienced Arsenal side, and although i think they'll finish comfortably in second or third place, i don't see them challenging for the title at season's end.

Monday, December 27, 2010

The Worst of the Worst

A New Award for the Holiday Season: The Ballon du Merde
photo by johannalvia PhotoRee

It seems as if virtually everyone else has used the Christmas break to come up with their Season-to-Date Recaps, or EPL Best XI list, but we don't work like that here at farlieonfootie.  Instead, we're proposing to do something just a little bit different.  Herewith the First Annual farlieonfootie Nominations for the Ballon du Merde, a new award we're trying to convince FIFA to grant to this year's worst players in the EPL:

Goalkeeper: Robert Green, West Ham United.  His problems began back in the World Cup, allowing an inexplicable goal against the USA and promptly losing his starting spot, and have continued into the EPL season.  By allowing 31 goals so far, Green's conceded more often than any other 'keeper in the EPL this year (he's actually tied for this dubious honor with Scott Carson of West Brom).  Although Green's not always terrible, he's routinely bad enough to take home the prize this year. 

Defender: Jonathan Spector, West Ham United.  Dismiss the two goals he scored against Manchester United in the League Cup, and focus more on Spector's consistently poor defending, which sets an awful standard even for an American.  He's been so bad in defense that the Hammers are now trying to hide him in midfield  They'd be better off hiding him on the bench.

Defender: Richard Dunne, Aston Villa.  Where did this guy's skills go?  Like Rhett Butler, they're seemingly Gone With the Wind.  Last year this guy was a joy to behold and a rock in the center of defense.  This season he's arguing with management and his status is sinking like a rock.  What a difference a year makes.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Rolling Downhill

photo by tinou baovia PhotoRee

Another game, another victory as the Red Machine rolls on, picking up speed on the journey. Before the game, I worried United might struggle without Nani, but we didn't seem to miss him too much today. I hope the injury isn’t serious, because with Park heading out of town, Valencia out with a broken leg, and now Nani injured, we're getting a bit thin at the wide position. 
Nor did the two week break affect the players, dismissing another pre-game concern.  Sunderland spent the first 25 minutes of the game on the rack, as United showed incredible fluidity in attack.  The Red Devils’ movement on and off the ball, as well as their passing, were simply excellent today, the type of creativity, vision and execution for which Sir Alex has been looking.
  • Today was the United we demand and expect to see, and Sunderland never had a prayer.  They spent much of the first half looking as if they were playing shorthanded, with a man in red seemingly always open on the attack.  In fact, Sunderland’s best defender in the opening 45 was the goal post, which twice denied United, frustrating both Berbatov and Anderson. 
  • That would have been Berbatov’s only disappointment today, as he spent much of the day looking virtually unplayable.  His first goal was deceptively easy, Giggs sprinting downfield with the ball at his foot, Berba to his left, and Rooney to the right.  Although Giggs failed to pick out the Bulgarian on the run, Rooney made no mistake when Giggs laid the ball off to him, finding Berabtov so open it made one wonder where the Sunderland defense was hiding. Berbatov was completely unmarked, and quickly nodded the ball down and into the back of the net. 

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Boxing Daze

photo by faster panda kill killvia PhotoRee

So now it begins: the meaty part of the English football season. While the less-manly leagues go into winter hibernation for the next couple of weeks, the EPL kicks into overdrive with a schedule as jam-packed as Times Square on New Year's Eve. Beginning with Boxing Day tomorrow and ending on January 5th, eight of the next 11 days will feature EPL football. The next week and a half should go a long way toward answering many of the questions marks currently hanging over the teams at the top of the table, and give us a better idea of who'll be presiding at the top at season's end:
Can Arsenal Challenge for the Crown?  The Gunners host cross-town rival Chelsea on December 27th, and a loss to the Blues would throw even more cold water on the title chances of Wenger's boys.  Arsenal then travel to Wigan and Birmignham -- lying 16th and 18th in the table heading into this weekend, before hosting Manchester City at The Emirates on January 5th.  Minimum Point Haul Necessary: 9.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Merry Christmas

photo by jgodseyvia PhotoRee

And on the 100th day of farlieonfootie, he rested.  

Merry Christmas to all!  Peace on earth, good will to men!

We'll see you back here bright and early on Boxing Day -- lots of exciting footie to report on in the week leading up to New Year's Day.


Thursday, December 23, 2010

The Measure of Sin

photo by Biking Nikon PDXvia PhotoRee

Coach Tom is back with the latest edition of Coaches Corner, this time on the sin of knocking the ball anywhere but in the back of the goal:

Which is worse, shooting the ball over the net, or shooting the ball wide of the net?  The answer is neither.  Not shooting at all is the worst mistake any player can make.  Trick answers aside, the other correct answer would be high AND wide.  In my coaching days it was 10 pushups for over the bar, 20 for wide, and 30 for high and wide.  It seems only fair as the goal is three times as wider as it is high and, really, one mistake per shot is all one should tolerate.  Maybe I should have gone 60 for high and wide....hmmmm. 

And yet football is full of sinners -- one need look no further than Wayne Rooney's wayward effort against Arsenal last week (see below).  Folks pelt the stands, advertisements, ball boys, trees (so Correspondent Ed tells us) and ether with wayward efforts.  Aren't they supposed to be professionals?  My answer to that is simple:  try it. 

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Berlusconi Fails in Second Confidence Vote of the Week!

photo by batraxvia PhotoRee

Our European correspondent Todd checks in from Italy, taking some brief time off from his holiday celebrations to offer his perspective on this weekend's disappointing turn of events at the San Siro:
December 19 / Stadio San Siro / Milan, Italy
The Wall Street Journal reported earlier this week that “Silvio Berlusconi's government survived what was, by our count, its fifth confidence vote this year. The final tally in Italy's lower house of parliament: 314 to 311. Anti-Berlusconi trade unionists, students, and unaffiliated anarchists have taken the occasion to riot in Rome, setting cars on fire and beating policemen. Italy's 10-year sovereign bond yield edged up to 4.61% yesterday, from 4.53% on Monday before the vote.”
To which farlieonfootie would add: “And Roma traveled to San Siro, stealing three points from Berlusconi’s league-leading, star-studded rossoneri club.”  Although the match lacked the headlines and drama of sex scandals, palace intrigue, and consequential street violence, its outcome was a punishing blow to Il Primo Ministro, resulting in his sixth confidence vote of the year. 
Claudio Ranieri fielded a giallorossi side featuring Morco Borriello, the team’s leading scorer on loan from Milan, up front, with Francesco Totti firmly bundled and affixed to the Roma bench.  Not to be outdone, Milan skipper Massimo Allegri benched Ronadinho.  With these two legends literally shivering in their boots, the starting line-ups were predictable.
Milan dominated the first half handily, passing and dribbling through their Roman counterparts with relative ease, if not flair.  Although the Milan attack was ambidextrous and effective, the end result was still nil for both sides at the interval.  The second half featured more of the same sporadic back and forth.   The rossoneri  kept circling their prey but couldn’t quite swoop in with their talons.  Their shots were weak and off the mark, the lead-ups and movement good but lacking in creativity with Ronaldinho remaining on the bench.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010


A Pretty Good Visualization of Manchester City's Defense Last Night
photo by Moe_via PhotoRee

farlieonfootie braved the cold weather last night to watch Citteh - Everton from his warm living room couch.  Below, some brief observations on the Sky Blues comedic attempts to take the top spot -- never mind the two games in hand -- in the EPL last night
  • With the opportunity to go top, City bottled it once again, contributing yet another exhibit favorable to the prosecution in the case of Doubters v. City's Title Prospects. For the record, today's game kept the number of goals scored at home by a City player at 8, in 9 games overall at Wastelands.

That's some exciting offense, huh?  Good thing they kept Carlos Tevez happy....
  • Also for the record, from @seaningle: Last season through 18 games, City managed to gain 32 points and had a goal differential of +10.  This season through 18 games, City have managed to gain 32 points and have a goal differential of +8.  Bring back Mark Hughes!
  • It says a lot about Manchester City's offense last night to note that their leading scorer was Phil Jagielka. Yes, the same Phil Jagielka who plays defense for Everton. And their best and most consistent offensive effort consisted of raising their arms, faces contorted in rage, screaming at the referee and appealing time and again for a hand ball on Everton. 

Monday, December 20, 2010

Heads Up

photo by storemvia PhotoRee

I watched Atleti take on Malaga in the absence of EPL action Sunday. While it wasn't the match I hoped to be witnessing -- that one would have pitted a certain team from Manchester against a fourth place side from London -- it served as an interesting diversion from the snowed-out schedule (or lack of) that the EPL served up this weekend.

Actually the match also served as a respite from the horrid football -- NFL style -- that I unfortunately saw first hand earlier in the day, while watching the Miami Dolphins host the Buffalo Bills. The Fins managed to run their standard offense fairly consistently today -- 3 runs and a punt -- on their way to another home loss in a season that is ending yet again in bitter disappointment and finger-pointing.

Atleti served up a better game, though, with a 3-1 victory that may take some of the pressure off embattled coach Quique Sanchez Flores. Diego Forlan was dropped from the Atleti starting lineup, and Reyes was a welcome return with the warm weather being judged to suit his style better than the last time we saw Atleti -- in their disappointing and snowy mid-week exit from the Europa League.

The sight of the lush green pitch at Malaga's Rose Garden -- located in the heart of Spain's Costa del Sol mediterranean vacation land -- was a stark contrast to the muted brownish-green grass of the English winter. The game's style also served a harsh contrast to that of its English relative, and seemingly matched its location, played at the leisurely mañana pace of a land accustomed to vacationers. Both sides were content in the first half to play languid, ticky-tack football, with long arcing crosses interrupting the tight, controlled passes from time to time; beautiful to watch, but a very different sort of game than that featuring the more direct style preferred in the EPL (often referred to derisively as "over the top" football).

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Let it Snow, Let it Snow, Let it Snow

photo by ~Brenda-Starr~via PhotoRee

So, we learned one thing yesterday: England can't handle snow.  When I read earlier this week about the impending "blizzard" poised to strike the British Isles I had visions of 12 to 24 inches of snow with blowing drifts.  What I actually saw was what we here in the States would describe as a light dusting.  In fact, in Minnesota, Michigan and other northern parts of this country, the same weather would be described as "Pleasant, with a chance of afternoon sunshine."  I mean, c'mon: two inches of snow and the entire league is paralyzed?  We call off games for Sunday, including the big one pitting Manchester United against Chelsea, more than 24 hours in advance?  Even here in South Florida there's a shot (slight, I'll admit) that we could have put on a better show than the EPL did today.

I guess there's nothing left to do but break out the firewood, turn up the volume on the Dean Martin holiday album, and turn the channel to GOLTV to watch La Liga.  Herewith, in honor of the not-very-tough men who called off this weekend's EPL action, a classic Christmas song celebrating the cold weather:

The snowstorm also played havoc with my fantasy football team.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Get Back on the Bus

photo by Hello, I am Brucevia PhotoRee

The screaming and yelling you may have heard outside your window Friday afternoon was the noise of newly-minted Spurs fans wildly abandoning the "biggest bandwagon in town" as the wheels came off the bus, due to the news of Tottenham's pairing with AC Milan in the Champion League Round of 16. The tie, announced Friday in Lyon and to be contested in two months' time, was greeted with a chorus of gloom and doom from Spurs' Nervous Nellie fan-base, who don't appear to be all that accustomed to the pressure and "squeaky bum time" that is the knockout portion of the tournament.  

I have some advice for you, Spurs fans, that should bring hope and good tidings in the New Year: Have courage, boys (even if it's of the liquid variety; there's a beer review at the end of this entry).  The sky is not falling, and the end is not near.  This is AC Milan we're talking about, not Barcelona.  If you want to cheer yourself up, just look across town at your buddies Arsenal: you could be in their position, and actually have to play Barcelona.  Now THAT would be truly scary.

But back to Spurs.

Friday, December 17, 2010


An actual photograph of Correspondent Ed and an unidentified guest at the annual farlieonfootie holiday mega-party
photo by Thomas Hanauervia PhotoRee

So flippin’ farlieonfootie just took a page from Uncle Harry’s playbook (that’s Spurs Manager Harry Redknapp) and put out the order that we gotta take it slow at this year's holiday parties.  You know, we’ve got to keep our focus, keep up the effort, and keep stampin’ out the widgets like underage children in a textile factory.  Meanwhile, he’s all off the chain on us like Dieter at a Rave.  Yes, that Dieter, as in:  “Would you like to touch my monkey?”  And, “Touch him, love him!!!”  And, of course: “Now is the time we Dance!!!”

Now granted, at last year’s Festivus Party (for the Rest of Us), the so-called “Airing of Grievances” got a little KRAYE-Z.  And sure, there’s nothing quite worse than wetting yourself after too many Monks in the Trunk (Game Day Beer Review: 3.5 stars, Good all year round, but see it more as a fall blend) like a certain Blackpool correspondent did at the Tex/Mex Christmas and Hanukah Bash sponsored by our industrial sister website, (seriously, I never thought shale gas was funny stuff until that night).  But that said, I have a few words for our “Dear Leader,” farlieonfootie, our self-proclaimed “Mega Mind” who I should add has little or nothing in common with this super-villain / hero other than his enormous blue head (well, maybe also the girlish figure and propensity for metrosexual tight leather “evil” outfits). 

Thursday, December 16, 2010

For the Love of the Game

photo by Nina Matthews Photographyvia PhotoRee

I sit tonight by the hissing fire, warming myself from the cold weather which has invaded our tropical paradise from northern climes, cold beer in hand, having finally found some quiet time amidst the old-fashioned holiday bustle to ponder a question recently posed of me.  At the time, I found myself stunned into silence, unable to articulate a clear and concise answer.  Tonight, however, I’ll attempt to give a better account of myself.  The question, posed by a friend (we’ll call him Trey) unfamiliar with the game we all love, was relatively simple: What is it about football that you find so compelling; what do you love about the game?  My answer, after letting the question percolate in my mind for 24 hours or so, can be found below:
I love football because it’s a true mixture of both a team and an individual sport.  Much like my first love, baseball, success in football can be predicated on both outstanding team and individual efforts.   Obviously, a football game can’t be contested by one person alone, but the actions of a single player can and often do alter or decide the outcome of a game.  American Football, NFL style, on the other hand is a true team game; while an individual can certainly stand out, it’s virtually impossible for a single player to win an NFL game on his own.  The running back requires the line to block for him; the quarterback the receiver to catch the glamorous touchdown pass.  In the game the rest of the world calls football, however, some of the most majestic plays of all time involve a single player slaloming through a helpless defense with only the opposition goaltender standing between him and glory, and a single goal can make all the difference in the world.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Ace of Spades

photo by thunvia PhotoRee

December 13 / Old Trafford / Manchester, England

Let's call a spade a spade: Machester United's win over Arsenal tonight was a solid if unspectacular match that afforded the type of result the Manager had in mind when he made out the lineup sheet. Benching the team's leading scorer, and replacing him with an effective five man midfield, Sir Alex went with his favored continental approach, a more conservative and controlled offense preferred to the faster and funner, but also looser 4-4-2 formation. In the end, the move paid off in spades with a 1-nil victory that moved United back to top of the EPL table with a game still in hand.  Although not offering much in the way of action to excite the neutral or casual fan, the Red Devils' victory last night over one of their bitterest rivals is sure to bring a smile to the face of any Manchester United supporter.

Herewith the keys to the match, as seen from my seat:
  • United packed the midfield with five players on defense, with both Nani and Park working tirelessly off the ball to support Anderson, Carrick and Fletcher in the middle. This tactic, while ostensibly contributing to the stop / start nature  of the game, disrupted the Gunners' usual attacking flow of passes, and never allowed them to get on track. I can't remember a game for either team in which there were so many incomplete passes, the result of the constant, pressured defense both sides featured. By stacking the middle, United also forced Arsenal out wide to attack from the flanks, with the Gunners reduced to offering long crosses in the general direction of an isolated and beleaguered Marouanne Chamakh.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Blackpool Runs Deep

photo by MrB-MMXvia PhotoRee

Correpsondent Ed returns, with a semi-serious column on one of his favorite teams:
Here are a few questions to consider:  Which team has more road wins this season, Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester United, or Blackpool?  Which of these same teams has the most goals away from home?  Oh, and which of those teams is quickly becoming the story of the year?  The answers are – and these should be obvious to all of you who are paying attention – Blackpool, Blackpool, and of course, Blackpool.

This weekend, Blackpool disposed of Stoke City.  I use the words “disposed of” because I actually sat down to watch the game (low definition, as always with Blackpool; in fact so low that it was broadcast with the score and time off the screen) with the idea that Blackpool should beat Stoke despite the fact that Stoke was the favorite, the game was at the Brittania, and Stoke was coming off three wins and two draws in their last five.  My reasoning was simple:  Blackpool is a better team.   

In these pages, I’ve written about Blackpool in a somewhat fanciful way – see, e.g., Blackpool Drops the Adam Bomb and more recently, Et tu, Blackpool.   But I think it’s time to give these guys the serious analysis they deserve and take a deeper look at their success and the reasons for it.  So, here’s five thoughts on the Seasiders in a most uncolorful / accountant-like way:

Monday, December 13, 2010

Chelsea's Still Singing the Blues

photo by eschipulvia PhotoRee

Despite their tie with Spurs yesterday, something's still amiss with Chelsea.  Sure, they looked better in the second half, but 45 minutes does not a game make.  In the first half -- sans their malaria-stricken Ivorian super hero -- the Blues looked completely toothless, all bark and no bite.  Anelka was lazy and diffident on offense, and Chelsea rarely looked threatening with him leading the line.  Malouda and Kalou played slightly better, but the Frenchman's scoring touch has deserted him in recent days, as has that of Drogba's smaller Ivorian compatriot.  John Terry was several last ditch toe pokes away from having a diabolically bad game in central defense, and although Paolo Ferreira dealt with Bale, the Welsh wideman was actually one of Spurs' weakest players on the day for my money.

Chelsea were simply outclassed in the middle of the pitch, with Luka Modric, Aaron Lennon and Wilson Palacios bossing the game for good portions.  Essien was the best of Chelsea's middle men, although that's not saying much when the other two are Jon Obi Mikel and Ramires.  For the life of me, I fail to see any reason at all to have Mikel in the lineup -- McEachren would be an improvement at this point -- and Ramires appears to be adjusting to the EPL about as well as his Brazilian countryman Robinho did.


Sunday, December 12, 2010

Helter Skelter

photo by p_a_hvia PhotoRee

Just a quick editorial aside to make room for the latest news before today's blog.  I think all regular readers of the blog will recognize that I'm biased (see yesterday's blog entry for an example), so take it for what you want.  

The headlines out of Manchester and London were consumed yesterday with the news of Carlos Tevez' written demand to leave Manchester City during the January transfer window.  I won't re-hash old news except to say "I told you so."  The guy is a malcontent from the word "Go," and one of those types for whom the grass is always greener somewhere else.  Call me slow, but I realized this when United gave Tevez (or his agent, the ultra-shady Kia Joorabchian) his ostensible asking price, only to be repaid with a refusal to sign and a move across town.  As far as I'm concerned, it's good riddance to Tevez, and Sir Alex has once again proved why he's among the smartest minds in world football.  See ya later, Carlos; enjoy playing for Boca Juniors, and we'll see you in 'El Superclasico' real soon.   

I spent the better part of my day going from football match to football match today; most of the games I saw happened to be in the Premier League, but not all of them.  In fact, the most special game I witnessed took place in the middle of my day, but I'll come back to that a little later.

First of all, the facts, plain and #simples, as they say: it may be cold wherever you're reading this, but in South Florida it's all sunny blue sky and 71 degrees (21.6 degrees celsius, for those of you scoring from England).  Nice and cool in the shade, but a bit hotter out in the sun.  All in all, though, not too shabby for a mid-December Saturday; kind of puts you in the Christmas mood....

Unlike many of you, we get our games in the morning and early afternoon over here in the eastern part of the US.  So it's often wake up for breakfast, turn on the tv, and start watching to begin the weekend.  Because there was no noon-time GMT kickoff today, I got to sleep in, and enjoyed a nice cup of coffee and quick read of the papers before the action got rolling.

To begin the day I managed to catch about a quarter of Bayern Munich's game against St. Pauli (somwhat confusingly, I thought St. Pauli was a beer, and not a football club based in Hamburg; I guess you really do learn something new each day).  I managed to catch just enough of the game to whet my appetite for EPL football, but when I saw Bastian Schweinsteiger's fine layoff lead to an early goal for the men from Munich, it made it all that much more bitter when I read the news later in the day that Schweini had signed a five year extension to stay at Bayern.  I was genuinely hoping he'd end up in Manchester by summer's end.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Welcome to Fantasy Island

photo by Stéfanvia PhotoRee

I don't know how many of you play EPL Fantasy Football out there, but I'm guessing it's a decent percentage of the regular readers of this blog (hello again, Ed's Mom!).  I've been playing for the last three seasons -- also known as The Descent into Madness -- and although I'm spending less time on it this year than in prior seasons, it's only because much of the "free time" I used to spend contemplating my weekly fantasy "trades" have now has been sucked up by my extensive corporate responsibilities running the global empire that is farlieonfootie.

I still enjoy it tremendously, though, and it's given me a greater appreciation for both the game and the entire EPL.  I still need (sorry, that should be NEED) to watch every Manchester United match, but now I also find myself caring about the outcome of many other games, as well.  As an example: all eyes this weekend will be naturally focussed on Chelsea - Spurs and United - Arsenal, but do I hear anyone -- anyone? Bueller...?-- other than diehard fans caring about Wolves - Birmingham?  

I've got a couple points at stake.  I may not watch the entire game, but I care about the outcome, and will definitely look for highlights (preferably including a Stephen Carr goal, combined with an improbable Brum shutout on the road).  In other words, with fantasy football, there are no more "irrelevant" players or games -- they all count, and you never know where you might pick up points.

Over the years, I've learned some things about playing fantasy football, but don't take my word for Gospel.  I'm currently mired in third place in my mini-league, and....about 700,000th place (out of 2.3 million players) in the overall game, so take this all with a whopping grain of salt (and notice that I'm not charging you for the advice; that'll come later):

Friday, December 10, 2010

What We've Learned So Far in the Champions League

photo by edwin.11via PhotoRee

This piece could be really short, if I'm honest. Sure, there were a couple of minor surprises, but by and large the group stage of the Champions League has come to a conclusion with virtually no major surprises.  The tournament, especially at this stage, has begun to take on the feel of being just an opportunity for the largest clubs in the world to generate a little extra ticket revenue from their fan base, with almost no shock entrants or Cinderella teams trying on their glass boots for the knockout rounds, a la the Gonzaga Bulldogs in March Madness.....

Although there were moments of high excitement -- White Hart Lane for instance, on the night that Gareth Bale held his coming out party for football fans worldwide --  by and large the group stage has proved a mere coronation for Europe’s largest and wealthiest clubs.  In large part this is due to format: the cream really should rise to the top over the course of six games. But there's also no way of denying that there’s a signifcant talent (and money) gap between the “Big Five” leagues in Europe (EPL, La Liga, Serie A, Bundesliga and Ligue 1) and all the other smaller leagues (Denmark, Russia, and Romania, just to name a few), and the Champions League group stage only serves to highlight the gaping chasm.

England, Germany and Spain produced all the group winners save one -- United, Chelsea and Spurs from England; Schalke and Bayern from Germany; and Barca and Real from Spain. The other top spot was reserved for one of the few minor surprises I referred to earlier: Shakhtar Donetsk from Ukraine.  The teams finishing second are again heavily weighted toward the Big Five: three from Italy, two from France, one from Spain and one (Arsenal) from England.  Once again, there’s only a small band of resistance from Europe’s second tier: FC København, and I’ll be absolutely shocked if they advance past the next round. 

So two teams in all from outside the Big Five – not a real eye-opener, and a result most analysts could have picked months in advance.  Perhaps the only two surprises I can think of are that Arsenal almost didn’t make the tourney’s latter stages, struggling to finish second in their group, and one of the German sides (Werder Bremen) finished last in a group in which many thought they’d finish near the top.

But despite the overall predictability of the results, the group stage of the Champions League hasn’t proved a total waste of time, and we’ve even managed to learn a thing or two that could prove useful as we get deeper into the tournament.  Here’s some of what we've learned so far:

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Topping the Group While Kissing Your Sister

photo by Carissa GoodNCrazyvia PhotoRee
farlieonfootie's correspondent James checks in with his weekly take on yet another enjoyable Spurs game, this time from the Champions League match played in Enschede, also known as the Amsterdam of the eastern Netherlands. Although I don't often feel compelled to review James' rather lavish expense reports on a line item basis, he has spent some considerable time this week attempting to convince me that the credit card charge labeled "Red Light District" is actually related to a traffic violation:

It would be quite typical of this almost maddeningly but quite entertainingly inconsistent Spurs team to lose this match somewhere in the neighborhood of 4-3.  After all, they’ve already qualified to move forward in Champions League, they're on the road and, well, it would just be typical Spurs, especially after the weekend's frustrating second half collapse at St. Andrews. 

Much has been written recently about how appealing Spurs' wide open brand of football is for “neutrals,” and how, therefore, their realistic chances of winning a title here or, especially, in the Premiership, are pretty much nil. The primary reasoning behind this line of thinking is that the synonyms for words like “entertaining” and “wide open” are “injury ravaged" and "fright-inducing central defense.” 

Now, in Spurs’ defense’s defense, they have in fact been ravaged by injury (e.g., Woodgate, Dawson, King, Corluka, etc.).  Nevertheless, Gallas has been a rock until late in games, when he just flat runs out of gas and looks every one of his 33 years, Kaboul had become a pleasant revelation up until his injury two games ago, and the two primary two fullbacks – Hutton and Assou-Ekotto – are more attuned to the offensive end of the pitch in both skill and temperament, thereby further bolstering an attacking strategy, but putting further pressure on the middle. 

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

The Carousel of Progress

photo by Darren Wittkovia PhotoRee

Tonight's Champions League game against Valencia is being played solely for placement purposes, as both contestants have already advanced into the knockout phase of the contest.  United need only a draw to advance as the number one seed in Group C, while the Spaniards also have an opportunity to gain the top spot with a win, based on their superior goal differential in the five games to date.

Youth is being served on United's defense tonight, with Ben Amos in goal, bookended by twin Da Silva’s at fullback. On the offensive side of the ball, United go with more experience, starting both Rooney and Berbatov, assisted on the wing by Nani, and I'll settle for two to three goals tonight rather than the seven these guys accounted for last time out. 

United begin with a bang, Nani not far off the mark at the four minute mark, missing just to the left on a swerving shot to open the evening's action. At the other end Rafael shows off his fine defensive skills, breaking up an early Valencia foray into the box. Valencia look adventurous tonight on offense, not content to just sit back and wait for the opportunity to counter-attack.  

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

The Golden Cutback

photo by Sean Davisvia PhotoRee

What's a football blog without the requisite winning coach to offer insightful analysis of important games?  We've got one of the best in our ranks: farlieonfootie is proud to introduce Champions League winner Tom to our blogging staff.  Granted, Tom won the Champions League of the Girls' Under 11 Division in Riverside, New York, but still, it's something.  Those were some tough girls.  With no further ado (because there is none), herewith the Coaches Corner:

I've done a bit of coaching in my time:  little bitty weeble kiddies, seventh grade boys, varsity girls (with some acclaim, I add most humbly).  At every level I, and all other competent coaches, stress the fundamentals.  First touch, body over ball, shin guards in the front, what have you.  And at every level I've stressed the vital power of that most basic and plain of tactics:  the cutback.

Even little kids can see (eventually) that if an attacker drives the ball to the end line and attacks the near post some wonderful things will happen. The 'keeper slides to the side of the net,  all ten field defenders will face their own net, and, blessedly, nine remaining  attackers wait in position to pounce.

What makes this simple strategy so hard at the youth level is skill.  Not a lot of kids can get the ball to the end line without dribbling out of bounds, or kicking the ball in a random direction or tripping over the line.  And then, if the poor kid gets to the line, he or she has to have the presence of mind (important term.  We'll return to this) to drive to the near post and then lay the ball back into the box.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Bits and Pieces from Here and There

Some bits and pieces from here and there:

• I Watched David De Gea Play for Atletico Madrid this weekend. Unfortunately. My handpicked successor to Edwin Van der Sar inspired about as much confidence as a bumbling Detective Barney Fife against Levante on Saturday, conceding a rather soft goal to open the scoring in yet another shock Atleti loss. I wonder what's going on with the young Spaniard. He's had a tough few games lately -- appearing both indecisive and inexperienced against both Espanol and Aris Thessaloniki, in addition to his performance against Levante -- and looks to have lost his preternatural swagger. I wonder if all the rumors about United and other teams vying for the young 'keeper have finally proved unsettling.

A Leaked Cable from Wikileaks has revealed that the illegitimate thug who leads Burma, Than Shwe, considered making a $1 Billion controlling bid for Manchester United in mid 2009. Thankfully for United fans, Shwe changed his mind at the last minute because he thought it might "look bad" coming directly on the heels of a hurricane which killed 140,000 of his subjects (and not only because the $1 Billion price tag for United almost exactly mirrored the amount required to rebuild Burma after the extensive damage caused by the storm). Umm... Yeah. It would have definitely looked bad. And you thought the Glazers weren't good stewards of our club.

Sunday, December 5, 2010


photo by dev nullvia PhotoRee

I watched some footie this weekend, but to tell the truth I felt somewhat adrift without a United game to serve as an anchor on the weekend's action. With apologies to Samuel Taylor Coleridge, there was football, football everywhere, but not a United game from which to drink. It was a bizarre EPL weekend, seemingly normal to fans of other teams with eight matches in total being played, but the one game I wanted to see above all others during Week 16 wasn't contested due to a pitch frozen as hard as if Snow Miser himself had been Blackpool's Head Groundskeeper.

I further undermined my own cause with some poor DVR programming. I don't know whether to blame it on one of the beer reviews that make up a certain part of this blog, or just plain old bad luck, but because I was tied up for large portions of both Saturday and Sunday I was reduced to staying away from my Twitter account and recording the games I wanted to watch on my DVR.  In order to make my task easier, I programmed my selections Friday night, and therein lies the root cause of my misfortune.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Real Men Don't Wear Snoods

photo by Idhrenvia PhotoRee

I've had it with today's modern footballer. It's no longer enough to get injured at the drop of a hat, vacation in Ibiza, or be photographed dancing on bars while doing shots of tequila. No, to be a true modern player these days, one must have the signature piece of equipment of today's pampered star: the snood.

farlieonfootie's been outspokenly against this horrific trend going back for some time now -- at least two weeks. The time has finally come, though, to call out some supposed stars on this affront to both our game and manhood. What ever happened to being a real man, playing a tough, "stuck in" game, and having a cold beer afterward? Many of the players out there today look more appropriately attired to attend womens' fashion shows, do Red Carpet interviews, and wind down with a double-espresso, half-caff latte, with a pinch of non-sucrose sugar and a slight twist of lemon.

And how appropriate is it that no team in the EPL exemplifies this detestable look better than farlieonfootie's favorite whipping boys: Man City. Let's take a look at just a few of the massive "stars" on display at Eastlands today versus Bolton: wimpy Yaya Toure was bundled up in an extra large, relaxed fit snuggie, while softie Carlos Tevez joined in his signature slim-fitting, streamlined snood. Completing the resplendent triumvirate was Italian pretty boy Mario Balotelli, with his medium-sized, standard fit neck warming scarf. In fact, City like the pampered look so much that the club has started officially endorsing it by selling MCFC branded snoods online (I'm not making this stuff up, folks. I report the news, not invent it.).

Friday, December 3, 2010


There's TWO new posts for you today (actually three if you count this), on the theory that some of you can't get enough farlieonfootie with just one dose a day (Note to Ed's Mom: Thanks so much for your readership!).  Our man Ed is mad as hell, and he's not going to take this anymore.  So make sure to read BOTH new posts below:  Drilled! AND  Man Up, Barça!  Enjoy -- fof

This is one of three posts from farlieonfootie for December 4.


farlieonfootie columnist Ed sounds off on FIFA's recent decision to award the 2022 World Cup to a true footballing powerhouse, the nation of Qatar.  farlieonfootie himself, though, would like to make very sure that FIFA President Joseph "Sepp" Blatter knows just how highly farlieonfootie thinks of his Royal Highness, Mr. Blatter, and wants to make expressly clear that the opinions authored below in no way whatsoever represent managements'.  Further, farlieonfootie management hopes that such opinions, being as they come from a rogue employee, will in no way interfere with farlieonfootie's own personal ability to score a highly coveted press pass to the 2022 Cup.  Enough said:

Here at farlieonfootie, we’d like to congratulate FIFA on taking the gold medal, over both the International Olympic Committee (Silver) and the UN Human Rights Committee (Bronze), in the highly competitve race for the most corrupt international body in the world.  Please cue “We are the World,” and raise the two soccer ball world-map flag. 

For the 2018 World Cup, FIFA thought it best to bypass the country that invented the game in lieu of Russia, a country run by two mobsters that seem to get off on killing journalists and, well, just about anyone else they don’t like -- either that, or jailing them indefinitely in Siberia, which amounts to much the same thing. 

Man Up, Barça!

Regular EPL Columnist Ed checks in, with an alternate view of El Superclasico.  Can't wait for the post-staff-meeting fireworks to begin: 

Last night I sat down at 10:30pm after a long day at the office and turned on the Barcelona vs. Real Madrid “El Clasico.”  If that little descriptive title (it’s not just a game, it’s a Classic!!) doesn’t make you gag something up from lunch, then what I saw probably would.  In addition to the hysterical commentary (not “ha ha" funny hysterical, but rather the “I’m squealing about every pass in this match like I just saw the face of God” hysterical), what happened in the game reminded me of everything I hate about La Liga:  flops, slap fights, excessive hair product, and I’m sure there were a few European man bags as well.

Let’s begin with Barcelona.  I will grant you they are the best team in the world.  Messi is unbelievably good.  I get it.  Yada yada yada.  But I also can't begin to imagine how irritating it would be to be dominated by ten 5’ 6” guys that weigh an average of about 135 pounds.  The way they keep the ball away from you and instantly flop whenever you get near them – urgghhh -- defending them has got to be like trying to kill a fly with a hammer.  I think after the game I might have to put a few of them over my knee and give them a good spanking just to keep them balanced in the head. 

And they need it!  How about we ease up on the vanity, guys!  Unless you’re auditioning for a teenage boy band, I think you can drop the hair gel and the 80’s perms.  Here’s a question:  can you think of another sport outside of roller dancing where the competitors wear hair gel?  And what the hell is the ball like after a few headers?  I’m not a huge fan of the tattoo sleeve, but at least it’s edgy and doesn’t come off on the ball.  Seriously, Barcelona, you’re a bunch of pretty boys.  Let me recommend a quick read that might help you out:  To Be a Man, by Charlton Heston.  Yeah, I’m talking about this guy:

Read it.  Love it.  Live it.