Sunday, October 31, 2010

Footie Tricks and Treats for Halloween

photo by carvalhovia PhotoRee

Treat, Part 1.  Lots of reaction on the internet to Nani's goal against Spurs yesterday.  Have your say in the poll on the right, but here's my well thought out and fully reasoned point of view:

Despite all the controversy, let's dispatch this point right off: Whether right or wrong, the goal had absolutely no effect on the game. Spurs, especially after Van der Vaart limped off at the 75 minute mark, never looked the least bit like threatening the United goal in the latter half of the game, let alone the final few minutes. All the incident changed was the main talking point after the game, not the end result. United won, Spurs lost, and the three points were well deserved.

Second, these controversial calls even out over time.  Don't think this old adage is true?  I'll trade yesterday's meaningless goal for a recall of Didier Drogba's offside goal at Old Trafford last April (that effectively decided the EPL title) any day of the week. Also, Spurs fans are hard pressed to complain. How soon have they forgotten their own controversial win against Stoke City in August, in which a Stoke shot went over the goal line but was never judged a goal by the referee, allowing Spurs to hang on for a 2-1 win rather than having to settle for a 2-2 tie.

Furthermore, the whole thing smacks of United hating and sour grapes to me. The foul on Nani was clear. I've read lots of stuff about how he dove (and I am not saying he is not guiltier of that offense than most, just that he wasn't guilty of it here), but even the announcers watching the game went out of their way to point out that Nani actually made a special effort to stay on his feet in the box during the play. I've seen penalties given for much lesser contact on many occasions -- remember the Vidic penalty where he got flagged last November for shirt pulling against Pompey? --  and Younes Kaboul clearly had both hands grabbing and pulling Nani's shirt in an effort to slow him down.

The fact that Clattenburg didn't call a penalty straight away was the referee's biggest blunder of the night, not the controversy that followed, and he paid the price for his willful ignorance of Kaboul's tugging in the box because of the craziness that ensued.

How Gomes escapes blame for this inicdent is also beyond me.  It wasn't Clattenburg or the assistant referee who signaled free kick, so I don't know where Gomes got the idea that he should treat it as such. He made a major mistake by putting the ball on the ground and then wildly gesticulating at his teammates, who all behaved as if they had at least some idea that the whistle had not been blown. Otherwise, why did they stay so close to him that he had to chase them away with his crazy arm waving and gesturing?

Finally, I have no time for those who say this was "unsporting-like behavior" on Nani's part. Get over your sanctimonious selves, and realize that the players are obligated by their teams and the fans to play until the whistle is sounded. Even the smallest children who play the game are taught this lesson.  Before taking the ball, Nani looks repeatedly at Clattenburg, who shrugs his shoulders in repsonse, as if to say "What are you waiting for?"

What should Nani have done?  Patted Gomes on the back and said "Hey mate, you've made a horrible mistake by assuming that's a free kick. Here, let me get out of your way so you can get on with it?"  Please; get real. 

Treat, Part 2: Man, did Newcastle lay a beating on Sunderland, or what?  You can tell how much this northeast derby means to the players -- let alone the fans -- by watching the Newcastle players' reaction after skipper Kevin Nolan opened the scoring. The first goal was stupendous -- Nolan sitting down on purpose to get in position for the low rebound, before kicking it backward over his shoulder and into the net -- but the reaction that accompanied it was priceless, reminiscent of the scrum that accompanies a game-ending NFL fumble. Only this time it was inside Sunderland's goal mouth on derby day in front of 50,000-plus adoring fans at St James Park.  Made for a wild scene, that's for sure, and the rest of the day wasn't half bad, either, for those Toon-ies lucky enough to be watching the game in person.

Shola Ameobi's penalty was also a treat. Well struck, low and in the corner, leaving virtually chance for Sunderland's goalie to stop it. If Ameobi  misses, Sunderland may grasp a lifeline into the game. Make it, and the contest is effectively done at the 45 minute mark. Up steps Ameobi, and its game over -- Well done.

And although some may have picked Newcastle to win at home, did anyone see a 5-1 blowout coming on derby day?  The combination of Kevin Nolan and Shola Ameobi was simply unstoppable, and should take some of the unjustified pressure off manager Chris Hughton as the Geordies move up into 7th place in the league. The newcomers from the Championship (including Blackpool and WBA) haven't done half badly to date, have they?

Trick, Part 1:  Hate to say it, but Chelsea are playing the kind of football that wins championships. Outplayed by Blackburn Rovers for much of the match yesterday, the Blues simply found a way to win in the end.  Several months from now no one will remember that the Blues played poorly and could easily have lost the game, but the three points they earned will be safely in the bank at season's end.  Blackburn away is never an easy test for any team, and Chelsea may have cut it close, but they still got a passing grade.

Trick, Part 2: Well, Liverpool's late winner this afternoon capped a comeback weekend for three teams that I would have liked to see lose: Arsenal, Chelsea and Liverpool all won with goals after the 80 minute mark.  Made for an exciting, but ultimately disappointing, two days of football.

On the bright side, though, I was stunned when I heard the statistic that David N'gog is Liverpool's leading goal scorer this season; that alone says everything you need to know about how the Scousers' season has gone to date. In case you somehow missed that statistic, the sight of Joe Cole limping off the pitch after another eminently forgettable appearance was confirmation, as well, that this guy's no Lionel Messi, and Liverpool, despite their win today, is no title contender.

And that's farlieonfootie for November 1.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Like Taking (Halloween) Candy from a Baby

photo by lovelypetalvia PhotoRee

Feeling strangely nervous today, in large part because most of my Spurs-leaning friends, including James, are not expecting much out of today's match at Old Trafford. Concerns about Spurs' defense (which I wrote about last weekend)  and their terrible track record away to United is mostly what I've been hearing. 

I'm also slightly undone, though, by the confidence my friend Mike has shown in the Reds today for his fantasy footie side, starting Berbs and Chich up top. I pondered that formation over a beer or two, but ultimately didn't have the guts to go with it. Instead, in a very low moment, I went with the weaselly diver Chamakh up top with Berba, and I already am full of self-loathing and regret over my choice of the Gunners' striker. Sure, I like the matchup, Arsenal at home and all, versus my friend Paul's Hammers, but this guy has disappointed me to no end whenever I've picked him to date, and I had sworn off him as of about Gameweek 5. Oh, well -- onward and upward.

[Ed. Note: Or maybe not. Chamakh on the board with his typical one point fantasy performance AT HOME today. This guy is just unbelievably bad. Please, someone tell me never to pick him again. Seriously; I mean it. He's terrible.]

Now onto the big game: Sir Alex goes with a mixture of youth and experience today, confirming my gut sense by picking Rafael to mark Gareth Bale, while leaving the rest of the defending to Vida, Rio and Evra.  It's Chicha and Berba up front, with Fletch, Carrick, Park and Nani getting the nod in midfield. The bench also contains some young guns, with both Bebe and Smalling having seats near the sideline. Contrary to my suspicions, Rooney is at the game today, watching from the sidelines with some of his fellow teammates.

It's Park clanging the post inside the first two minutes, with United on the front foot right from the get go. Early on, it's Park and Nani causing Spurs problems on the offensive end of the pitch, while Spurs counter with some threats and a goalpost of their own, a rocket off the foot of Van der Vaart that has VdS beaten.  Although it's a bright start for both teams, if Park had only the slightest ability to finish the Red Devils could be in the lead. This one could be frustrating.

Modric and Bale are little to be seen through the match's first 15 minutes, but I don't expect that to last. The OT crowd is in full throat tonight, probably fueled as much by the pre-game anti-Glazer protests outside the stadium as the beer inside it.  

Chicharito makes a cameo appearance in the game's 20th minute, almost pouncing on a spilled Carrick shot, but the Mexican, too, has been largely absent from tonight's proceedings. At the other end, the assistant referee almost gifts Spurs a goal, somehow missing a ball that goes clear over the end line, but VdS bails the defense out, and comes to Ferdinand's (and the referee's) rescue.

Midway through the half, Nani offers a piece of mesmerizing skill that should've led to the game's first goal, hypnotizing two Spurs defenders as he moves slow motion into the box before sliding a ball that had "assist' written all over it through the middle, but Fletcher can only direct it right at Gomes. Score tied still, nil-nil, and the tension continues.

Despite all the attacking talent on the pitch, it's Vida who finally open up the scoring, connecting smartly on a fine Nani free kick. The Serbian uses his head to thump the ball past Gomes for a 1-nil United lead.   Both teams create plenty of chances before half in an end-to-end game that is not disappointing the neutrals.

[Ed Note: why does FSC show so many Proactive commercials before, during and after every EPL game?  Do they really think that lots of acne-pocked teenage girls are watching their EPL broadcasts? These commercials may be slightly more appropriate on the Disney or Lifetime Channels than on FSC.]

The second half begins under a cloud of smoke, as halftime fireworks cause generally cloudy conditions to prevail on the pitch. The smoke clears as both clubs struggle to find their second half footing, with the pace of this half feeling much flatter than where we left off. United seem unable to generate much of a offensive threat other than that provided by Nani, with both Berbatov and Chicharito having relatively weak games to this point in the action. The midfield, ex-Nani, also seems poor again today, with even Fletcher struggling to make much of an impact on the game.

Spurs blink first, substituting Roman Pavlyuchenko for Robbie Keane in a bid to change the outcome. Fergie counters with Scholesie and Wes Brown for Berbatov and Rafael.    Strange substitutions, to be sure, but in SAF I trust. Also makes me wonder if Wes Brown has finally started to work his way out of the United dog house....  Mrs. Palacios, too, should be well pleased to see her son enter the fray as a replacement for Jermaine Jenas, as the game devolves momentarily into a battle of substitutions, as both coaches seek to alter the final outcome.

Fergie seems strangely determined to see out a 1-nil lead, as if proving to himself and others that United can hold a lead at home, even against one of the league's top sides. While it's dismaying seeing the Red Devils go into a defensive shell at home, my guess is that Fergie is more concerned with the three points today than being stylish in victory.

Van de Vaart, who has looked most likely all afternoon for Spurs, pulls up lame with 15 minutes remaining in the contest, bringing the Britsh Flamingo, Peter Crouch, onto the pitch. The crowd at this point is dulled into silence by a lack of action at either end; even a watching Ryan Giggs looks bored to tears by the lack of on-field action.

It's a bizarre incident (shown here on video) that ends the game, reminiscent of  Dirk Kuyt's goal against Sunderland earlier this season, with Nani being fouled in the box but no call forthcoming from referee Clattenburg. Although Spurs goalie Heurelho Gomes is under the impression that a free kick has been given, it hasn't, and as he puts the ball down in front of the goal, Nani steals it -- like taking candy from a baby -- and steers it into the back of the net before Gomes can stop him.  As @rioferdy5 tweeted after the game: "...gotta play to the whistle - harsh but true."

The freak goal stands because no free kick was ever signaled, Spurs furious and United with the three points. Game over, 2-0, and farlieonfootie with the candy from the baby for Halloween on October 31st.

Game Day Beer ReviewDogfish Head Sahtea (9.00% ABV). Pours a murky orangish color with just a small amount of head that leaves behind virtually no lacing. Up front aroma is dominated by chai tea spices.  Taste is chai tea spices, with distict a distict clove undercurrent, and a slight hint of orange that fades into a crisp, clean finish. The alcohol in this beer is extremely well hidden. Unusual: A-

Friday, October 29, 2010

On Iron Chefs and a Potentially Suspect Crocked Ankle

photo by andriux-ukvia PhotoRee

Enjoyed myself tremendously at an Iron Chef dinner the other night, and not just because of the food, fun and competition; the event was littered with a bunch of footie fanatics like me (albeit most of them from the UK originally, very much unlike me).  Enjoyed some excellent back and forth banter with supporters of Everton, Liverpool, and Leeds during the course of the evening.  I even managed to close out the dinner with a rousing rendition of “Glory, Glory Man United” with a newfound friend and fellow Red Devil supporter who came to Florida via Northern Ireland.  Always good to talk football and share a drink with fellow fans, even if all of them don’t support the right team…. 

No surprise really that the Rooney saga is still being hotly debated and draws lots of sharp opinions (among United supporters and otherwise), with a surprising number of people believing the recent contract extension was just a way for United to extract a greater fee for Rooney when they trade him at season's end.  Although I am not fully in that camp at the moment, I did find myself having second thoughts this morning as I woke up and read reports of Sir Alex’s press conference earlier today in which he announced that Rooney’s injury was worse than expected, and that the England international will be out longer than originally anticipated.  Could United be trying to trade Rooney in the January transfer window, and using the ankle injury as an excuse to keep him out of the squad (and limelight) until the deed is done?  Only time will tell.  I think not, but as we’ve seen before, anything is possible regarding this situation.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Now on Tap: German Fußball

photo by Ivan Cvia PhotoRee

Managed to watch yet another Bundesliga game on GolTV the other night. Don't worry, I know what you're thinking: this is sliding dangerously toward an addiction. You're right. My name is farlieonfootie and I've got a problem.  On top of my first love, the EPL, I've already acknowledged a Spanish mistress in the form of La Liga. I don't know where to fit the Germans, but I may have to figure that out sooner rather than later.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

On Tax Seminars and Underage Squad Members

photo by mrploughvia PhotoRee

Off the top, a shocking admisision: this will not be the most compelling farlieonfootie column you've ever read. How's that for hard hitting and honest journalism?

There's just not as much to write about tonight after a few days of feverish footie action. United don't play again 'til the weekend, so I'll have to sate myself with some more League Cup action in the form of Arsenal - Newcastle in the meantime. That being said, bad farlieonfootie is still better than 86.5% of all other stuff out there you could be reading, so stay with me. Please.

Before we get to the game, though, I know the one question that's been nagging at you in the deepest recesses of your mind for much of the past fortnight, the one that haunts you, possibly, even in your sleep: Where's my fearless farlieonfootie colleague Ed?  And when will he be writing his next column? (Yes, I know that's actually two questions, but they both revolve around the same central theme, so don't split hairs on me).

Don't worry; I've been wondering that, too. And now I can reveal the answer: Ed did see fit to check in today after an extended absence.  In doing so, however, he only served to convey his utter disregard for conventional mores, as well as a total lack of even the slightest hint of regret for his extended period of silence. 

Still despite it all, you continue on hopefully: During his two week absence, you ask, has Ed been busy building up a treasure trove of columns, with copious amounts of research and witty insight into EPL matches, to enlighten his devoted and long suffering farlieonfootie readership in the future? 

Have several long trips back and forth between Florida and England to view games worn Ed out so much that he found himself thoroughly fatigued and unable to type up even the barest of match reports for his adoring throng of fans? 

Did the overwhelming pressure of the unrelenting farlieonfootie deadline take its toll on poor Ed?

Nothing quite so glamorous or intriguing, it seems. Instead, Ed has been otherwise engaged: " NY for a tax seminar and to meet some clients, got sick, ...etc., etc., etc.".  

So there you have it: Ed's explanation in full, etc.'s included.  Not surprising, perhaps, but revealing for sure, the lack of inner fortitude and desire etched painfully in each of his very words.

But fear not: Ed promises to return soon, maybe even as soon as this weekend, to check in with his thoughts on Spurs' travels to Old Trafford for a game of some relative import. Unless another tax seminar gets in the way. So don't hold your breath, I say, but you can always hope.

Now onto the game: both sides displaying their youth squads in full tonight, with the kids on the pitch averaging somewhere between 23/24 years of age. It's difficult as the teams walk onto the pitch to distinguish between the children who join the players for the traditional pre-game handshakes and the players themselves.  Tomas Rosicky, the captain and old man of Arsenal, actually has to be pushed out onto the pitch in a wheelchair and dodders around the field for much of the night with the help of a cane. Well not actually, but you get the point; neither team is brandishing its most experienced players this evening.

Which begs the question: if not even Newcastle is playing its front line players, why do we still bother to stage the League Cup?  Is winning this particular trophy less important than winning one of 38 regular season games (even if the next team up for the Geordies is Sunderland)?  Some may call me a snob, but I can understand why teams like Arsenal and Man United use the Cup to gain experience for some of their younger players due to their significant squad depth, but if even Newcastle and Wolves are using it to play their second and third tier players it may be time to consider putting the tournament to bed. Permanently. Although I do have to say that last year's semi-final matches between United and City were some of the best matches of the entire football year. So maybe I take it back. Sort of.

Back to the game again, it's Arsenal spurning all sorts of opportunities in the early going, and it could easily be game over by the 10 minute mark. But as if trying to prove the point that these are not their most experienced eleven, the score remains frustratingly tied at 0. 

That is, until it doesn't. On the stroke of halftime Newcastle produce a comedy of errors that include the goalie whiffing on a relatively easy catch, a defender clearing the missed ball off the line, and then a humiliating own goal as the clearance rebounds off the back of the aformentioned goalie's head for a 1-nil Arsenal lead. As I've intimated already, not the best soccer I've ever seen....

The second Arsenal goal is almost equally bizarre, as a clearly offside Nicklas Bendtner is allowed to remain such, as an onside Theo Walcott chases down a long pass toward the Geordie goal before depositing it in the back. Although Bendtner is supposedly uninvolved in the play, he does manage to get entangled with a chasing Newcastle defender in his attempt to stay away from the play, interference if I've ever seen it but not, apparently, according to the referee. 2-nil to the Gunners.

In a reversal of the ususal style, the big name players come on late substitutes, with Andy Carroll, Jonas Guttierez and Cesc Fabregas all joining the game in the second half. Only the latter stamps his presence on the game, as Fabregas' assist to Bendtner seals the game for Arsenal, 3-nil. Walcott, feeling hard done by Bendtner's brace, scores one of his own in the 88th minute to wrap up the scoring, his sixth goal in six games this season. 

The game ends 4-nil to the Gunners, who are still overwhelmingly young, but a bit more experienced by evening's end. As I said, not the best.  But a helluva lot better than attending a tax seminar. I'm farlieonfootie for October 28.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Back to the Future

photo by anne.oeldorfhirschvia PhotoRee

Pre-game thoughts: It's a young squad tonight versus Wolves, with Sir Alex living up to his reputation for using the League Cup to "blood" the squad's younger players and give them top flight exposure under fire.  There's no survivors from the eleven that started the weekend, and it's the first start for Bebe and Ben Amos, which should be intriguing on both counts.  Also receiving rare starts are Brown, Smalling, Evans (haven't heard much of him since Rio has returned), Fabio, Carrick, Gibson, Park, Macheda, and Obertan -- nary a veteran (except Carrick) in the lineup.  The bench has little experience, as well, with Gary Neville and Rafael being the only "veteran" names -- Michael Owen is excluded.  With six starters under the age of 21, it's truly back to the future for the Red Devils tonight.

United's young stars show promise right from the opening whistle, with Bebe giving a glimpse of his much heralded speed inside the first three minutes of the game, attempting to chase down a long forward pass from Smalling before ultimately running out of pitch.  It's just a little hint, but the first view suggests we may see some good things tonight out of the former homeless star.  

Although both sides work out the nerves in the early action, its United getting the better of the game's early stages, with Obertan's direct play in particular causing problems for Wolves' defense. United evidently believe that the pace of the young squad they have on the pitch tonight will give Wolverhampton problems, as they try long pass after long pass in an effort to open up the opponent.

Both teams trade the ball back and forth, although neither creates what would be described as a genuine opportunities, with Obertan and Macheda coming closest for the home side. Bebe also shows good hustle, tracking back and forth on the right side and tantalizing the crowd with brief flashes of pace. Although Macheda is playing up top by himself, he doesn't feature much in the games first half hour as United struggle to get him involved in the offense.

Wolves' best opportunity in a scrappy half comes from a free kick resulting from a Jonny Evans foul 25 yards outside the goal, although David Jones ultimately finds the wall and the threat is snuffed out before Amos has any significant work to do. By half's end, though, it's Wolves with the better of the play in my opinion, as they rack up a succession of corners and free kicks, although they are ultimately unable to capitalize in front of a very subdued Old Trafford crowd.  

The action picks up in the second half as United begin to string things together just a bit more, Obertan and Macheda fashioning a decent opportunity which the Italian flashes just wide when it counts. Two minutes later and it's Darren Gibson unleashing a typical cannon blast of a free kick that registers as the Reds' first shot on goal after 53 minutes. Shortly after Gibson's shot is parried away by Wolves 'keeper Wayne Hennessy, it's Ji-Sung Park with a clear opportunity to put United ahead, and the South Korean really should have done better with his effort, as he's unable to get the ball in the back of the net off a nifty through ball from Michael Carrick.

Despite United's pressure, the goal when it comes is still shocking and unexpected, as the play develops from a United counter off a venomous Wolves' shot from the top of the 18 yard box. The shot is painfully blocked by Jonny Evans (the body-aching thud can be heard all the way back here in Florida), and the resulting rebound is picked up by Obertan who races the length of the pitch before dishing off wide to Bebe.  The Portuguese winger runs roughshod over Wolves' defense, galloping into the box and attempting....something.

I'm not sure whether it's a shot or a cross, but it loops over Hennessy and has to has headed off the goal line by defender Kevin Foley, and Wolves appear to have narrowly escaped the best United opportunity yet. Before play can continue, though, the referee's assistant is signaling a goal, and the replays appear to confirm the decision as correct. If it's a shot, it's one of the more audacious attempts at goal I can remember in a long time. I think it was more likely a centering cross, but before you can say "Bebe," United's newest star is sauntering over in the corner and the scoreboard reads United 1 - Wolverhampton 0 with a little under 35 minutes left to play. 

Before United even manage to take their lead to the hour mark, though, Wolves level the game with a George Elokobi free header thumping home a corner kick. It's game on as the hushed Old Trafford crowd rumbles back to life. 

Both sides miss nice opportunities as the game opens up, with Hunt clipping the bar for Wolves and Macheda missing a perfect set up from Bebe to take the lead for the Red Devils as the game enters the final quarter of action.   Ji-Sung Park finally restores order in the game's 70th minute, picking up an awkward Wolves' attempt at clearance and depositing it in the back of the net for a 2-1 United lead.

Fergie goes for experience to try and see out the game, swapping Fabio for Gary Neville's 601st appearance for the club. The move doesn't pay off, though, as it's the aforementioned Kevin Foley capitalizing on a Darren Gibson giveaway to blow the ball past Ben Amos' outstretched foot, and the score is suddenly tied at 2.

Sir Alex throws one last roll of the dice to stop the teams from heading into extra time, bringing Chicharito on in place of a clearly exhausted Bebe in the game's 82nd minute. Wolves counter with Irish international Kevin Doyle, although truth be told I'm happy to see Matt Jarvis exit the pitch, as he's been a holy terror on the left side all night long.

In the end, it's no surprise really. It's the Little Sweet Pea scoring the 5th and final goal of the night and winning it for the Reds in the game's 90th minute. Call me crazy, but this kid is going to be our leading scorer this season, could in fact be tops in the league, and you heard it here first.  He's ecstatic, and so am I -- and I'm farlieonfootie for October 27th.

Game Day Beer Review: Smuttynose Pumpkin Ale (6.00% ABV). Pours medium amber orange in color with a healthy two fingered off-white head that leaves behind decent lacing. Smell is of pumpkin spices mixed with something vegetal in nature. Up front taste is all smooth pumpkin pie, including a definite cinnamon and nutmeg presence, but then a very earthy, vegetal after-taste with a hint of hop bitternes kicks in and spoils the party. Lacking balance in my opinion, this is not my favorite example of this great fall seasonal style: B -

Monday, October 25, 2010


photo by amarette.via PhotoRee

October 24, 2010 / City of Manchester Stadium (Eastlands), Manchester, England

So it's Silva and not Johnson who gets the nod in midfield for Citteh today, making them easier than usual to dislike.  Surprisingly, Emmanuel Adebayor finds himself on the bench, as well, despite scoring a hat trick against Lech Poznan midweek in the Europa League.

Arsenal are almost undone right from the very get go, with Fabianski coming to the rescue on a beautiful interplay between Tevez and Silva, with the latter being denied on a ridiculously skilled back heel shot that almost opened up the scoring inside of the game's first minute.  Two minutes later it's Micah Richards bolting down the right flank, and Arsenal are again exposed, although the threat is snuffed out before a shot can be fired.

Despite the two opportunities for City in the first four minutes, it's Arsenal with the first break of the game, as Dedrick Boyata (what is he even doing on the pitch?) is excused from the day's outing with a straight red, shown the door by referee Mark Clattenburg for denying Marouane Chamakh a clear goal scoring chance at the other end of the pitch.  Chamakh was played through by a wonderful pass from the returning Cesc Fabregas, the man who once again makes the Arsenal trains run on time. The free kick comes to naught, but the dismissal will no doubt affect the rest of the game with the home team a man down for more than 80 minutes.

City are lucky not to be two men down as Nigel De Jong makes yet another rash tackle (are there any regular readers of this column surprised at this news?) to take out Cesc Fabregas in the game's 10th minute. Arsenal fans have to be holding their breath as their captain limps off the pitch yet again; no sooner does he return, though, than it's Gareth Barry, the crab, sending Fabregas again to the ground and his own name into the referee's book.

Both teams trade missed opportunities, Tevez for City and Djourou for Arsenal in a fast-paced, entertaining game.  It's Samuel Nasri (thankfully for my fantasy footie team) who finally unlocks the City defense and breaks the deadlock in the 21st minute, cooly knocking Andrei Arshavin's assist over Joe Hart's outstretched hands for the 1-nil Gunner lead.

City shuffle their players time and again in an apparent effort to confuse Arsenal (and me), with Micah Richards popping up as a center forward and James Milner taking a turn at left back. Both teams commit a ton of fouls (shocking for Arsenal, and "cynical," to quote the announcers), and I'll be absolutely stunned if no one else is given the hook before full time.

Referee Clattenburg is a central figure again before haltime, with Vincent Kompany sending Fabregas to the spot for what should be a 2-nil lead, and game over. Instead, Joe Hart comes to City's rescue and smothers the Fabregas' penalty (not one of Cesc's best efforts, to be fair, but still a very good save from the English international), keeping the Citizens' hopes alive.  A huge opportunity missed for the Gunners to drive a stake through the heart of Man City is missed, but it sets up an exciting second half of football.

It's Bridge on for (Yaya) Toure [Ed Note: Confusingly, the name on the back of his jersey reads "Toure Yaya," and not "Yaya Toure," but who's counting?] to begin the second half, and Adebayor on for Tevez a few minutes later, the latter leaving with some sort of unexplained knock. Several Arsenal attacks come to nothing as the Gunners search inexplicably for one final pass before trying to knock the ball home. City hang in the game, and with a half hour remaining it's still only one goal that separates the two sides.

That quickly changes in the 65th minute, as Arsenal is on tune for a 2-nil lead, with Alex Song punishing a Wayne Bridge error to extend the Gunners' lead.   To be fair, City's defense has been lackluster all night, with both Barry and Bridge being justly punished for not following the attacking play and letting someone else assume responsibility for the man with the ball.

Arsenal swap Rosicky for Arshavin, and Mancini responds with the introduction of Mario Balotelli for his Premier League debut (replacing the useless Gareth Barry, who didn't disappoint), Adam Johnson inexplicably nowhere in sight.  Confusingly, Balotelli and Micah Richards share the same barber, making them difficult to tell apart from my vantage point several thousand miles away from the action.

There's not much for Balotelli to do in the match's final minutes, as City are offered no way back into a match in which they were unhinged by an early penalty. City justly deserve to lose as Mancini has once again opted to play an overly defensive midfield controlled by the crab and devoid of the pace and creativity of Adam Johnson.

Samuel Nasri springs late sub Nicklas Bendtner for the final score, as Arsenal pick up one point for each goal today at Eastlands. At full time it's Arsenal 3, City 0, and I'm a stunned farlieonfootie over and out for October 26.

Game Day Beer Review: Sierra Nevada Northern Hemisphere Harvest Wet Hope Ale (6.7% ABV). Pours a clear amber color with a two fingered frothy head that leaves behind a network of fine lacing. Smells of hoppy, wet pine. First taste is all hops that gradually mellow into grapefruit and wet pine, with just a slight hint of bitterness present. A very clean finish rounds off this excellent IPA from one of my favorite American breweries: A- 

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Little Sweet Pea? Perhaps We Should Call Him the Jolly Green Giant

photo by minnemomvia PhotoRee

Pre game thoughts:  Today could be a difficult one, given United's away form this season, as well as the Brittania's reputation for being one of England's most intimidating venues. Hard to figure, too, how the Wayne Rooney saga will affect the team. Although Rooney is in Dubai, celebrating his 25th birthday thousands of miles away, his presence will hang over the entire match. Whether or not the events of the past week will produce a hangover in United's form, we'll have to wait to see.

Starting in Rooney's place is Chicharito, whose starts are beginning to come more regularly now. Let's see what he can do with this one; fingers crossed he'll show us once again why we signed him. Other surprises in the lineup include RedNev making his 600th appearance for United, and O'Shea featuring as a left back(?), with Patrice Evra switching to left wing(!), likely due to the need for height on the pitch to deal with Stoke's free kicks and long throws.

Stoke start off the more aggressive of the two sides on a sunny but cool day, with United baring their teeth mainly on the counter attack.  Both teams trade jabs in a surprisingly open game with the crowd loudly in support of the Potters.  Berba, Nani and Chicha look fast and menacing when they're on the ball, but to this point the final pass or shot has been just lacking that little bit of quality that makes all the difference.

United are playing with fire as they concede several corners in a row, not usually a winning tactic against Stoke. Much of Stoke's pressure comes down the left flank as they look to take advantage of United's Old Man, Gary Neville.

Chicharito opens the scoring in the 27th minute, as it's surprisingly United that capitalizes first on the aerial game, with Hernandez knocking home a Vidic header across the goal mouth to put the Red Devils up 1-nil.  Chicharito had some significant work to do, as he was facing away from goal and somehow managed to bank it in off the back of his head. Not even the announcers can believe how he was able to generate the power he did; this guy is just an out and out goal scorer.

Ten minutes later and the scoreline and gameplan are still the same, Stoke trying to impose their physical brand of football on the Reds, and succeding only in drawing yellow cards from United's old guard Neville and Scholes.  Neville in fact could be gone, and probably should be a second half substitute, as his presence in the game is allowed to continue only through the good graces of referee Andre Marriner.  We go into the half with 11 men still on each side of a tense 1-nil scoreline.

The second half starts with a no-surprise-to-anyone substitution of Gary Neville (except, apparently, Gary Neville), as Wes Brown makes a rare appearance.  With only Manchester City having a better 2nd half record than Stoke City, United now has its work cut out to come away with a result today.

What referee Marriner gave in the first half, he's taken away in the second, as he forgets to bring his eyes back onto the pitch and misses a clear push on Evra in the box during a 55th minute counter attack that should have sent United to the penalty spot, and the scoreline to 2-nil. With the way this season is playing out, I feel fairly certain in stating that we'll come to regret that moment.....

Stoke ratchets up the pressure as the game hits the hour mark and tempers show signs of fraying, with VDS and Rio duking it out with Robert Huth in front of the United goal. Once again, United see little of the ball for long stretches of the match, as the weak underbelly of the current United midfield is exposed in yet another game.

My sinking feeling continues as Carrick comes on for O'Shea.  Chicharito misses a rare second half opportunity off a volley, and the Potters return to the attack yet again as the game enters its final quarter. United enjoy their first sustained spell of possession this half, before Paul Scholes gifts the ball back to Stoke, and my worst fears are confirmed: Stoke tie the game in the 81st minute, as United are undone again by late strike, this time courtesy of Tuncay Sanli.

Even as a United fan, I have to admit that Tuncay's strike was pure quality. In fact, it's hard to be upset at this point in the season, as rooting for a United win at this point would seem only to beg Einstein's age old question: What's the definition of insanity?  Doing the same thing over and over, and expecting a different result.

But its right at the moment that I type this that Chicharito does something different: he scores to give United an 86th minute shocker, and a 2-1 lead. The Little Sweet Pea's touch is instinctive, with nowhere near enough time to think about slotting it home before he magically does so.

Chicharito with the brace, and United with its first away win of the season, as the goal holds up until the final whistle. Three points gained, and maybe the Rooney incident behind us with the emergence of a new superstar. Who says United haven't signed quality players?  Oh, it was Rooney, wasn't it.....

Well forget that, but remember this: The kid is good, and I've known it all along. I'm farlieonfootie for October 25. 

Game Day Beer ReviewSam Adams Octoberfest Märzen (5.30% ABV). It's that time of year, so we might as well drain another Oktoberfest beer before it's too late. Sam pours a clear copper color with a fluffy, three-fingered off-white head that leaves behind only minimal lacing. Rich caramel malts upfront, with a just-this-side-of-smokiness overtone, and hints of herbal tea moderating into a quick and easy finish. Highly drinkable and very smooth, with just the right amount of carbonation, I think this could be the season's best Märzen: B+

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Scatter Brain

Scattered thoughts from a scattered brain, after another day full of football:

Jermaine Beckford: What a Difference a Year Makes. Last year this guy was a hero, scoring a late winner for Leeds to knock Manchester United out of the FA Cup.  This year he's coming on for Everton as an 83rd minute sub and having zero effect on today's game against Spurs. To be fair, both events happened in the same calendar year, but in different seasons. You understand what I'm trying to say, right?

Assou-Ekotto is One of Spurs' Weakest Links. The North London side is dotted with superstars -- Van der Vaart, Modric, Bale, etc. -- but as the old saying goes, you're only as good as your weakest link.  Unfortunately for Spurs, that's a link that looks like it will repeatedly be broken.

Rafael Van der Vaart Scored the Easiest Goal in the History of the Prem Today. The guy is absolutely deadly from 4 inches out. To be fair, he's absolutely deadly from just about anywhere on the pitch these days,  but not many players would have missed the opportunity Van der Vaart cashed in this afternoon.

Put me in, Coach! Oh Wait, I am the Coach.  Mick McCarthy, wearing cleats in the coaching box, looked as if we was ready to go out and play Chelsea himself today. Given the players he has at his disposal, that might not be so poor an option. 

Jersey Shore.  Carlo Ancelloti, on the other hand, looked as if he was dressed to attend a "family" dinner with his fellow Dons (and I'm not talking about those of the MK variety).  Just sayin'.

Truth be Told, Wolves Made a Good Accounting of Themselves Today. Unlike a lot of teams that head into Stamford Bridge like lambs being led to the slaughter, Wolverhampton weren't just content to sit back and wait for Chelsea to score their inevitable goal(s) at home. Wolves, in fact, actually had the audacity to attack Chelsea in front of their own fans. Just who did they think they were?

Double Take?

photo by Keith Allisonvia PhotoRee

Separated at Birth?  I'd forgotten this, but Jose Bosingwa looks remarkably like Yankees closer Mariano Rivera. Anyone else find themselves wondering why Bosingwa's first Chelsea appearance in almost year comes the day after the Yankees lose in the American League Championship Series....?  Coincidence or not...?

Sales of Chewing Gum Must be on the Rise in England if the per capita consumption of EPL managers is any indication. I spotted Carlo Ancellotti chomping away today in lieu of his normal cigarette habit.

Kalou's New Look

photo by tohoscopevia PhotoRee

Muscle Man.  Does anyone else think that Solomon Kalou may have stolen Didier Drogba's steroids, er I mean vitamins?  The guy used to be one of those scrawny types that got sand kicked in his face in the Charles Atlas ads, but lately he looks like Sammy Sosa in his prime. Either that, or he's started wearing much tighter jerseys. Kalou can't stop scoring, either, and his picture used to be right next to the definition of the word "useless" in the Chelsea media guide. I wonder if there's any connection.....

Game Day Beer Review: Brouwerij Bosteels Tripel Karmeliet (8.40% ABV).  Poured a hazy golden color, with a thick head of pure white that gradually dissipated, leaving behind only minimal lacing.  Highly carbonated in a refreshing way.  Typical belgian yeastiness up front mixed with a small hint of hops on the finish, this beer manages to be both sweet and spicy at the same time.  Very drinkable despite the high alcohol level: A-   

The beer may be sweet and spicy, but Im not; I'm farlieonfootie for October 24.

Friday, October 22, 2010

A Working Class Hero is Something to Be

photo by Vlad Genievia PhotoRee

So now that the Rooney saga has been put to bed, I find myself scratching my head and wondering how I'm supposed to feel.  Assaulted on all fronts by story after story without stop since last Sunday evening, tonight is the first I've had the time to reflect on all that's transpired and attempt to figure out what it means. So here goes.  Not perfect by any means, and slightly raw with emotion, but straight from the heart.

In part, I feel numb to the events of the past week.   So much has happened between Wayne Rooney and Manchester United, the emotions twisted up and down with each new article -- will he? won't he? -- that I'm worn out by it all.  I can't take it anymore.  So in a way, as I wrote last night, I didn't really care how it turned out, I just wanted it over.  I guess you would call that relief.  Question answered, itch scratched, problem solved: relief.

But there's a larger feeling lurking in the shadows like a crowd of men with balaclavas: I'm angry, too.  I'm pissed at Wayne Rooney.  Who exactly did he think he was?  Bigger than the club?  That's laughable.  Why did he drag Manchester United through a news week that no one needed, in which he and not the team was the center of attention?  For personal gain?  Clearly.  But at what cost?

Rooney and his agent Paul Stretford drastically overplayed their negotiating hand in an attempt to secure the highest payday yet for Man United's former superstar.  But to what end?  Sure, they may have significantly increased Rooney's salary, but how do you possibly measure the fallout?  Alienation from the very people who supported him the most?  Surely some things can't be measured by money alone, and the ends don't always justify the means.  Through his (and his agent's) actions, Rooney chose to trample the fragile bond that exists between heroes and their supporters, and lose a trust that will not easily be restored.

I think what galls me most is the same thing that sticks in the craws of most United fans: the belief that before this past week, Rooney was one of us.  Sure, he made bags more money than most people, but no one begrudged him that; it hadn't seem to change him.  Rooney was fashioned of the people and for the people, an ordinary kid made good.  Straight off the mean streets of  Croxteth, Rooney was the kind of working class hero they don't make anymore.  His ethic was unquestioned: no one played harder, or left more on the pitch, than Wayne Rooney.

But the image had begun to show some tarnish of late.  Fresh off a disastrous World Cup in which he played exceptionally poorly -- and also in which Rooney's England famously finished behind the team from its former colonies in North America -- he became ensnared in the pages of the UK tabloids as they exposed his illicit romps with high priced call girls at Manchester's Lowry Hotel.

Yet still, despite it all, United fans continued to believe in him.  Rooney may have cheated in his personal life, but we stayed faithful.  He may have fallen out with his family, but the love for him among the fans showed no sign of abating.  He was our talisman, the one player at our disposal who could singlehandedly change the course of a game through exertion alone.  He  was ours, he was Wayne Rooney, the name chanted by the crowd, his every touch applauded.  He was the living, breathing embodiment of Manchester United -- a champion, but not a primadonna, a worker-bee-cum-superstar who wasn't too proud to do the dirty work before he scored the winning goal.

At some point, he must have fallen dangerously into the trap of believing his own press.  Likely goaded on by his agent, Rooney stopped believing he needed Manchester United as much or more than the club needed him.  Although worldly in his travel and bank account balance, Rooney showed a shocking naivete as to how United fans would react to events of this past week. 

Given bad advice, Rooney needlessly pushed the bounds of his negotiation past all reasonable points.  And broke the bond of trust.  Didn't just break it actually, but by questioning the very ambition of the club and the quality of its players, broke it and ripped it into small little pieces which he then proceeded to set on fire.

The backlash was strong and immediate, the fallout swift and severe, and it doesn't end with today's news of Rooney's new contract.  Today may mark the beginning of his attempt to repair the damage, but the cup of milk is spilled.  Sure it can be cleaned up, but it can't be replaced. 

Someone once famously said that it takes a lifetime to build a reputation, and five minutes to lose it.  It's easy to say that Rooney will start scoring goals again and all will be forgiven, but I'm not so sure.  We may cheer his name again, and yell for him to enter the heat of battle, but for me it can never be the same.  For once a bond is broken it can be repaired but never restored to its original state.  So in the end I guess that the word that best describes how I feel is betrayed, a true fan exposed.  And for that, I'm not apologizing to anyone. 
I'm farlieonfootie for October 23.