Tuesday, November 30, 2010

A Shakesperian Drama in Five Parts, as Played on a Catalonian Stage

photo by Wootang01via PhotoRee

farlie on footie special European correspondent Todd returns to our pages by popular demand, reporting tonight from Barcelona’s London Bar, where he's still actively looking for Hemingway’s ghost:

When farlieonfootie asked me to cover this year's Superclásico, it was with some trepidation that I approached the subject, for it was no simple task.  The 161st league meeting of Real Madrid and Barcelona would weave storylines complex enough to make even a spider dizzy, and had all the makings of a Shakespearean drama, including:
·         Catalonian rebels vs. the Crown
·         Pep the local hero vs. the Special One imported from abroad
·         Messi vs. Ronaldo – the last two winners of the Ballon d’Or
·         Barça vs. the coach that swiped their Champions League Cup
·         Played on the 1111th anniversary of the founding of L’equip blaugrana
The rain falling on Camp Nou served as an omen that tears would be shed after this Superclásico match-up.  The stage was set and the players included most of the World Cup champion side, though predominantly wearing the blaugrana kit.   These are casts that coaches dream of.
Rather than recant the plays that comprised the game, as many other bloggers will, I instead offer some insights to ponder.  Before proceeding, though, a few caveats.  First, I confess that I am an avid Barça supporter so please, dear reader, consider the perspective from which I savored the match.  Second, I am a modestly informed spectator of European football despite my inescapable American roots.  And third, I am a midfielder by blood, heart, and mind.  OK?  Then, let’s begin.

Monday, November 29, 2010


photo by jurvetsonvia PhotoRee

St. James Park / Newcastle Upon Tyne, England / November 28

It's a rematch of the League Cup from late September, with only the location having changed,  Newcastle hosting Chelsea today at St. James Park. Sol Campbell makes his first Premier League appearance for the home side, whose defense is not exactly at full strength for the match. Regular Captain Kevin Nolan also sits out with a knock, as Shola Ameobi deputzies for the Geordies, who are looking to rise above arch-rival Sunderland in the table. The pitch is a frozen slab of brown, green and white, and if the early bounces are any indication, players on both teams will have significant trouble just keeping control of the ball today.

As if illustrating that fact, there's a misunderstanding between Alex and Petr Cech to open the scoring, the Brazilian defender's back pass escaping the arms of the Chelsea 'keeper, who's rounded by a surprisingly speedy Andy Carroll. The recent England call-up has little work to do to put the home side ahead, the net vacated by Cech, and the goal at his mercy. It's 1-nil Newcastle in the 7th minute, and the crowd which braved the sub-zero temperature is frozen in rapture.

Twenty minutes in and the visitors are beginning to look a bit more dangerous, despite their lack of goals in recent competitions.  Chelsea have begun the day in a new 4-4-2 formation, in a bid to gain width through Kalou and Malouda, with Anelka and Drogba playing as co-equals up top. Although the scoreline does not reflect it, the Blues begin to control the ball better after some early wobbliness.There are more miscues by the makeshift Chelsea backline near the 25 minute mark, Ameobi and Carroll ending up on the end of a long cross into the box, but with both strikers making the same run there's no one home to knock the ball in amdist the chaos and carnage that is the Chelsea defense.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Manchester United Meet the Mouse (A Holiday-Themed Magnum Opus)

photo by kaktuslampanvia PhotoRee

The following is a semi-fictional account of events that may or may not have actually happened. Although real names have been used, events have been changed to protect the innocent:

farlieonfootie on family holiday today; even media moguls need to take the occasional break. Instead of the usual blow-by-blow coverage of the United vs. Blackburn game, I have decided to live blog the game as I walk the World Showcase at Walt Disney World's EPCOT theme park, family in tow. My wife has left me in charge of the children for a couple hours as she heads out to shop, trusting I won't get into too much trouble watching both the game and the kids. I assure her that everything will be fine, but I'm not certain I'm all that convincing in my declaration.

Not only will the kids and I be enjoying our global travels around the man-made EPCOT lake, it's "Holidays Around the World" today, with each country in the World Showcase highlighting its own special holiday traditions.  To put me in a festive mood, I've decided to have one drink, and one drink only, for each goal the Reds score this afternoon. I'm quite certain today's game will be a low scoring affair, and after all, I have the children to consider.

The day begins gloriously: 65 degrees and the sun is shining. I studiously ignore the creep who passes me wearing a Liverpool shirt. As he has a small child with him, similarly attired, I can only assume that not only is he raising the child improperly, but likely maltreating him at home, as well. I make a mental note to keep an eye on the kid, and am ready at a moment's notice to call the Disney police if I see any nefarious activities occurring.  After all, when it comes to childrens' welfare these days, one can't be too careful.

The game starts just as the kids and I arrive in the France pavilion. Before we can even sit down, however, Berbatov has the ball in the back of the net for a quick United lead. The goal owes a heavy debt to Anderson, whose alert play just a few seconds earlier jostled the loose ball free from Blackburn goalkeeper Paul Robinson. From there, the ball is found by Nani, who sends it goalward, where it's flicked on by Rooney, with the lanky Bulgarian getting the final touch to send the ball into the back of the net.

I decide to celebrate the end of Berba's dry streak by ending my own: as I'm in France, it seems obligatory to find a glass of champagne to toast the many talents of our Dimi.  Love him or hate him (and I'm firmly in the former camp), there's no doubt Berba has the same type of game-changing skill as that of a much-beloved United man from France: Cantona. In honor of said Eric, I make a vow to head back to France again if Berbatov gets another. I savor the drink, assuming it'll be my last on the day, although you never know with Berbatov.... 

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Rocky Mountain High

photo by Muffetvia PhotoRee

farlieonfootie reporting from a recent visit to frigid Toronto, Canada, where he attended the fifteenth edition of the MLS Cup, as the championship of Major League Soccer was decided before an underwhelming international audience:

BMO Field / Toronto, Canada / November 21
  • It's FC Dallas vs. the Colorado Rapids in the MLS Cup Final from Toronto. Toronto, you ask?  Why in the world is the MLS Cup being played in Canada in November? Good questions, as it looks pretty darn cold and windy up in the Great White North tonight. This location was cooked up by the same geniuses who thought the Super Bowl should be played in New York rather than Miami. Steve McManaman looked frozen, as well as VERY orange, as his makeup man used WAY too much orange blush. McManaman looked like an Oompa Loompa.
  • You know you're in trouble when the announcers speak about the two teams in the game being "not the sexiest" sides in the League, and hope that the winner can become "relevant in their home market" if they win.
  • I will say I am suitably impressed by ESPN's production values, with the network employing both Ian Darke and McManaman in live roles, shuttling them over the pond from their typical English locales. It's yet another sign of ESPN's total commitment to the sport, in an effort to capitalize on the momentum generated in the US by the World Cup. My only request?  Please ditch Alexi Lalas; he's about as good an announcer as he was a player, and that's not saying much.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Rarefied Air for Spurs

photo by nappentvia PhotoRee

farlieonfootie correspondent James checks in from his rather excellent adventure at the Lane Wednesday night, where he played witness to Spurs' somewhat shockingly easy dismissal of Werder Bremen in the Champions League:

The legion of Yids find themselves in rarefied air as Spurs face an unprecedented opportunity to advance to the knockout stages of the Champions League against an injury depleted Werder Bremen squad. Spurs lineup is the same as played this past weekend, with the exception of Van der Vaart's absence and Crouch getting his typical international start. In VDV's place Uncle Harry has inserted a second striker - Pavlyuchenko paired with Crouch - in a typically aggressive strategy for Spurs in the pan-European competition.

Will the Lily Whites be hung over from their hugely emotional win at the Emirates four days ago, and without their Dutch Talisman (resting a troublesome hamstring)? Any doubts are put to rest right from the opening.

The crowd at the Lane is electric as usual, and as Modric and Jenas control the mid field, and the Jeckyl-and-Hyde-like Lennon appears to have woken up on the right side of his bed today, injecting great pace on the right wing. It's Lennon who breaks free on a wonderful rush to set up the suddenly prolific Kaboul in only the 6th minute of the game. While Kaboul will never be accused of being a goal scoring machine, the former journeyman has emerged as the latest successful Redknapp reclamation project and, along with Gallas, anchored an injury ravaged center defense for Spurs and scored the winner at the Emirates.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Stumbling Forward

photo by Jeffrey Beallvia PhotoRee

United attempts to book a place in the knockout stages of the Champions League tonight with a victory over Rangers at Ibrox. In addition to trying to secure the three points, tonight will represent a crucial return to the partnership between Dimitar Berbatov and Wayne Rooney, a partnership which has been little seen of late, but one which United fans are keen to see rekindled.

Tonight we'll also get to view the long unseen but never forgotten Ryan Giggs, who comes back to the starting lineup after a long spell out with a tweaked hamstring. Although the United offense and midfield are full of veterans, the defense features newboy Chris Smalling and youngster Jonny Evans, who has been benched for quite some time due to early season performance issues.

For Rangers, sadly from a purely American point of view, Maurice Edu is out tonight. The Scottish side stack the back, essentially playing five defenders in an effort to repeat the clean sheet earned at Old Trafford last the two sides met.

United look more lively from the start, Berbatov offering a header at the eight minute mark, but the ball is hit directly at the goalkeeper. Both Nani and Berbatov have shouts for penalties early on, although both are denied by a referee who sees nothing wrong with either challenge, with only Nani's bloody mouth serving as evidence of his maltreatment at the hands of the home side.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Ten Reasons I'm Thankful to be a Manchester United Fan

Even the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade Turkey Loves Manchester United
photo by Ben+Samvia PhotoRee

On this day of American Thanksgiving, here are ten reasons among many that I'm thankful to be a Red:

1.  No Carlos Tevez. Could this guy be any more annoying?  I hate him, absolutely detest him, so I'm thankful he's moved across town to the noisy neighbors' house. Good riddance, and good luck over there. By the way, I don't think they've won anything for, oh, about 34 years or thereabouts. Enjoy being trophyless, Mr. Tevez.

2. Chicharito. I love this guy. Regular readers of farlieonfootie will have been on the little Mexican's bandwagon for some time now, and the rest of the world is still figuring out just how good this guy is going to be. The sky's the limit, in my opinion, as the Little Sweet Pea seems ebullient not only to be scoring regularly, but even more so just to be playing.

3. Nani's Creativity. In a season in which the Red Devils have been struggling offensively, even against supposedly "lesser" Premier League sides, Nani has been a shining beacon of creativity on the right side of midfield. I shudder to think where we'd be without him this year, and it shows just how much the Portuguese winger has improved that a year ago I'll readily admit I wasn't sure he belonged at Old Trafford. I'm sure of it now, though, and thankful he plays for United.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Et tu, Blackpool?

Friends, Englishmen, Countrymen, Lend me Your Ears

photo by King Chimp (Soon to be Riley Bobs)via PhotoRee

farlieonfootie correspondent Ed returns from his time in the wilderness to the pages of this blog, with gentle apologies to a certain William Shakespeare:

November 19, 2010 / Somewhere Between Bloomfield Road and Stratford-Upon-Avon / England

The game begins with the crack of a thunderbolt off the leg of Blackpool’s David Vaughan – where at 5:03pm, and from 30 meters a majestic volley does flash its way past an astonished and hopeless Wolves keeper Marcus Hahnemann.  No, there is more than mere astonishment in Hahnemann, it is horror; shock; agony; eyeless, tongueless; just sound, and his eyes rolling into the back of his head for a brief white instant.  Because for Hahnemann and Wolves, here is yet another killing frost to the tender leaves of hope – the hope of escaping the bottom of the table and relegation from the Premier League. 

But as anyone who’s watched Blackpool knows, this strike will only be the beginning of the madness and the elegance of another Seasider match.  A match that is also being appreciated by the Crown, as the gracious and bespectacled Prince William is among the spectators (although not actually of the spectators).  And as has been reported elsewhere, and therefore will also be reported here, the Prince is found cheering for the mighty – nay, Majestic! – Tangerines.

But no stony tower, nor walls of beaten brass, nor airless dungeon, nor strong links of iron, can be retentive to the strength of spirit.  And so, beaten but undeterred, Wolves fight back.  Matthew Jarvis on the left wing simply terrorizes Blackpool back Neal Eardley, pushing the orb past him time and again, and launching searching crosses towards the heart of the crease. 

Monday, November 22, 2010

Things We Saw at the North London Derby

Spurs correspondent James joined farlieonfootie to report on a wild and wooly North London derby.  Although James was near despondent at the end of the game's first half, his theatrics and ebullient joy could not be contained in the second half, resulting in a rather annoying one-game ban from the Emirates press box.  Herewith our thoughts, as they actually occurred:

  • The game's first goal, off the foot of Samir Nasri, is absolutely crazy.  Assou-Ekoto was victimized like a 98 pound weakling in the state penitentiary, which must be a worrying development for Spurs fans with more than 80 minutes left in the game. How in the world did Sammy Nasri get the ball to go sideways and then make a left turn into the goal from such a tight angle?  That's just ridiculous, which brings us to our next topic.
  • Have you seen Flappyhandski's pink goal jersey and socks?  It's not a good look.  While James lays the blame on Nike, "the great Satan of sports marketing," I prefer to think of Fabianski as a missing member of Everton's away squad.  Either way, it's a little scary.
  • What's up with Marouane Chamakh and the faux-turtleneck look?  James beleives that Chamakh looks as if he's dressed to take a stroll down a Parisian boulevard, but is looking for his missing poodle. In the US, we call that piece of clothing a dickey. I'll just leave it at that. 

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Manchester United Hit Top as Wigan See Red

photo by ƒяαиcєscα яσsєvia PhotoRee

farlieonfootie and Spurs correspondent James, in attendance at Old Trafford today for the visit of Wigan Athletic.   I like James' style: a real corporate guy who shares the same vision for farlieonfootie as the brass back at the home office.  It's a pleasure watching a game with James, with his keen footie eye and cerebral approach to the game -- not to mention his love of a good beer....  One of several we drank on the day is profiled below.

Old Trafford / Manchester, England / November 20

It's the Youth Parade on Full Offensive Display at the Theatre of Dreams Today, with Obertan and Macheda up front, supported by Nani and Park, with Fletch and Carrick pulling the strings in midfield.

It's Wigan, though, with the day's first real opportunity, as first Rafael is beaten and then Vidic slips, the two combining to present Wigan hitman Hugo Rodallega with a ball that's been wrapped with a bow. It's a good thing Rodallega himself slips as he goes to strike it, or United would be on the short end of the scoreline only five minutes into the match.

Nani blows in a fine free kick just a few short minutes later, and Vidic, now playing offense, is only a step or two short of heading it into the net. The big Serbian is forced to track back quickly, and switch back to his more accustomed defensive role, as he and Rodallega are busy playing a game of one-on-one, the two racing the length of the field after Rodallega is passed into the clear on a seeing-eye through ball. In the end, Vidic has just enough pace to close down the speedy Honduran, and forces him into a shot that ends up as a relatively comfortable save for Van der Sar.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Portugal Toast Spain, and Reclaim Iberia

photo by das farbamtvia PhotoRee

farlieonfootie is happy to introduce our newest football correspondent, Todd.  Fresh off a weekend in Ibiza with his supermodel girlfriends, Todd recently took the time to check in with a compelling description of Portugal's 4-nil rout of arch rival Spain:

Estadio Dr. Magalhaes Pessoa / Leira, Portugal / November 17

While it may have been Spain's worst defeat since 1963, the Portuguese have been reeling  ever since Pope Alexander IV’s Line of Demarcation (codified in the Treaty of Torsedillas) divided the world between Spain and Portugal more than 500 years ago. For you conspiracy theorists, Alexander IV was himself a Spaniard.  

Oh, and more recently, the Portuguese played the blandest of matches against Spain in South Africa, and were handed a well-deserved elimination for their efforts, complete with tickets to the Algarve to ponder yet another disappointing exit from the world stage. 

On this night, though, the Portuguese avenged those set-backs with, well, a vengeance.  Four goals from four elegant passing combinations, combined with a dash of super-human wizardry from Ronaldo (called back due to an unfortunate offside position by Nani), sent Spanish players back to their villas where their supermodel girlfriends canceled bottle-room reservations at nightclubs in Barcelona and instead ordered take-out tapas.  

Friday, November 19, 2010

Nero Fiddles While Ronaldo Burns

photo by beggsvia PhotoRee

Just arrived back at the home office after a quick jaunt to Rome -- the farlieonfootie corporate jet sure comes in handy these days..... I spent the better part of last evening engaged in an engrossing discussion with a top european football correspondent, in a shameless attempt to convince him to jump ship and join our global footie empire.  We sat out late, eating and drinking under the stars -- has anyone else noticed that Jupiter is visible to the naked eye right now? -- and talking Serie A and La Liga until the wee, small hours of the morning. Time will tell if our man was convinced by the lavish pay package and extensive corporate benefits, as well as the opportunity to profit from our strong corporate brand and global reach, but you -- like me -- will just have to wait and see, fingers crossed. 

More later, and now onto the good stuff:

What?  That Release Was Supposed to Go Out Tomorrow?  The cat is out of the bag on Anders Lindegaard, the 6 foot 4 inch Danish shot blocker who appears to be Manchester United's newest signing. Although the deal isn't official yet, someone forgot to tell the Public Relations staff at Aalesund FK, Lindegaard's current club in Norway, who posted this web page yesterday announcing the deal by mistake. Apparently, the terms between the clubs have already been worked out, with the Reds shelling out €3.5 million to bring on the Dane, and now only the details of Lindegaard's personal contract need to be ironed out, and a physical needs to be passed, before the move will take effect. 

Although it doesn't appear that the 26 yeard old will be the presumptive #1 when VDS retires, the signing would seem to indicate that Tomasz Kuszczack is on his way out of Manchester.  Word continues to be mixed on whether the ultimate replacement for the big Dutchman will be the 20 year-old David de Gea, or the oft-injured but world class Gigi Buffon.  Here's hoping it's the Spaniard; I really like that guy.

Stop Italian Racism Now.  Mario Balotelli was booed by his own fans Wednesday night as Italy played Austria in a friendly (I'm quite certain Balotelli was thinking "With friends like that, who needs enemies?").  A crowd of approximately one hundred right wing Italian extremists taunted Balotelli during the match, as well as held a banner which contained the inspiring message "No to a multiethnic national team."  

Balotelli -- who was born in Italy of Ghanaian descent -- responded to the jeers after the game with the following statement:
"I was very disappointed yesterday, and I didn't want to say anything. The only sure thing is that I alone can't do anything. Everyone needs to do something against racism.
We couldn't agree more, so we'll do our small part: Stop Racism Now.  There's no place for it in football, or in the real world, either.  Period.  Full stop.

He's Baaack.  Wayne Rooney could return this weekend against Wigan Athletic, according to multiple published reports, including this one from The Guardian's Daniel Taylor (who would appear to be a nice guy, and impressively, actually responds to tweets @DTGuardian).  Who knows if Rooney will actually play, but he did have an impressive week of training at Camp Nike in Oregon, according to Sir Alex.  

Rooney also came back appreciably lighter: half a stone.  Being the ugly American, I have no idea what that equates to in pounds -- although I do know that Rooney's bank account was fattened up by about a £1 million of them since he signed the new contract last month, despite the fact that he's yet to even step on the pitch since that time.

Finally, I'll Leave You With This Piece of Brilliance.  Did you manage to catch this candidate for goal of the year by @Cristiano on Wednesday?  Too bad it was disallowed. Ronaldo made Casillas look like an absolute amateur, and that's not something you can say (or even write) very often.  As it is, after watching the replay multiple times, I have two questions:

1) What in the world was Luis Nani thinking?  It's a good thing he apologized, because there was absolutely no need for him to touch the ball -- it was already in the net by the time Nani put his head to it.  I'd be furious, too, if I was Ronaldo, which I'm not.

And that brings up question 2) When are we getting goal line technology?  Because that ball was well over the line when Nani headed it.   Well over the line, much like many of our prior columns.  Here it is once again, for your viewing pleasure:

This is farlieonfootie for November 20. 

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Reflections on the Season to Date

photo by daluevia PhotoRee

Twelve observations on the season to date -- some obvious, some serious, and some tongue-in-cheek.  You decide which is which:
  • Didier Drogba is Not the Player He Was a Year Ago.  Yes, I know he's suffering from malaria, but I'm not commenting on why he's not as good as last year, just pointing out the fact that he's not the automatic goal scoring machine he was last season.  And that fact alone makes Chelsea a little less dangerous than they used to be (and might be again).
  • Dimitar Berbatov's Gone Cold.  Eight games in a row without a goal for the Bulgarian hitman, but who's counting?  My guess is Sir Alex.  Expect Wayne Rooney back in the lineup shortly.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

From Russia With Love

Actual View from farlieonfootie Correspondent Ed's Accomodations in Siberia 
photo by diasUndKompottvia PhotoRee

November 15, 2010/ Minsk, Russia
It’s a cold one today here in the former USSR, and as I finish up my research for a future three-part docu-drama blog for farlieonfootie on FC Dynamo Minsk, I thought it might be about time to publish the first quarter All-Ed team.  What does it take to be a member of this coveted group?  Well, great play, style, toughness, and as regular readers of my columns already know, more than one name. 
So these are the guys I want to go to battle with for the rest of the EPL season.  We’re a little weak at the back – as is the whole of the EPL this season – but hey, no one likes watching those nil - nil games anyhow.  My guys are going to play attacking footie, and put some numbers on the board.  And at while my coach wants to go with the 4-3-3, we’ve got to do what matches our talent best, and go with the 4-4-1-1:
1.    The Tick.   One might at first think that Didier Drogba would be the obvious choice for striker – the size, speed, stats and ominous name would seem to put him over the top.  But I prefer Carlos Tevez -- the little guy who tells Man United he’s the best striker on the team and then goes out and proves it.       

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Yes, But Can Gianluigi Buffon Save 16.5% Debt?

photo by taberandrewvia PhotoRee

Two stories out of Manchester tonight, either of which could potentially impact the Red Devils. The first, related to the early payoff of £220 million of Manchester United's ultra high interest debt, combines tantalizing news with little detail; the second, related to the potential move of a world class goalkeeper to Old Trafford as the long-term replacement for Edwin Van der Sar, offers only the barest hint of hard news but is long on conjecture and speculation. 

Both stories make for compelling news and analysis, and I promise you -- even if you keep cash stashed under your mattress and don't know an asset from a liability, you'll be able to follow my easy-to-understand analysis of the United debt story -- so keep reading!

Monday, November 15, 2010


photo by SeeMidTN.com (aka Brent)via PhotoRee

It's the Black Cats calling on Chelsea at fortress Stamford Bridge today, and let's hope the feline they resemble most is a hungry panther rather than a milk-fed kitten. In addition to the game, the eyes of United fans will be focused on the performances of on-loan striker Danny Welbeck, whose spending the season with the Black Cats, as well as Sunderland's 20 year-old box-to-box midfielder Jordan Henderson, whom coach Steve Bruce has recently confirmed he's spoken about with none other than United boss Sir Alex Ferguson. Whether or not he ultimately moves to United remains to be seen, but there's no denying the homegrown Henderson has been one of Sunderland's bright spots to this point in the season.

Chelsea are missing Terry, Alex and long-term absentee Lampard to various knocks and bruises, and Essien to a a red card suspension, but still manage to easily dominate possession at home in the early going. Sunderland are minus striker Darren Bent, and it'll be up to Welbeck and Asamoah Gyan to provide the offensive muscle for the visitors.

Chelsea knock the ball around the pitch early on, probing for weaknesses to exploit. Sunderland respond with several brief forays into the Chelsea defensive zone, looking to take advantage of the Blue's makeshift back four and become the first away side to pierce the Chelsea net. In truth, neither side really gets much going in the game's first fifteen minutes, as the game searches for a storyline.

The first real opportunity of the day falls to Nicolas Anelka, as he races to a long through ball but is narrowly beaten out by Craig Gordon, Anelka sprawling head over heels after colliding with the Sunderland 'keeper. A minute later and it's Yuri Zhirkov carrying the ball unchecked into the 18 yard box before needlessly rushing his shot wide of the mark. The corners quickly begin to pile up as Chelsea turn up the pressure twenty minutes in, and Sunderland need to respond before the Blues can cash in.

We're a half hour into the match before I spot Danny Welbeck on the pitch, and that says all you need to know about how the first 30 minutes of the match have gone for Sunderland. But it's at that moment that Welbeck, playing now like a man possessed, chooses to shine and the Sunderland offense comes alive for the first time all night.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

The Chase

photo by diongillardvia PhotoRee

It's off to Goodison Park today to see Everton take on Arsenal, both sides looking for maximum points to gain ground on an increasingly tight pack of teams chasing league leaders Chelsea. With a win today the Toffees can move to within four points of a Champions League berth, truly incredible given the slow start they've once again managed to burden themselves with; a loss leaves them still a point behind neighbors Liverpool and only two points clear of the drop zone, a situation true blue Everton fans including my friend Paul will find highly unpalatable. Arsenal will be looking to move one spot up the table, and leapfrog rivals United into second place. It's all on the line today as the two teams enter the pitch, with Howard Webb once again officiating. I swear, this guy is following me -- or is it the other way around?

Everton start the more aggressive of the two teams, unsettling Arsenal through the sheer physicality of the men up front, Tim Cahill and Louis Saha. Arsenal find it hard to gain even possession in the match's first ten minutes, quickly losing the ball and returning it back to Everton as soon as they manage to get hold of it. It's Everton with the first real chance of the game, and they should have the lead on 11 minutes, but Tim Cahill spurns a gilt-edged chance, uncharacteristically heading wide of the net on Seamus Coleman's fine cross to the far post.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Keystone Kops or Comeback Kids? United Leave it Late

Keystone Kops or Comeback Kids?  You Decide.
photo by SMJJPvia PhotoRee

George "Sportif" Le Coq, Sissy Buttlefelt, and I, in attendance at Villa Park, to take in Saturday's near-noon kickoff against Villa.  We're joined by farlieonfootie's Director of Marketing, Oliver Miller.  It's a relief to be free of the events of the past week, enjoying football with colleagues as well as friends, and our correspondent Ed's problems are but a bitter memory in the farlieonfootie rear view mirror.  The four of us enjoy a game day beer, profiled later in this column, to cloud our memories of a week we'd like to forget. Herewith the game:

It's an experienced United side that travel down to Birmingham today to face a youthful Villa squad. The Red Devils have to be looking forward to this fixture, as they haven't lost at Villa Park since 1995. United emerge from the locker room in their white strip today, so let's hope the new color brings us luck.

United dominate the early possession, showcasing more aggression from the start than they offered in the entire 90 minutes mid-week versus City.  Villa fight their way back into the match after 15 minutes, though, with new boy Barry Bannan showcasing tremendous vision to unlock Ashley Young and fashioning the first opportunity of the day. Although Wes Brown is caught out on defense, Rio Ferdinand comes to his rescue and partially blocks the resulting shot before it can trouble Van der Sar.

Villa's offense comes at a price, as they've left acres of well-manicured pitch open for United to counter-attack. It's swift and dangerous when they do, with Chicharito slotting Berbatov in alone in front of the home side's goal. The Bulgarian's shooting woes continue, though, as he manages to pull the ball wide left from virtual point blank range.

At the other end, Villa is aided today by our inept man in charge. Displaying his usual inability to see what's going on, referee Mike Dean turns a blind eye to several prominent muggings by Villa in the offensive box.  The opportunities are shunted aside by the United boys in the middle, and it's superheroes versus villains locked in hand-to-hand combat; to this point in the action the good guys -- the men in white, after all -- appear to be up to the task.  After such a promising start for United, though, Villa have managed to play their way back into the game, and by the half hour mark they're giving as good as they're getting. 

Evra and Nani employ a bit of training ground trickery on a free kick at the Villa end, and remarkably it works, as Evra is put through on the left wing with five yards between him and the nearest defender. Unfortunately, none of his teammates make their way within five yards of goal, and the French fullback's fine cross skitters through untouched.

To this point in the game the United offensive effort appears lacking on the wing, as Nani repeatedly looks to cut in, as if dragged by magnet to a middle which is well-stacked with bodies. The Red Devils' offense is all too narrow, with Park, Hernandez, Berbatov, Carrick and Fletcher playing bumper cars as they routinely crash into each other around the 18 yard box.

Villa end the half with a nice spell of pressure, once again aided by a referee who fails to see the rather fiesty pushing in the box, but their best effort ends with a Stuart Downing shot partially blocked by Ferdinand.   The twitter maven is showing his worth today, as he and central defense partner Vidic are standing like unmoveable towers in central defense; against a lesser side it's likely Villa would be on the board at least once this afternoon.

It's a different United that start the second half, and as poor as they have been to this point in the action, it's still not a good thing.  United look like the Keystone Kops right now, as if they've made their way back onto the pitch but have somehow managed to leave their composure behind in the locker room.

Villa miss a sterling chance to take the lead as a ball dribbles through the box, but the resulting shot is fired wide. A short minute or two later and it's Albrighton somehow heading wide from right in front of Van der Sar, the goal gaping at his mercy. Although it's routine to say these misses may come back to haunt Villa, United have not created enough opportunities for one to see how they might punish the home side.

With a half hour left United are bloodied and losing their composure, as Chicharito is carded yet Warnock's high boot which bloodies Fletcher's face goes unspotted by referee Dean. Fletcher re-emerges onto the pitch looking angry; whether it's because his new jersey is numberless or he's upset at the biased officiating remains to be seen. 

The game becomes increasingly tense as Villa continue the pressure. Collins tries to claim the lead for Villa, but the top of the bar comes to the rescue and United is let off the rack.  Ninety seconds later it's the left post playing defense for United, as Agbonlahor is denied from giving his team the lead.  The goal frame may be saving United at this point, but even the neutrals watching on television will feel the goal coming

When it does come it's aided by a biased Mike Dean, who hands Villa a rather dodgy penalty on an innoucous Wes Brown shoulder barge, with Ashley Young converting from the spot to give Villa their deserved lead.  Obertan and Macheda are called on to replace the ineffective Berbatov and Hernandez, neither of whom has been given much to do today. In truth, Park and Nani in particular have stunk up the joint -- truly a faulty, pathetic performance from the midfield and wings today.

United are caught out on the counter in the 76th minute, as Macheda is robbed of the ball and Albrighton converts a cracking Stuart Downing cross for a 2-nil lead. It's hard to argue at this point that Villa don't deserve the two goal margin, and it could easily be double that amount.  United have been shockingly poor today, and the long run of unbeaten games now looks set to come to a crashing halt.

Ferdinand is denied by American goaltender Brad Friedel after creating United's first shot on target in the 80th minute. That says it all: a central defender has the first shot on target today with only a scant ten minutes left to play.

But it's at this low point that the tide begins to go out on Villa's remarkable run, as Kiko Macheda is not denied a minute later when he hits the target and pulls back a goal -- what is it about Macheda and Aston Villa?  We've got a tense finish set up here, and the Red Devils would be well pleased with a tie at this point, a thought most United fans would have scoffed at in their pre-game bravado.

Nani's inch perfect cross finds Vida in front of goal in the game's 86th minute, and United has fought their way back to tie the game at two, as the United captain finds the net with his head. 

It's an absolute shocker to be sure, and it'll be a true slam-bang mugging if United gain a point or more on the day. Five minutes of time are signaled at the end of regulation, offering further hope to the visitors.  Villa, after being in absolute control of the match only ten short minutes ago, are now just looking to hang onto their draw.

United fashion several chances in stoppage time, with the best being Obertan's direct route to goal, but Friedel once again manages to deny, with his face standing in the way of an undeserved United lead. Time ultimately runs out on the comeback, and it's another two points dropped by the boys in white.

Sir Alex shakes his head at the final whistle, befuddled by his team's lackluster play, and it's a truly puzzled farlieonfootie, as well, for November 14.  Who are these impostors in the white uniforms today, and what have they done with my team?

Game day Beer Review: Avery Brewing The Kaiser Imperial Oktoberfest (9.73% ABV). Poured into a goblet, displaying a translucent copper color with minimal head. Smell is mixed malt and dark fruits. Taste is malty, biscuity caramel, with herbal grassiness that leads to a long, sweet finish with a strong malt backbone. Extra thick, sticky mouthfeel, with highly noticeable alcohol. This is defintiely a sipper, from one of my favorite American breweries out of Colorado: B+

Friday, November 12, 2010

Confessions of a Football Junkie

Did anyone manage to see Parma vs. Sampdoria on FSC Thursday night?  Me neither, although my television set was tuned to the game.  Truth be told, I don't think anyone, including the men on the pitch, saw much of the game. I initially thought the poor visibility was due to the lovable Italian tendency to use flares as lighting instruments at sporting events, but later deduced that the inability to see the far side of the pitch was due solely to incredibly bad fog. And I don't mean just any fog, I'm talking John Carpenter-type stuff, although regrettably, the sexy Adrienne Barbeau was not playing today (but she can be seen directly below, in a shameless attempt to build viewership -- after all, sex and horror sell).


Thursday, November 11, 2010

Spurs are Like a Box of Chocolates

photo by Svadilfarivia PhotoRee

November 9 / White Hart Lane, London, England

It's Sunderland come calling at the Lane tonight, and it remains to be seen which Spurs side will show up to greet them. Will it be the world beaters who dispatched Inter Milan in the Champions League with relative ease a week ago?  Or will it be the more modest Spurs team which went down meekly to Bolton in Game Week 11 over the weekend? Love 'em or hate 'em, Spurs are rapidly becoming the English equivalent of Forest Gump's box of chocolates: you never know what you're gonna get. I decided to head over to White Hart Lane Tuesday night to check out the match and see for myself what all the fuss has been about in our farlieonfootie staff meetings.

Having been recently "re-assigned" from his regular Spurs' beat to cover matches slightly more removed from the heat of the weekly EPL top flight, I am confident that farlieonfootie correspondent Ed will have some sympathy for the referee this evening (that is, if they have tv in the locations to which we've sent Ed). Howard Webb finds himself in charge of festivities tonight, and he has to be wondering who exactly at the FA he offended to be in charge of this match only a few short days removed from overseeing both Real Madrid vs. AC Milan and Liverpool vs. Chelsea in quick succession. No disrespect intended, but to say this is the third most important match Webb has overseen all week is an understatement.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Demolition Derby

photo by jrandallcvia PhotoRee

Fresh off a meeting with my Chief of HR, George Le Coq ("Sportif" to his friends), in which we spent most of the afternoon dealing with the aftermath of a messy "personnel" issue, I decided I needed a drink. Or rather, more than one. Not to bore you with details, but suffice it to say that a certain farlieonfootie correspondent whose name rhymes with "Red" was involved in multiple activities with a junior office assistant that would make even the jaded Wayne Rooney and Peter Crouch blush.  The joys of running a far-flung and many-peopled media empire seemed faraway this afternoon.

So it was off to the pub that I headed, and the Fox and Hounds in particular where I sought refuge from the world. Amidst the chaos and carnage back at the home office I almost forgot that today was D-day -- Derby day, that is, Manchester-style -- but what better place to find myself for a match I've been looking forward to for weeks than an English pub.  It's the Reds vs. the Blues, and it doesn't get any better than this. Herewith my notes:

It's a United lineup that blends youth and experience, as well as the sick and the able, as the Red Devils are dealt a pre-derby wild card in the form on an influenza bug that plays havoc with Sir Alex's team selection.  Surprisingly, Nani is judged fit to play despite reports to the contrary, and Vidic, Fletcher and Evra, too, have all recovered from the flu in time for the game.  Sadly, Ryan Giggs is unavailable this evening, and misses a Manchester derby for the first time in 19 years.

Citteh counter with a lineup headed by the villain himself, none other than a certain "Carlitos" Tevez, a/k/a Ben Arnold (see your American history books for more), who is judged to have recovered from a nasty thigh bruise, and Mancini accompanies Tevez' selection with a daring midfield that includes no less than three defensive players -- showcasing nothing less than his typical ambition while playing at home.  Why start
an offensive minded player when a defensive one will do?

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

To the Ends of the Earth

farlieonfootie Correspondent Ed on Recent Travels

photo by henribergiusvia PhotoRee
Due to a precipitously declining readership base for his articles, as well as a lengthy list of transgressions too sordid to dignify with publication on this family-friendly website, farlieonfooties' former Spurs' correspondent Ed has been "reassigned" to a new beat for the coming weeks. 
November 8, 2010 / KINGSMEADOW, Kingston Upon Thames, Surrey, England
From the look of the low-hanging sun it could be any time from early morning to noon to late evening here in Surrey, and through the damp chill I find myself staring at a yellow banner of a large sketched likeness of Danny Kedwell, the Captain and leading scorer of AFC Wimbledon, and wondering how I went from the top of the Champions League to here at Kingsmeadow Park (capacity 5,011). 
My mind quickly rewinds the events of the past month:  Was it my grazing the hand of my farlieonfootie assistant, Sissy Buttlefelt, at Tuesday’s staff meeting (completely unintentional I should add)?  Was it James, that annoyingly positive new guy (“I’ll get right on it, Mr. F!!”), whose readership numbers were (allegedly) a bit higher than mine in Hong Kong and Malaysia?    Or maybe, just maybe, was it that office-wide email wherein I described our editor, the great farlieonfootie himself, as “a man-bag carrying, monkey-touching nihilist?”  One can only speculate of course, but it’s becoming impossible to do that right now as I’m constantly being jolted to attention by the belligerent barking of Coach Liam Daish during this incendiary (work with me, people) first round FA cup match between the Dons (a/k/a the Wombles, a/k/a the Crazy Gang) and Ebbsfleet United (formerly Gravesend & Northfleet).

Monday, November 8, 2010

Bloodied but Unbowed

photo by ajensen05via PhotoRee

November 7 / Santiago Bernabeu, Madrid, Spain

They eyes of the soccer world turn to central Spain today for what should be an especially lively Madrid derby. Although it's been a one-sided affair lately -- Atletico have not beaten Real since 1999 -- Coach Quique Sanchez Flores is convinced he finally has the squad this year to make a difference.  

Atleti opt for Diego Forlan and Kun Aguero on the attack today, and Los Rojiblanco's fans can only hope this is the day when the vaunted offense finally clicks in a way it has yet to so far this season. Real counter with a heavyweight lineup that includes Higuain, Ronaldo, Di Maria and Ozil, among others, a lineup that has scored 16 goals at home this season while conceding only two.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

The Ghost of Liverpool Past

photo by jholbovia PhotoRee

Chelsea without Drogba and Essien today, although not toothless by any means, starting the Donkey (Anelka) and two wise men, Malouda and Kalou, up top.  Howard Webb's in charge of today's festivities, so there'll be no nonsense brooked in what can reasonably be expected to be a feisty encounter between two squads that don't much like each other.

Liverpool start fairly brightly, knocking the ball around the pitch with unusual purpose and controlling the early part of the game. Eleven minutes in and it's Fernando Torres -- remember him? -- on the end of a perfectly hit cross from Dirk Kuyt, John Terry caught out in central defense, and the ball eased deliciously into the back of the net for a shock 1-nil Liverpool lead. 

It's 2008 all over again, and Chelsea are facing the ghost of Liverpool past, with Fernando Torres showing the kind of touch and form he's found hard to muster over the past two seasons. Perhaps the Scousers are attempting to make up for their embarassing outing against the Blues at Anfield last May; whatever the reason, it appears as if the Champions will have their work cut out for them today.
Liverpool dominate much of the game's opening half, denying Chelsea any significant time on the ball, and reducing the Londoners' attacks to sporadic long passes and opportunistic ball hawking. Liverpool play with a sense of passion and drive unseen for much of the season. By the 40 minute mark, though, Chelsea have begun to impose themselves on the game at last, now holding the ball for long stretches of time here, now attacking there, and Liverpool begin to looked tired from the lack of creativity that has plagued them all season.

Just before haltime, though, it's Torres with a second piece of individual brilliance, offering another outrageously curling finish on the receiving end of a Raul Meireles' pass into the box for a 2-nil lead at the break. This is vintage Torres, and Chelsea have to feel unfortunate to be witnessing the Spaniard's Lasarus-like revival first hand. Fernando Torres is once again looking more like Fernando Torres and less like Fernando Llamas, although he does indeed look mahvelous today.

The Blues respond in the second half by swapping out one Ivorian for another, with Drogba replacing fellow countryman Kalou. Chelsea's attack does turn up the heat on the Scousers near the 60 minute mark, pinning them back in their own end under a constant barrage of Blue-waved attacking. In their closest threat of the game to date, Reina somehow manages to deny a point-blank Malouda on a cross from Drogba that would have surely sunk my fantasy week had it managed to find a way in. Fortunately for me, as well as the Reds, the ball is struck directly at the Spaniard who has no choice but to block it.

Bosingwa replaces Ivanovic near the 70 minute mark as Chelsea scramble for a toehold back into the game before it's too late. But it's the Reds that almost capitalize next, with only a world class Petr Cech save denying a Dirk Kuyt effort that would surely have meant game, set and match had it gone in.

Although Chelsea continue to keep the ball in Liverpool's end for long stretches of the second half, the Blues' last chance ends with a Anelka ball being bounced off the cross bar by Pepe Reina, and the Champions are beaten on the day by a two goal margin. 

To be honest, it's a Chelsea effort you could have seen coming these last few weeks, with their narrow escape at Blackpool last week following an uncomfortably close win versus Wolves the week before. Is this a one-off flutter, or are the Champs exposed as being not quite so dominant as the London-based media have made them out to be?  

Time will tell, but the lead is down to a skinny two point margin heading into an already blistering derby week. Manchester United is within shouting distance at last, and I'm a shouting farlieonfootie for November 8.

Vintage Stuff from Fernando Torres
photo by HA! Designs - Artbyheathervia PhotoRee