Monday, February 28, 2011


photo by Môsieur J. [version 4.0b]]via PhotoRee

I can't remember a recent Cup final I was less excited about than Arsenal vs. Birmingham in the League Cup yesterday afternoon, but I found myself enjoying the match despite my initial feelings, especially the final few minutes when Arsenal totally lost their bottle and threw away the game. Regular visitors to this spot will know I find it hard -- almost impossibly so -- to root for Birmingham City (heck, I find it hard to watch Birmingham City), and I certainly wasn't getting too over-heated about Arsenal's attempt to end their silverware drought. It's in that admittedly humdrum spirit that I offer the following thoughts on Arsenal's shocking collapse, and Birmingham's unexpected victory in the Carling Cup:
  • First things first: I hope the Arsenal players didn't spend too long debating whether or not Cesc should lift their non-existent trophy.  Although it's hard not to feel a little bit sorry for him in the game's immediate aftermath, Arsenal's goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny displayed either incredible arrogance or naivete (or maybe both) when he tweeted pre-game that he was "gutted" that he had learned that Cesc wouldn't be lifting the Cup if Arsenal won.  Consider this a lesson, Wojciech: Nothing in this life is guaranteed.
  • It was a shocking collapse by the Arsenal defense which cost them the Cup. Arsenal are very immature right up the middle of the pitch, and while people -- and the London-based media -- can keep talking about talent and potential, you're going to struggle in tight moments when your most composed player is only 23 years old (and especially when he's not even on the pitch).  One just can't see a veteran 'keeper or center half making the mistake that opened up the goal for Obafemi Martens.  I've said it before, and I'll say it again: Arsenal will not win a trophy without a top notch goalie, or strong central defenders. Just won't happen.
  • And just when every Arsenal fan was crowning the 20 year-old Szczesney as the next coming of Edwin Van der Sar....  Fabien Barthez? Maybe. Van der Sar? Not quite.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Under Pressure

photo by wwarbyvia PhotoRee

It's Chicharito, Rooney and Nani that Sir Alex has picked to provide an offensive spark at Wigan, opting to rest a certain Bulgarian in advance of Tuesday's critical test at Stamford Bridge. Nani begins the game on the left, twinned by Fletcher on the right, and United open in a 4-4-2 that is relatively rarely seen away from home this season. Wigan begin the game confidfently, and only a stuck-in Nemanja Vidic tackle at the top of the18 yard box saves an unmarked man in on goal for the home side in the early going.

In fact, the most notable moment in the first eight minutes for the visitors arrives in the form of an uncalled for elbow thrown by Wayne Rooney, directed at the head of Wigan midfielder James McCarthy.  Rooney is lucky not to be cautioned by referee Clattenburg, and may receive retroactive punishment if the FA decides to review the incident later this week.  It's almost 10 minutes before the Reds create an offensive chance of any kind, with Darren Fletcher narrowly missing Chicharito on a pull back into the middle of the Wigan box.

Paul Scholes then makes a rare and horrendous mistake, ceding the ball to Victor Moses near his own goal, but Van der Sar bails out his teammate and comes up big with his shoulder to deny Wigan the lead. At the other end, Chicharito is sprung free but Maynor Figueroa makes a goal saving tackle to strip the Mexican of the ball. It's wide open and back and forth, with the United defense in particular showing some early nerves.

Game Day Beer Review: Bell's Brewery Hopslam Ale Brewed With Honey

Bell's Brewery Hopslam Ale Brewed with Honey (10.00% ABV).  Pours a clear cherry golden color -- looks a bit like a Shirley Temple -- with a fizzy white head that quickly disappears into nothingness. The smell -- oh, the smell -- is springtime in paradise, all tropical fruits, mango and papaya, with just a hint of very mellow hoppiness. The beer is aptly named, as hops are the first thing I taste, and they're bracing, but not overwhelming, and balanced by a hint of honey sweetness. The taste lingers a long time. This is a beer to remember: A.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

On The Road

photo by BEYOND BAROQUEvia PhotoRee

We’re getting down to the business end of the season – when all the games count for something, and some of the games count for everything.  “Squeaky Bum Time,” Sir Alex famously called this time of year….  Is there a Manchester United fan out there that isn’t approaching the coming onrush of games with a slightly twitchy eye?  I wish I could say I’m supremely confident – but I’m sure even Sir Alex has got to be wondering which of his split personality United teams is going to show up over the next few days.
Will it be the team that has struggled on the road all season, the one which lost at The Molineux, struggled to a late draw at Villa Park, and gave away late points at Goodison Park and Craven Cottage?  It’s been plain for all to see that United have struggled on the road, with only three away victories to show to this point in the season.  One can argue, though – and I will, full of hope -- that results of late have turned slightly more positive for the Reds, with two wins and a draw in their last four road games (or two wins and two draws if we throw Wednesday’s Champions League yawner into the mix).    
Or will this be the time of year when Champions are made, when a team mixing veteran experience and guile with youthful enthusiasm and energy finally makes good on its season-long promise, and delivers the type of late-season performances we’ve become accustomed to over the years?  When the team that smashed Blackburn and Birmingham City, and grabbed dazzling late-game winners against Blackpool and Manchester City, finally begins to show up regularly, home and away.

Friday, February 25, 2011

All I Need is a Miracle

photo by .reid.via PhotoRee

In which Columnist James -- like Lazarus, back from the dead -- tells us what he really thinks about Spurs motivation-sapping 3-1 loss to Blackpool on Tuesday night:

To think I wasted two good Sierra Nevada Torpedoes on this game.

Although, really, I should have seen it coming.  The past week has been typical of Spurs’ roller coaster season thus far:  from the high of becoming only the third British team to knock off AC Milan at the San Siro to this putrid performance at Bloomfield Road.  Even though Spurs dominated the game for stretches – long stretches – there still was an inexplicable lack of intensity on their side and a very explicable longstanding lack of production up front.

That they came out flat was apparent from the opening.  How they could allow this to happen with the opportunity in the table before them, and playing against a team that had lost six straight, is mystifying.  Equally mystifying is Harry’s statement the day before that it would "take a miracle” to qualify for Champions League this season.  Odd motivational tactic.  One can only imagine what the players thought after that quote.  Or perhaps it was the statement from someone who is looking to cushion expectations ahead of his eventual ascendency to the English national team.  Either way, not exactly a shot in the arm for this Spurs squad, of whom Harry had said only a few months before should reasonably believe they could challenge for the very top.  Now, because of City and Chelsea’s ever expanding payroll, it will take a “miracle” to finish even fourth.

There are three possible messages here. 

Message to the players: hey, don’t worry about even trying – because Chelski and City have thoroughly outspent and out-maneuvered us in January, we’re not even capable of it - barring a “miracle” that is. 

Message to the summer’s transfer targets:  if you desire to play consistent Champions League, don’t bother coming here – it will take a “miracle.” 

Message to Haringey Council and English Heritage (perhaps, and this is the only possibility to make sense of this puzzling statement):  better get back to the drawing board and help us find a less expensive solution to redevelop WHL. Regardless, from a manager who has done such a wonderful job in building a cohesive, spirited and motivated culture in the squad this was a perplexing message to send.

Game Day Beer Review: Sierra Nevada Torpedo Extra IPA

From the Desk of Correspondent James:

I have been drinking Sierra Nevada Brewing's Torpedo Extra IPA on and off for years.  It is definitely one of the most available and affordable premium American IPAs on the market.  Currently going for $6.99 for a sixer at my local Piggly Wiggly, it may be the best beer value anywhere (what would we do without Sierra Nevada?).  I used to think it was almost too hoppy – and I love hops – to the point of at times tasting burnt.  I do not know if Sierra Nevada has smoothed that out recently or whether I've just gotten used to it, but it has become a lot more drinkable for me.  Regardless, this is not a super citrusy IPA – more piney with the aforementioned very strong hop flavor.  Pours a muted orange with a one finger head and very nice lacing.  The smell is definitely hoppy, piney with only a hint of citrus /lemon.  Taste is the same, with an almost perfect level of carbonation for this style.  Drinkability may be a bit better with other premium IPA’s that lean more towards the citrus side (Smutty Nose Finest Kind comes to mind) but is still quite acceptable for this style.  This is not the best American IPA on the market but it is very close:  A-.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Like a Vampire

photo by MzScarlettvia PhotoRee
Anyone out there beginning to get the least bit concerned by United's latest performances?  Coming off the high of the Manchester derby, yesterday represented the second torpid performance in a row from the boys in red.  Sure, they didn't lose either game, but is that really the standard by which we're measuring these days?

In a match more notable to me for the momentary in-game failure of Twitter -- due to "overcapacity" issues, whatever that means -- United and Marseille played out a dull and listless draw in the Champions League Wednesday night, a game that slowly sucked the life out of those who watched it.  Put it this way: if last night was your introduction to English football, you'd rank it right up there with watching paint dry and clipping your toenails in terms of excitement.

I'm struggling for positives here, frankly.  In fact, I'm struggling to say much about the game at all. (Ed. Note: In part, this is because I watched the game at the office, interrupted by emails and phone calls, on a dodgy Slingbox connection which offered a clear picture of the action only on closeups.  And with full knowledge of the game and scoreline, I just couldn't bring myself to watch the game a second time later in the day for greater insight).  It was that bad.  The game did leave me with several impressions, though -- which I'm pleased to impart on you below.  How pleased you'll be to receive them, though, is another matter all together.

Game Day Beer Review: Sierra Nevada Brewing's 30th Anniversary Jack & Ken's Barleywine Black Ale

Sierra Nevada 30th Anniversary Jack & Ken's Barleywine Black Ale (10.20% ABV). Jack & Ken's pours pitch black with a white head that lasts and leaves behind copious lacing. The nose offers bittersweet chocolate and hops.  Both feature prominently in the taste, as well, but the beer is maltier and more mellow than I expected, and the high ABV is well-hidden. It's thick and somewhat oily going down, almost more like a Russian Imperial Stout than a barleywine in my opinion.  I like this beer much better than I do most barleywines: B.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Get Sexy!

Columnist Ed Talks up a Guest at Zap Dog
photo by tibchrisvia PhotoRee

In which Columnist Ed dishes on the latest staff meeting, and offers a rare, behind-the-scenes look at the makings of a corporate juggernaut:

And so our Dear Leader (farlieonfootie), all uppity and happy happy after his little Rooney goal and his current first place standing in our office fantasy league game, decided to invite the staff out to a new bar called -- well, let’s call it “Zap Dog” -- for some craft beers and, in all likelihood, some nasty new treat he wanted us to try.  It was one of those corporate events you had to go to, not because you wanted to go, but because you wanted avoid relegation to the Crystal Palace beat, or something equally awful.

The clientele at Zap Dog ranged from disappointing to alarming.  One young lady standing next to me had something like the following sentence tattooed on her neck:  “. . . . and not for Stella’s apron.”  I couldn’t read the first part of this sentence as her hair was covering it, but I can't conceive of having any sentence tattooed permanently on my body that ends with “...and not for Stella’s apron.”

Another young lady looked okay for a second from just the right angle, but then turned into something fiendish in full view.  I shivered and tried harder to pay attention to the bossman, but in those circumstances it was incredibly difficult.  It was almost as if I was Shallow Hal from the movie of the same name, and Tim Robbins had just read me the code word (could it be “Zap Dog?”).

And so we were were making our way through some overly hoppy beers in plastic cups (yes, plastic cups), when The Not-So-Special One (eating something he likes to call a ham-celery knocker) decided to impart some new corporate guidelines for the website and our coverage thereon.  I can't imagine our readers would care much about, but I list the new guidelines for you below so you can have these in the back of your mind when you're reading future copy:

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

On Why I Write

photo by Ben30via PhotoRee

I recently read an excellent piece by Richard Whittall (@RWhittall on Twitter) which confronted me with the question of why I was doing this whole blogging bit. I'll let you in on a little secret: it's not for the money -- at least not yet. 

Sure, I have this bit of a fantasy about how I'll suddenly be "disovered" as a soccer/football blogger of the highest order, and some news organization will throw wads of cash at me in a bid for the privilege of publishing my witty bon mots from the next World Cup (Ed. Note: As if there's a news agency with wads of cash, other than a "new media" agency; surely the "old world" media are penniless). But that's not really the driving force behind this blog.


Blogging also gives me a creative outlet, and allows me to express the many thoughts that appear from nowhere only to end up in my head at some point during a game. Sure, there's also Twitter for expressing those (and that's another whole column, because I am absolutely in LOVE with Twitter), but the blog offers more than 140 characters at a time to record the many thoughts and emotions that football imparts upon me.

But it's more than that. It's more. Writing a blog allows me to connect with people who share my interests and passions, who form a community with which to interact. Whereas Facebook allows you to connect with people you know, or knew in a former life, a blog allows me to connect -- a basic human need, after all -- with people I may never "know" in the physical world sense, but probably should. People who share my interests.  

Monday, February 21, 2011

The Magic of the Cup

photo by Matthew Wilkinsonvia PhotoRee

Ahh, the magic of the Cup.  Roll up for the Mystery Tour and enjoy some observations on the Tour de Force that is the the 5th Round of the FA Cup:
  • First things first.  Why is the Football Association in such a rush to announce the next round that they hold the 6th Round draw prior to all of the games in the 5th  round being completed?  I can understand if there's a replay which needs to be scheduled; fair enough, don't postpone the entire draw until the replay has actually occurred. But why does the FA hold the draw at 4pm GMT, before some of the matches from the PRIOR ROUND -- Arsenal/Leyton Orient and Fulham/Bolton to name two -- have even been played?  
  • Is it really necessary to save a couple hours?  Is it impossible to hold the draw at 7pm GMT?  To you college hoops fans out there: Do you ever think -- ever -- that the NCAA would hold its draw and say "Either Michigan or Ohio State will play Butler, but because the Big 10 Championship match is just getting underway we don't know which team Butler will play yet."? It's ridiculous, and speaks to a Football Association that doesn't understand marketing practices or how to run a business. In that regard, I guess it shouldn't be too big a surprise.  And people wonder why the FA Cup is not taken as seriously as it used to be....

Brasserie Caracole Nostradamus Brown Belgian Strong Dark Ale

Brasserie Caracole Nostradamus Brown Belgian Strong Dark Ale (9.00% ABV).  Nostradamus pours a light brown toasted color and offers only minimal head. The beer has little to no smell, maybe some maltish tones but I can't really be sure.  Nostradamus tastes of Belgian candy syrup, chocolate, toffee and fruits, with raisins and apricots in particular standing out. Lightly carbonated, but not my favorite: B.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Creepy Crawley

photo by melanieburger via PhotoRee 

I know everyone was saying that yesterday's game between Manchester United and Crawley Town captured the beauty of the FA Cup, but for my money, the Everton victory over Chelsea on penalty kicks was by far the match of the day. I'd rather see a cracking game between two sides, even if they're both from the top flight, any day of the week than the dreadful 1-nil victory (I should refer to the game as a draw, because Crawley certainly deserved one) that I suffered through later in the afternoon.

Nevertheleess, faithful reader, herewith my thoughts on the Red Devil Civil War, not necessarily as they occurred, and clearly not in the unedited manner in which they popped into my head, but straight from the heart:

  • I noticed throughout the match that Singha Beer advertisements were prominently displayed on the electronic sideboard advertising at the Theater of Dreams. I know it's about the money these days, but as a beer connoisseur (and someone who writes for a football blog which prominently features beer reviews), could Manchester United please, please, please choose a beer sponsor whose product doesn't taste like piss? I also noticed the new DHL ads.  The commercial services division of United must be working overtime.
  • Tomas Kuszczak has to be well and truly gone this summer. We haven't seen the Pole in Goal for a while now, and new boy Anders Lindegaard seems to be Vandy's new backup man.
  • Full credit to Crawley Town for keeping their composure today. The team wasn't awed by their surroundings or blown away by the experience of playing United, and more than gave their own throughout the match. In fact, I couldn't see much difference between the non-league side and the United reserves on display.

Game Day Beer Review: Samuel Smith's Organic Strawberry Fruit Ale

Sam'l Smith's Organic Strawberry Fruit Ale (5.20% ABV). Pours a murky, deep honey-colored yellow with little to no head. The beer smells of strawberries -- overwhelming strawberries. It tastes of strawberries, too, and apricots. Organic Strawberry Ale is carbonated, but also a bit syrupy. It's definitely not sessionable, but it's not cloyingly sweet, either. It's a contrast, and very good for the style.  Think hot weather and a change of pace, and you'll be on the right path: B.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

I'll Take the Champions League for $400, Alex

photo by [puamelia]via PhotoRee

In order to mark the week on the calendar in which a computer finally beat a human in the game show Jeopardy!, I’ll begin my daily column with an answer:
A: Manchester United, Arsenal, Spurs and City.
Q: Whose headed to the Champions League Next Season?
This may be somewhat controversial, and I know I’ve previously written that I think of Chelsea in the same way that the teenager in the horror movies thinks that the “dead” guy is really dead (i.e., ignore them at your own peril), but I’ll explain my rationale below.  And there’s no time like the present to make a prediction – with the Champions League hotting up once again, the competition is top of mind .  And with no EPL action this weekend, it’s safe to say that I am anticipating United’s Champions League match in Marseilles slightly more than I am looking forward to today’s FA Cup match against the Red Devils of Crawley Town.  So with that introduction out of the way, here’s my logic at arriving in my picks:
I think it’s safe to say United and Arsenal have got two of the four spots locked up (or is it locked down?  Confusingly, I think they mean virtually the same thing in this instance).  In fact, I also think it’s safe to say that one of those two teams is going to win the League, and the other is going to finish second.  Barring a collapse of major proportions (think Chelsea, November/December timeframe), United and Arsenal are too far ahead of their rivals with only two handfuls of games lef in the seasont.  They have eight and four points, respectively, on their nearest rival PLUS a game in hand.  That’s a fairly large lead at this stage in the season.  (Ed. Note: I think it’s also safe to say that you know which team I think will win, and which will finish second, but as a formality here goes: United will be at the top of the league come May, looking down (again) at Arsenal).

Friday, February 18, 2011

Street Fight

photo by digitalshayvia PhotoRee

In which we head back to the San Siro for a recap of this week's Champions League match pitting Spurs angainst Milan

Tuesday, February 15, 2011 / Stadio Guiseppi Meazza (a.k.a., San Siro) / Milan, Italy
Spurs return to the San Siro tonight long on Yiddish chutzpah, but short one Welsh maestro in the form of Gareth Bale. On a stormy evening in Milan, tempest a-brew, Bale's teammates returns to Milan to face not the Internazionale side they blitzed for three second half goals last they played here, but rather Inter's fierce cross town rivals, AC Milan. Uncle Harry starts the Champions League knockout phase with an attacking lineup that includes Van der Vaart, Lennon, and Crouch, while Milan counter with Ibrahimovic and Robinho, and old war horse Gennaro Gattuso, among others.

Spurs show no fear of their opponent, attacking from the start, and Milan center back Alessandro Nesta is guilty of a handball inside the first minute. The referee, however, seems not to have arrived at the match yet as he fails to spot the infraction. Peter Crouch's height causes the Italians problems in the early going, as they appear uneasy dealing with an ultra-tall thin man with limited mobility in a direction other than vertical.

In a worrying early development, Milan are forced to substitute goalkeeper Christian Abbiati due to a concussion on 15 minutes, and there's not time like the present to learn the trade for backup Marco Amelia.  Abbiati's been the busier of the two 'keepers to this point in the match, but it's not immediately clear where the blow to his head came from.

For much of the first half Milan appear to be playing the match underwater, not just in heavy rain, but actually underwater: freakishly slow movement being the most obvious component of their play. By the half hour mark, though, Spurs are no longer dominating and Milan have somewhat played their way back into the match, although it's probably more accurate to say that they've managed to drag Spurs down to their level rather than having picked up their own effort. Spurs have gone away from the wide crosses into Crouch that led to their early flurry of opportunities, and both sides seem in search of inspiration as well as goals. In truth it's a fairly drab opening 45 minutes, fit only to match the evening's weather, and it'll be up to the two coaches to channel their inner Vince Lombardi during the interval.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Questions for Cesc, Pep and Arsene

photo by CarbonNYCvia PhotoRee

So now that we're all done with the most-hyped game of the year, farlieonfootie has a few questions that we're attempting to answer:

Did the Arsenal - Barcelona Champions League game live up to the hype? 
I'd say so. And more. It was a great game, the kind that turns neophytes into fans for life.

Did you call the 2-1 Arsenal victory?
No, I thought it would be a 2-2 draw.  I haven't bought into the "best squad ever" hype for Barcelona yet.  And if you doubt my prediction, look it up here.

What did you base your prediction on?
Gut feeling, as well as the knowledge that Barca has never won on the road under Guardiola in the knockout stages of the Champions League.

Does Arsenal spray paint it's pitch, or is it always that unnaturally verdant? 
Maybe the colors on my television were off, but man, that pitch is bright. Glowing may be a more apt description.

What kind of idiot wears a scarf that's half Arsenal and half Barcelona? 
Apparently the kind of idiot that populated the Emirates last evening.

Did Lionel Messi actually miss a shot last night with the goal wide open? 
He sure did, and I didn't know that was possible.  He may need to go back to the shop for a re-boot.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Via Carrier Pigeon

Columnist Ed's Preferred Messenger Service for Timely Delivery of his Blogs
photo by A Gudevia PhotoRee
Correspondent Ed's new, more timely column finally arrived, via carrier pigeon direct from Italy:


Great to see Spurs beat AC Milan last evening with what is effectively their JV squad, even though the pouring rain really ruined my totally awesome new hairstyle.  Spurs also looked very professional in doing so, meaning they followed their game plan and finished with confidence.  Here’s some thoughts on the match of the evening:

1.        I was surprised to see Kranjcar start on the bench (I bet he was as well).  I expected to see him with Pienaar (hah) playing central, with Palacios and Lennon wide.  But it seems Uncle Harry was playing for a very defensive midfield with Palacios and Sandro.  This makes sense in light of the fact that AC Milan simply doesn’t go wide, but just stays in the center of the field.  It also makes sense because AC Milan isn’t going to dazzle you with creativity in the midfield, but will try to bludgeon it up to Abrahimivic and Robinho.  Why doesn’t AC Milan go wide?  Might I suggest:  (1) No speed wide; (2) Bad Italian coaching.

2.       VDV runs himself ragged at the hour mark of every game he plays in.  That’s all he can really give, a good hour, which is fine.

3.       Lennon’s surge in play has been needed.  All evening he looked as if he was going to do some damage.  What is inexplicable to me is why AC Milan didn’t have their only fast defender, Ignazio Abate, shadow him left to right.  Clearly, Antonini was completely feeble when it came to defending him.

4.       If Bale was opposite of Lennon, I think AC Milan may have been run out of the building.

Paging Jermaine Defoe

photo by TottenhamFanvia PhotoRee

Roving columnist Ed checks in with an analysis of where Spurs are and what they need to do to climb even higher:
Okay, so Van der Vaart, Modric, Bale, King, and Kaboul are all out with injuries.  And Defoe is so cold he gives me a shiver every time I see him play.  And they’ve got to win to keep pace with the big boys or lose their place in the Champions League next year.  So what will they do?  Keep winning, of course.
These are your 2011 Spurs.  It’s not like the old Spurs who crumble or disappear weak-kneed into the sunset.  Harry picks up Pienaar (hah) and puts in Kranjcar again and boom – an assist by Pienaar (hah), another big goal by Kranjcar, and a 2 - 1 victory, this time at Sunderland.
It makes me wonder – is Redknapp really this good?  Is he really pulling off success in the Champions League and competing for a top four place in the EPL with backups?  Or is it that he’s just lucky that players that are forced into the lineup are playing this well?  Probably some of both.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Nine Lives

photo by Photo Extremistvia PhotoRee

farlieonfootie visited The Emirates this past weekend to check out Arsenal's title credentials.  Verdict?  Not overly impressed.

Arsenal and Wolves are greeted by a volley of hailstones to open their match at the Emirates Saturday afternoon. Arsenal begin the match as the stronger of the two sides, but have relatively little to show for their efforts by the ten minute mark.  Wolves' main hope today may be that the hail damages the pitch, pocking it up so that it more closely resembles the cow patch they're used to at the Molineux.

Despite the unfamiliarly immaculate pitch, Wolves do show at least a bit of ambition in the early going. Although the men in gold have only scored ten times on the road all season, it's not immediately obvious by watching the game's opening fifteen minutes. What is obvious, though, is that Wolves' defense is not very good, and Robin Van Persie is in fine form as he sneaks a ball past Hennessy for a quick 1-nil lead. Andre Arshavin misses doubling the lead less than five minutes later when the Wolves' keeper badly misjudges a cross, surprising the Russian with his miss, and providing an open invitation to shoot.

Wolves display their typical tough tackling as the game settles down, but once again appear overly reliant on the set play for scoring opportunities.  When Walcott, Fabregas, and Fabregas again are denied in quick succession near the half hour mark, the alarm bells in the Wolverhampton back line are ringing at full volume, and a second goal has surely got to be on the way. Wolves are being bombarded by the Arsenal assault, and when Van Persie's shot is deflected on the stroke of half time, they're lucky to escape to the locker room down by only one goal.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Flippin' Channels

photo by David Reber's Hammer Photographyvia PhotoRee

  • Juve played Inter yesterday. Another game played in a blanket of fog in Italy. Am I missing something or does every third game in Italy consist of a fog shrouded stadium from which the fans can barely see the product on the pitch? Very atmospheric, but maybe not so good for business in the long run. 
  • By the way, who's the guy who does the commentary for Fox Soccer Channel's broadcasts of the Serie A? He makes me want to slit my wrists. He's monotone even when he gets excited, and his accent mixes Irish and Italian, creating a bizzare linguistic experience. He's worth listening to, though, if you ever find yourself overly excited -- he's guaranteed to bring you back down to earth.
  • Real Madrid with ten men -- due to Iker Casillas' early and deserved red card -- are still better than most teams with eleven on the pitch. Real put Espanyol to the sword yesterday after being shorthanded, and could easily have score four or more golazos with slightly better finishing. Never mind, though, the result was still good enough for Mou's men to pick up two points on the Blaugrana, leaving them five points adrift of the leaders after this weekend.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

The Magic Man

photo by cdrummbksvia PhotoRee

It's finally here: time for the Manchester Derby. No more talking or shouting, just the two teams on the field at the Theater of Dreams. Sir Alex opts for a European 4-5-1 at home, preferring Rooney to Berbatov up top, while Roberto Mancini opens with his preferred 9-1-1 lineup on the road, with David Silva and Carlos Tevez to provide the offensive spark.

David Silva flashes wide right at the start on a beautiful give and go for the first real opportunity of the game. He's clear through on goal, played onside by Ryan Giggs, and it's a massive let off for United when the Spaniard misses to start the game.

Nani has United's first real chance at the tem minute mark, cutting in from the right wing to smash a left footed laser over Hart's head. For all those doubting City's ability to attack today -- including this viewer --Ya Ya Toure's header just over the far end of the bar offers a reminder of City's abilities and seeming intent early on as the scoreline remains knotted at zero. Two minutes later United is picked apart again at the back, as Silva passes in Toure, whose shot is deflected off Smalling's chest. United may have packed the midfield this afternoon, but it doesn't seem to be deterring City from controlling the possession and the game a quarter of the way through the action.

United finally gain some sustained possession near the half hour mark, but the opportunity passes by without a real threat being offered by the home side. Fletcher's header/shoulder off Giggs' cross is straight at Hart, but it's United's first real test of the City 'keeper. United show a little bit of shape as the match nears half time, but they still appear reluctant to push too many bodies forward.

Saturday, February 12, 2011


photo by TheGiantVerminvia PhotoRee

For one of the few times in my life, I find myself speechless. Or wordless. Writer's block, I think they call it. So instead of my usual column, you'll have to satisfy yourselves with the usual news roundup. Sorry, but it's difficult to be brilliant every day, especially when you've been grounded to the nub by life's other events. So here goes:

He's Baaaaack:  Uncle Roy makes his return to EPL football this weekend, back in the saddle at West Bromwich Albion. Given the derisory treatment Roy received at the hands of the scouse crowd at the last joint he worked, I wish Hodgson nothing but the best, and hope WBA will avoid the drop they were so clearly heading toward under Roberto DiMatteo.

Mancini Stirs the Pot:  Before yesterday afternoon, there was relatively little in the way of locker room billboard material for either side to get excited about leading up to the Manchester Derby. Enter the Scarved One, and his belief that United were "very lucky"  to do the double over City last season. I don't know about you, but I don't recall anything "lucky" about scoring four goals the first game at Old Trafford, and then scoring a late, late goal to claim a 1-nil win back at Wastelands. That is, unless you're willing to write off all of United's late victories over the Fergie years as being "lucky," in which case, I'll gladly take it. In any event, Roberto, thanks for adding fuel to the United fire.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Blackpool Up(and Down)date and Other Thoughts

photo by James Cridlandvia PhotoRee

Ed's a busy man, as he's continuing to cover Blackpool while also taking back Spurs' responsibilities.  When will he sleep?

Blackpool lost again, this time 5-3 to Everton on the road. The Tangerines fought back twice and took a 3-2 lead with about twenty minutes to play on a great Charlie Adam run ending in a punctuating headed goal. For most teams, the game would be over at that point, but not for Blackpool. Despite Coach Holloway subbing a defender in to go five across at the back, and putting one man forward, Blackpool couldn’t even slow down the attempts of Everton. A few quick goals later and he was forced to go back on offense, which ultimately led the the fifth and final goal.

One might conclude that Blackpool’s skid is a result of their lack of depth, and in part it is. But sadly it’s also just a result of their lack of talent. It used to confuse me when Holloway attempted to keep the pressure on the other team even after putting up leads. Now it is clear to me that his defenders aren’t so much getting caught up field, but rather just aren’t very good at defending in the first place. It makes sense, then, that the his strategy is that it is imperative to put his team in a position to score early and often.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

A Thing of Real Beauty

photo by bobuvia PhotoRee

Wednesday, February 9, 2011
Argentina vs. Portugal
34,000 feet
Somewhere between New York and Florida, courtesy DirecTV and Continental Airlines

It's red, white and blue on display in Geneva, as Portugal enter in their familiar maroon, and Argy Bargy show up in the famous sky blue and white, the latter color matching the smattering of snow still on the pitch Wednesday evening in Switzerland for the international friendly.

The game opens as if poetry in motion, both sides showing majestic fluidity in attack, with Lionel Messi tiptoeing through the Portuguese defense like tulips, and Cristiano Ronaldo showcasing pace with the ball at his feet that makes him one of the game's most exciting and feared attackers. From the outset, both Argentina and Porutgal play breathtakingly beautiful one touch football, the ball pinging back-and-forth and side-to-side as the teams trade opening jabs. Both Di Maria and Ronaldo find the net in the opening twenty minutes, the game exploding into non-stop, end-to-end action. Jose Mourinho, Pep Guardiola and Sir Alex must be wincing slightly to see their all-stars playing their hearts out for their respective countries, keeping fingers crossed that no one gets hurt, and wondering if by any means they could all slow it down just a bit and save some strength for the upcoming weekend's exertions.

The contest offers countrymen and neutrals a clear view of the world's best pure footballers, and Cristiano (he of the artfully coiffed, slicked back hair), and Lio (showcasing his two-day unshaven, gruff look) don't disappoint, the two men absolutely riveting to watch. Like great NFL running backs, there's very little side motion in their movement, only forward, broken field running and hurdling with the ball attached to their feet as if by super glue. These two are playing a different game than other mere mortals -- with the possible exception of Dimitar Berbatov --  both in terms of their goal output and sheer footballing brilliance, playing the game as it must have first been imagined by God.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Surf's Up for Spurs

photo by A. Strakeyvia PhotoRee

Columnist Ed is back on the Spurs' beat, in large part due to a suspension for "ungentlemanly conduct" committed by columnist James at the farlieonfootie office holiday party:

When Niko Kranjcar cracked a screamer into the right side of the net on Saturday in stoppage time and gave the Spurs a 2-1 victory over Bolton, you could just sense that the EPL had changed.  United had lost, Chelsea was to lose, and now this Spurs side showed that they don’t merely have the talent to make a push this season, they also have the depth.
It’s well known, I think, that footballers rise and fall in waves (See, eg, Et tu, Blackpool – there is a tide in the affairs of men, etc. etc.), and these waves become very clear in the long season of the EPL.  Injuries take their toll on some, fatigue on others, and malaise on others still. 
Take Gareth Bale as an example.  At the beginning of last season he didn’t start, and when he did they couldn’t win.  By the end he had taken his place at left halfback due to injury, and had become, arguably, the most influential attacker on the team.
Or take Aaron Lennon.  Against Bolton he appeared a danger every time he touched the ball.  This form he is in now – which he’s been in for about a month – was something he had prior to his injury last season and has only picked up again after about four or five months of injury and uninspired play.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Goon Squad

Three of Arsenal's Defenders Take a Break at Half Time
photo by GoonSquadSarahvia PhotoRee
One of the most gripping games of the season deserves another look, so we'll spend a moment or two dwelling on each of the eight goals that led to Arsenal ripping up two points and setting the pieces on fire:
  • Theo Walcott opened up Toon like a can opener in the game's first minute, splitting the Newcastle defense right down the middle. Walcott has turned deadly with his finishing this season, and his 11th goal of the season showcased two of his many talents: pace and composure.
  • Less than two minutes later it's Djourou on the scoreboard, steering Arshavin's dangerous cross into the back of the net. The game can't have started much worse for Pardew's boys, as Arsenal are two goals to the good before the game hits the three minute mark. The Magpies appear shellshocked, but they ain't seen nothing yet.
  • Before ten minutes are elapsed it's 3-nil. This time it's Van Persie doing the damage, found through a sweet Walcott cross pulled back into the middle of the box. Alan Pardew claps his hands as if to wake his team up, and to this point in the game Arsenal are absolutely ripping the Newcastle defense to shreds. 

Monday, February 7, 2011

Warning: Yawning is Contagious

photo by Hey Paulvia PhotoRee

It's Blue versus Red, Chelsea versus Liverpool, with Fernando Torres making his way to the opposite side of the pitch from the men who were his teammates a mere six days ago.

Torres starts singing from his new songbook slightly off key, as his first touch of the ball ends up in the stands high and wide of the Liverpool goal.  The two teams take some time feeling each other out, with neither side showing great fluency in attack in the game's opening twenty minutes. Much like the Super Bowl that occurs later today, the early action is not living up to the week of hype that has led up to the game.

Although Chelsea show occasional glimpses resembling a threat, at the 25 minute mark the game is still waiting to burst into life as neutrals around the world stifle a yawn. Liverpool seem lacking any type of a cutting edge up top, and to rely on Dirk Kuyt for his goalscoring prowess is to set yourself up for failure.

Fernando Torres announces his intent to stamp his mark on the game as he's slotted though by Drogba, but it's Carragher to the rescue with a block. At the other end, Cech is quickly tested for the first time, but it's a minute or two later when Maxi Rodriguez misses a sitter on a through ball from Gerrard, and his lack of quality is appaling.  

Sunday, February 6, 2011


photo by Tambako the Jaguarvia PhotoRee

Manchester United travel to Molineux, on a weekend full of goals, to take on a Wolves side that is notoriously tough to beat at home. United channel Los Blancos today in their all white kits, but it's doubtful they'll remain unblemished for long, as the pitch more accurately resembles a muddy cow pasture than an EPL-worthy playing field.

United open in typical fashion, with another early goal helping to settle the nerves.  This time it's Nani, not Rooney, putting the ball in the back of the net to give the visitors a quick 1-nil lead, as George Elokobi gives Nani more than the inch of space he needs, and the Portuguese hit man beats Wolves 'keeper Wayne Hennessy on the near side.

In fact, in the early going Wolves' defensive plan today seems to involve giving United as much space as they desire, with both Rooney and Nani testing the keeper with stinging efforts before the ten minute mark.
Elokobi eventually makes up for his error at the other end, though, as on ten minutes the game is back to square, with United switching off yet again on a set play. Elokobi steers Jarvis' corner into the back of Vandy's net, and it's game on.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Is it Live or is it Memorex?

photo by shaymus22via PhotoRee

I watch a lot of football. A lot. Mostly English Premier League, a smattering of La Liga, the occasional German game, even an Italian game or two. Also the U.S. Men's National Team. And the English Team, too, if their game is televised here. And Champions League. Sometimes Europa League. Plus the Cups, FA and League. 

As I said, I watch a lot of football.

But how am I able to do this, and still lead a normal life (I know -- hold the jokes on the "normal life" part; qualify it, and read "lead a relatively normal life")? Let me explain through an analogy.

In what feels like a former life, I used to surf. Not well, and not a ton, but I was known to get the board shorts wet every now and then.  But to live the life of a surfer in South Florida isn't easy. It's not like California or Hawaii, where the swells arrive at regularly appointed intervals and all you have to do is show up. No, to be a surfer in South Florida is to find yourself dependent upon weather systems and wind-blown waves, and to deal with lots of chop. No neatly manicured regular sets to dive into here. So, basically, you're always looking with one eye to the weather, waiting for just the right conditions to pop up, which they do -- not regularly, but just enough to keep you interested. And when they do pop up, you've got to drop everything else that is going on with your life -- work, family, friends -- and hit the beach. Basically, you've got to be a surf bum, or someone with an extremely flexible work schedule. But it's very hard to be a serious surfer in South Florida and hold down any kind of a regular job.

Being a soccer addict in the US holds very similar issues:

Friday, February 4, 2011

More Questions Than Answers

photo by Ian Wilsonvia PhotoRee

Some observations and further questions upon watching Liverpool - Stoke City:
  • The bias in English football commentary is striking and very obvious at times. Witness the gem that came out of one of the announcer's mouth at the beginning of Wednesday's Liverpool match against Stoke City: 
"[There's] Just a totally different feeling about [Liverpool] since Kenny came back in. I saw them a few weeks ago, against Blackburn, and they were absolutely dreadful."  
Ummm, maybe I have this wrong, but I think Liverpool is 3-2-1 since King Kenny returned, with victories over Stoke, Wolves and Fulham.  They're not exactly setting the world on fire.... They've managed to lose their biggest star, and replaced him with some very expensive question marks. Is that a totally different feeling, or a totally different standard?   You decide. 
  • While I'm at it, I might as well bring up the double standard among the scouse fans, as well. Can you imagine the howls of derision Uncle Woy would have endured if he not only let 'Nando fly the Kop (er, coop), but if he also changed the team formation as radically as Dalglish has?  Liverpool showed off a 3-5-2 tonight vs. Stoke.  I can't see Roy Hodgson getting anything but stick if he tried to change the system in such a manner.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Like an Overstuffed Easy Chair

photo by JAGwiredvia PhotoRee

Manchester United defeated a spirited Aston Villa side today in a 3-1 win at Old Trafford in which the final scoreline does not reflect the true ease of the contest. Displaying only flashes of brilliance, United turned in a performance as comfortable as an overstuffed easy chair while cruising to victory, and could have scored goals by the bucketfull if not for a typically magnificent performance in goal by Villa's wise old American 'keeper, Brad Friedel.

Perhaps most worryingly for their rivals, the Red Devil attack this evening was spearheaded not by the EPL's leading scorer, Dimitar Berbatov, but rather by his once and future strike partner, Wayne Rooney, who increased his season scoring output by 66% with a brace.  With his performance tonight, Rooney reminded friend and foe alike that he can still strike like a deadly cobra, and the rest of the league would do well to sit up and take notice.

Also turning back the clock to yesteryear was Sir Ryan Giggs, who turned in yet another scintillating performance in midfield -- his third world class performance in a row to this viewer's eyes. Giggs not only showed bursts of his old pace, but time and again he demonstrated his unparallelled vision and creativity on the pitch in tearing the Villa midfield into tiny little pieces. United looked threatening virtually every time Giggs touched the ball, and much of the attack this evening ran through Giggs and the left hand side of the pitch.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Makin' it Rain in the EPL

photo by goldenrailvia PhotoRee

Random thoughts on transfer activity and more, from the blog's muse, Ed.  He's always interesting, if not too accurate in his assessments:
  • What to make of Spurs four-nil loss to the Cottagers in the FA Cup?  Nothing.  It’s the FA cup and Spurs needed out.
  • Would have liked to see Dempsey get out of Fulham if for no other reason than a change might be fun for him and for fans.
  • Spurs £35MM for Guiseppe Rossi wasn’t accepted.  Wish they could’ve gotten in the mix for Carroll.  They could have unloaded Crouch and Pav for something – maybe enough to make up for the cost.
  • Charlie Adam would have been good for Liverpool.  He might have been better for Spurs.  Where, you ask?   How about where Wilson Palacios plays?  Those cross field passes to Bale and Lennon would make Spurs tough to stop.  And to hear it was missed by minutes.  What could have been . . . . .