Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Forgotten, But Not Gone

photo by dgray_xplanevia PhotoRee

How far has Nedum Onuoha fallen in the EPL pecking order?  Last year, he was starting for Sunderland and slaloming (there's really no other way to describe it) through the Chelsea defense to score a goal he'll never forget in a famous victory at Stamford Bridge.  This year, I didn't even realize he was on the Manchester City roster until I saw him turn up for the Carling Cup matchup against Arsenal at the Emirates on Tuesday.

And let's not forget Kolo Toure's return to the City starting eleven, either. Eighteen months ago, the man who spent seven seasons playing for Arsene Wenger was captaining Manchester City.  Nowadays, Toure apparently spends more time concentrating on his role as team dietician than he does playing defense.

And what to think of the re-appearence after a(nother) lengthy injury rehabilitation period for Owen "Benedict" Hargreaves, who made just his second appearance playing for the Sky Blues on Tuesday?  Having recently returned from his hamstring "issue," I was certain Hargreaves had hurt himself again when Sergio Aguero was sent to warm up inside the 10 minute mark but, alas, the Argentine was only being called on as part of a tactical switch by Roberto Mancini, and -- somewhat miraculously -- Hargreaves was allowed to play nearly 80 minutes rather than being immediately stretchered off the pitch.

Playing so many answers for the "Where Are They Now?" gameshow all at the same time, it's an absolute outrage that Roberto Mancini neglected to insert Wayne Bridge into City's starting lineup.  The former England international and best friend of John Terry must be buried pretty deep in the doghouse not to get a runout in Tuesday's contest.

Not wanting to be left out of the Forgotten Man sweepstakes, Arsenal countered with some long-lost names and faces of their own. Marouane Chamakh -- remember when his "physical presence" was going to give the Arsenal attack a completely new dimension?  Me neither -- and Emmanuel Frimpong (I could say his name a million times and never get tired of it.  I just love how it sounds like a fancy entree: "Waiter, the little missus will have the Shrimp Frimpong, if you please.") both made their way back into the Gunners' lineup after periods of time so lengthy that they each had to be shown where the team's shower facilities were located.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Game Day Beer Review: Spoetzl Brewery Shiner Holiday Cheer Dunkelweizen

We'll kick off the start of the holiday season with a beer brewed especially for the occasion.

From deep in the heart of Texas, Shiner Holiday Cheer pours a dark cherry cola color, with a thin white head -- the color of Santa's beard -- that gets lost quicker than a big man in a red suit scoots up the chimney. I'm definitely getting peaches on the nose more than any other scent; the beer just smells sweet.

I'll say one thing for the taste: this beer is definitely different, a true standout. It begins sweetly enough, but not cloyingly so, before running into an earthy note in the middle. I'm also getting some definite malts, both in the beginning and in the middle of the taste. 

But Holiday Cheer finishes very dry, which brings you up a bit short after its sweet start.  It's well carbonated and very refreshing. It's clearly different than your every day holiday beer, and I actually kind of like it.  I may need to taste a few more to figure out exactly how much: B+

Monday, November 28, 2011

Like a Fish Needs a Bicycle: Week 13 in the EPL

Fish Bicycle
Photo by Gareth D. Jones on Flickr
Tottemham's Benoit Assou-Ekotto is doing his singular part to bring the Jackson Five back into style. Circa 1974 style. He's beginning to remind me of Correspondent Ed back in his school daze....

o I don't rate Arsenal.  Sure, I know it's the  "in"  thing to do, bowing down at the Altar of Wenger with the Gunners having won 11 of their last 14 after their draw on Saturday, but I just think they've played weak competition. End of story.

o I heard the announcers talk about Samir Nasri during the Arsenal - Fulham game, and it reminded me: Samir who?  Even the  Frenchman's critics could not have predicted his demise would come this quickly. Last season at this time he was gliding silkily through Premier league defenses, pulling the strings for the Arsenal offense.  This year, the only thing he's pulling is the water cart for David Silva, and he only sees the pitch when mopping up for Mario Balotelli or Edin Dzeko -- mostly he's been seen this season watching longingly from the bench.

Nasri is a fish out of water for City. He's best used to create offense in the middle, but with Silva already filling that role, Manchester City needs Samir Nasri like a fish needs a bicycle.   He may be part of a winning team but I wonder how satisfied he's feeling right now.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

The Dead Zone: Manchester United 1 - Newcastle United 1

the virus
Photo by neoliminal on Flickr

Just One of Those Days – Sometimes you can do everything right and it just doesn’t work out in the end.  I’m not saying United did everything right yesterday – far from it, in fact – but the game had the feel about it that United could have played another 90 minutes and not breached the goal mouth. Off the line, off the bar, off Tim Krul’s hands, offside – every chance denied, every opportunity thwarted.  

It seems as if the team is stuck in neutral at the moment – not bad enough to fall off the chase, but not good enough to stay in it.  Saturday’s problems can’t really be blamed on midfield creativity – there was plenty evident in the persons of Ryan Giggs and Michael Carrick.  And United created plenty of chances -- more so than in most games the team has recently played.  No, Saturday just has to be laid off at the feet of “Just One of Those Days" – you can’t win them all.

Tim Krul was Outstanding – A flying Dutchman back in between the sticks at Old Trafford?  Too bad he was on the wrong team....  What can you say about the Magpies Dutch ‘keeper except that he’s at the top of his game right now?  Krul singlehandedly kept Newcastle in the game yesterday, especially during United’s late second half onslaught, denying United on more than one occasion from all angles and distances.  And when Krul was finally beaten, there was Danny Simpson on the line in the 86th minute to save his bacon.  Several United shots could have tested Krul a bit more -- I'm thinking of Vida's point blank second half header -- but the game had about it the feel all along that it would take a special effort to beat the Dutchman.  And the Reds didn't create anything nearly special enough.
Where Have You Gone, Ashley Young?   Where are the early season goals?  What's happened to the threat from the left flank?  Where did the inch perfect left- AND right-footed crosses go?  Instead, what we’re left with is exactly what I feared when Manchester United signed him – a decent but ultimately not great player who drifts in and out of form from game to game – sometimes hot, sometimes not, sometimes not even present.   I lost track yesterday of the number of times that Young missed a shot, took one too many dribbles in the box, failed to deliver a quality ball, or just helped fizzle out the final attack.  He’s become the Dead Zone, the walking dead of the United offense, having taken over the mantle from Patrice Evra: any chance Young takes turns into nothing.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Game Day Beer Review: Oskar Blues Brewery Dale's Pale Ale

Oskar Blues Dales Pale Ale
Photo by Bernt Rostad on Flickr

Beer: Oskar Blues Brewery Dale's Pale Ale

Appearance: Strong orange – copper with a thick white head and impressive lacing.  Looks like an IPA.

Smell: Very hoppy, with noticeable hints of pine and a little citrus.  Smells like an IPA.

Taste: Prominent but not overpowering west coast style hops flavoring with restrained notes of citrus and pine and a nice malt overlay to balance things out.   Tastes like an IPA – a really good IPA.

Mouthfeel: Thick and substantive; but also smooth if that make sense.  Satisfying after one, but sessionable as well.

Overall: These wonderful cans seem to be almost replacing Sierra Nevada as the de facto Pale Ale, at least in the towns I frequent.  And with good reason – this is a big, bold hoppy pale ale but not overpowering like the stronger IPA’s. 
Both flavorful and drinkable.  A+  

Friday, November 25, 2011

Waltzing to Victory

Capturing the Viennese Waltz
Photo by Flickr-Rickr
Here's columnist Scott, reprising Liverpool's famous win on Sunday over Chelsea:

Tuning into the Liverpool vs. Chelsea clash at Stamford Bridge, Maxi Rodriguez in the starting eleven is a welcome sight given how he finished last season on a goal-scoring tear that earned him the "Maxi Man" moniker in these pages.  The Reds have been unable to consistently score, even against the likes of Norwich City and Swansea, so hopefully the Argentinean can inject some finishing into a team that even Andres Villas-Boas has said should be challenging for the title (even if he was reportedly referring more to their winter and summer spending spree more than their play).  Craig Bellamy is also in the lineup for Liverpool, giving the team a decidedly Dalglish feel.

Early on, Liverpool is having trouble going forward and only the incessant Luis Suarez is providing any creativity.  With the referee letting the teams play through the ticky-tack fouls, only Chelsea is looking dangerous in the first 10 minutes.  But now Liverpool has started to press with the result that a greedy (or blind) Glen Johnson has squandered an opportunity to lay it back for one of 2 players panting on the 6 yard box, perhaps wanting to defeat his former team all by himself.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving

Howdy Pilgrim
Photo by MattHurst via Flickr
We at farlieonfootie have much to be thankful for, including our semi-diligent staff, which we're partly thankful for, but mostly we are thankful for you, our readers.  With our daily viewership rapidly nearing the million mark, we are well on our way to becoming the voice of football and beer -- as if it needed a voice....

Happy Thanksgiving to all of our US readers -- and Happy Thusday to everyone else!  Gobble Gobble!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Paradise Lost: Manchester United 2 - Benfica 2

photo by PhotoRee

Manchester United were forced to face Benfica at home without their talisman Wayne Rooney yesterday, so it was Dimitar Berbatov leading the line, as Nani and the-just-returned-from-injury Ashley Young partnered with the Bulgarian to provide offense in Tuesday's Champions League face off.  At the back, it was Phil Jones pairing with Rio Ferdinand in Nemanja Vidic' absence, attempting to keep the Portuguese out of the net.  Benfica entered the game unbeaten this season, with the current streak at 20 games entering the contest.

Jones figured prominently in early going, with his own goal gifting Benfica the lead -- definitely not the kind of welcome United were envisioning when the game plan was designed. Within five minutes, the English champs were down 1-0, the first goal the team had allowed in six games, on truly the first attack of the day from the visitors.  Once again, it was the midfield that was exposed, with Michael Carrick and Darren Fletcher unable to cover all of the Portuguese players who came flooding into the center of the pitch.

Benfica's obvious game plan was to hit the Reds hard and often, in an attempt to unsettle the home side and slow the game down, nullifying whatever movement or momentum the Reds had -- and it appeared to work, with the Reds seeming unusually jjittery at Old Trafford. Teams seem to be coming into the Theater of Dreams this season with a different mindset, a reminder that United appear more vulnerable -- especially mentally -- than they have in seasons past.

Nani gave Benfica the most trouble in the game's opening half hour, dribbling through the Portuguese side almost at will, but he was also responsible for repeatedly giving the ball away.  Although United had significantly more of the possession at 60/40, they were unsuccessful in their attempts to create quality scoring chances, failing to test the Benfica 'keeper in the games first half hour.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Nine Thoughts from a Pro's Pro

Photo by Albumen

Please note Columnist Ed's ironic lead-in as you read the second article featured in farlieonfootie's football double-header today:

Yes, I did watch the MLS finals between the LA Galaxy and the Houston Dynamo.  I watched because unlike some of the slough around here at FOF, I’m a pro’s pro.  So here’s what I have to say.

1.     Lando is the Man.  The best US soccer player in US soccer history proved yet again that he is, well, the best US soccer player in US soccer history.  His goal came from a calm chip over the keeper’s shoulder, and his runs were always decisive and well played.  It also meant a lot to him.  Lando criticized Beckham with some vigor some time ago, but perhaps this criticism was needed to get Beckham to understand that at least for the players at the Galaxy, winning the cup was no joke.  We probably have only three or so more years to enjoy Donovan at the top of his game, and it’s time to appreciate all he’s done for American soccer.

2.     MLS v. EPL.  Well, that’s not a very fair comparison, as the EPL may be the best league in the world right now.  That said, Beckham and Robbie Keane – two past their prime players who are probably less than EPL players right now – looked to be considerably better than everyone else out there except Donovan.  I like Keane, despite the fact that when he runs he seems to have a few extra moving parts, but he hasn’t looked that dangerous in the EPL for years.  And Beckham is just too darn slow these days, but despite that he was plenty effective against Houston.

3.     The Kiss.  Sadly, you just don’t see many kisses in professional sports.  However, after Donovan put in the goal off a great pass from Robbie Keane, he jumped on the Irishman and give him a nice smooch in the temple.  It was very un-American, but hey,  I’m down with it anyhow.  In fact, I’m going to give old FOF a smooch on the top of his balding head next time I see him.

Snoozing Through the MLS Cup Final: Los Angeles 1 - Houston 0

Photo by Sean MacEntee
Major League Soccer did itself no favors putting its Cup Final on national television late on an East Coast Sunday night. If they were hoping to appeal to a West Coast crowd, maybe the plan worked. If they were hoping to capture the youth generation playing east of the Mississippi -- where fully two-thirds of the US population lives -- they were likely much less successful. It's reminiscent of the misstep Major League Baseball made a number of years ago, doing away with daytime World Series games, and moving the opening pitch of the Fall Classic to a time that caused games to end long after most children on the East Coast had gone off to bed -- and they lost a huge generation of fans to other sports, including soccer.

Making matters worse, the Cup featured on television opposite a Sunday night National Football League game, featuring a big game for two teams located in -- get  this -- the Eastern half of the Country. Oh, and the teams were both in the top 5 media markets in the US: New York (#1) and Philadelphia (#5). My guess is that the overnight East Coast rating for the game will be a steady 1.5 -- as in, maybe 1.5 people living on the US' East Coast watched the MLS Cup.

Meanwhile, the MLS could have had a fitting halftime show to rival the NFL's Super Bowl extravaganza if they'd had the foresight to invite Albert Hammond to entertain the Los Angeles crowd with his 1972 hit "It Never Rains in Southern California."  At least it would have been ironic given the weather for the Final. With fans bundled up in rain coats and sweaters, the scene on television didn't quite look like the Rose Bowl on New Year's Day.

Monday, November 21, 2011

On the Hot Seat: Week 12 in the EPL

Photo by paulkehrer on Flickr

Kudos to Norwich City. The're a team that's been promoted two seasons in a row -- no mean feat, that -- and this season find themselves in the top flight of English football. They're also a side in which only one member of the starting 11 against Arsenal on Saturday had any EPL experience before joining the League this season.  And while Arsenal created the bulk of the chances and ultimately won the game 2-1, the Gunners' victory was by no means as easy as it looked.  But rather than bore you with my thoughts about the earliest kickoff of the weekend, I'll leave  you instead a couple of quick jokes inspired by Saturday's action:

Q: How many Arsenal defenders does it take to score a goal?

A: Four.  One to trip and fall, and three more to stand around and watch the opposition cut through them like a hot knife through butter.

Q: Why does Gervinho hate Christmas?

A: Because he ends up squandering all the gifts he receives.

Ba dah dum!  Thanks. I'm here all week....

And now for some more thoughts on the week(end) that was in the EPL:

o Saturday's showdown between Manchester City and Newcastle was the proverbial irresistible force meeting the unmovable object. When the dust had settled, the City juggernaut continued to roll on, as two penalties and a goal by Micah Richards left the Citizens standing alone as the last of the EPL's unbeatens.  

o Speaking of Richards, he accounted directly for one of City's goals and created a second through a penalty. Although there are several other viable candidates for this next nomination, I believe the big Englishman is City's most improved player this season: his defensive brain farts seem fewer and further between, and his attacking skills have become even sharper this year, in which he's been given greater license to roam forward by Roberto Mancini.  Right now he's big, fast, and oh so dangerous -- so of course he won't  make Fabio  Capello's starting England lineup....

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Energy Conservation: Manchester United 1 - Swansea City 0

Energy Day at the Market 16
Photo by CERTs via Flickr

It was a mark of respect for the home side that Sir Alex put out a very strong lineup yesterday for United's journey to Wales to face Swansea City. The Reds grabbed an early lead via a Chicharito goal before shutting down the engines and executing an ultra-conservative gameplan to perfection, resulting in a never comfortable but ultimately effective 1-nil win for the visitors. The shutout represented the Champion's third 1-nil win in a row in the League and fifth consecutive shutout in all competitions.  So much for the shaky defense theory....

o Ryan Giggs showed a bit of what United's been missing this season early on in the game, when he calmly slotted a ball through to Chicharito for United's opening goal. The Welshman's cool-as-a-cucumber composure was on display for all to see as he intercepted a pass from Angel Rangel deep in Swansea territory before dishing it off -- simple as that -- for yet another assist in his glorious career.  Many midfielders would have panicked and hit the ball too heavily or too lightly -- think Anderson here -- but not Giggsy.  It was great to see the Welsh legend back in his homeland, and in the United starting lineup, too: Sir Alex has been resting Sir Ryan a bunch this season, in obvious hopes of keeping his aging legs fresh for the bigger late-season games to come.

o It wasn't all United, though: Swansea missed a glorious opportunity to equalize halfway through the first half, as the defense switched off momentarily. Scott Sinclair whiffed on a ball with the net begging and De Gea scrambling to get back, or the scoreline would have been level.  The Swans didn't threaten the young Spaniard in goal all that often, and they learned the lesson that United has taught many newly-promoted team before: when you have even a half a chance, you must capitalize on it.  Swansea didn't, and the result was three more points for United.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Game Day Beer Review: Stevens Point Brewery Point Cascade Pale Ale

Photo by soundfromwayout on Flickr

Beer: Stevens Point Brewery Point Cascade Pale Ale

Appearance: Surprisingly clear, light golden beer with very thin head and not much lacing.

Smell: I get some fruit/citrus overtones, but mostly yeast.   Again, surprising for this style.

Taste: The word that comes to mind is bland, perhaps the blandest pale ale I’ve ever had.  It is over carbonated and certainly crisp, but tastes more like a summer lager than a pale ale.

Mouthfeel: Very thin – soda water.

Overall: Huge disappointment from a brewery I respect.  I really like their marzen but this is just flat out poor.  Served in the environmentally favorable container –  a can –  that many craft breweries are moving to, so they do get props for that. 
Otherwise, a big disappointment.  Maybe something decent on a hot summer day, but that’s about it:  C-

Friday, November 18, 2011

Two Scoops Too Much

Photo by Joelogon on Flickr
Columnist Ed likes his Raisin Bran served with a nice big glass of prune juice:

Raisin Bran has got to be the most ill-conceived breakfast cereal known to man.  I mean, who wants hard and chewy dried up raisins sprinkled in their cereal?  I don’t want anything like that in my cereal.  Bananas – good.  Strawberries – terrific.  Dried up brown surprises?  No thanks.  I think Raisin Bran is the best proof there is that advertising works, because without that jingly commercial they used to have I don’t think anyone’s really buying the stuff.

So why am I writing about Raisin Bran and why am I so angry about it?  I’ll tell you why.  It’s because we’re in the midst of yet another painful two week international break.  With apologies to our sister site, what the frack?!!  Watching these friendlies is like taking a break from the playoffs to watch a couple of pre-season games.  But because I have to, because I’m (theoretically) paid to, I will now comment on a few of the games.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

In a Fog: US 3 - Slovenia 2

Actual Image From TV of Jozy Altidore.  Do Not Adjust Your Television.
It looked for all intents and purposes as if I might need to break out the video of John Carpenter's The Fog again after watching the US play Slovenia on Wednesday. Played in a fog so thick it was difficult to make out the players at times (see above), the US' 3-2 victory over Slovenia represented the Yanks' first triumph on European soil in over three years.

It all got a bit scruffy toward the end of the game, as the US held on – by the tip of their fingernails – to take home only the second victory during coach Juergen Klinsmann's reign. The defense in the second half, particularly around the 60 minute mark, was a bit of a hot mess, as Slovenia pressed for a second goal and then an equalizer – and almost got them both. Still, a wins's a win, and an European one is doubly impressive.

Could it be a coincidence that the US switched to  a 4-4-2 lineup today, rather then the sole striker system that Klinsmann has been favoring of late?  Playing without their main man Landon Donovan, and the long-term injured Stu Holden, the Americans put on a much better performance than they have in their past games, and actually looked dangerous on the attack, especially in the first half.

The game can be characterized as a flip flop of sorts, the complete opposite of the team's more recent performances.  Generating almost 25% of the shots that they've managed to create under all of the previous games that Klinsmann has coached, the US created opportunity after opportunity in the first half.  The second half was a bit of a different story with the US just looking to hang on to maintain their victory margin. The victory may not please the purists, but I doubt Klinsi is concerned much about all that now.

He's headed back home with a win and some goals, and the critics are silenced -- for now.

This is farlieonfootie for November 16.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Personal Recollection: The Columnist Scott Story

Chique Sheik
Photo by Photocapy on Flickr

Growing up in Saudi Arabia, with the NFL eight time zones away, I was destined to play and fall in love with soccer.  First, I was molded under the feisty tutelage of a Columbian named Hernando Hernandez (how cool is that name?), whose twin boys were my compatriots in elementary school soccer.  Then it was an Englishman, George Merrin. And while I remember both fondly, and surely benefited from the passion that both of them have for the game, it was George who coached and influenced me during my most formative ages of 12 to 15.  George (he was the only adult I was ever allowed to call by his first name) was not only my coach but also a family friend who, being a bachelor in a foreign country, spent Christmas at our house every year.
Shortly after I returned to the US in 1984, George moved to Australia to coach full time and eventually became the Director of Coaching for Far North Queensland.  I stayed in touch with him over the years and even visited him in Cairns in 1999.  He, in turn, would make a US tour every 5 years or so, staying with people he used to coach or other people he knew from Saudi.  Which brings us to the present time and a very enjoyable visit this past week that George swears will be his last, as he is retiring to Thailand.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

A Four Course Meal: England 1 - Spain 0

Four course meal in one course
Photo by BriYYZ on Flickr

Fat Frank led England out in their poppy-emblazoned Anthem Jackets (coming soon to a store near you) on Saturday at Wembley against a world champion Spanish side that featured Xavi, Iniesta, David Silva and -- on the bench -- the out-of-form Fernan-d'oh! Torres.  The home side held on for a slightly undeserved 1-nil victory, proving the critics wrong and sending the majority of the crowd home happy. 

Some thoughts after watching the game:

o It's somewhat surprising that the NFL logo at midfield was still visible almost a month after the venerable stadium hosted its American interlopers. I would have thought the FA could have found a way to make the logo disappear more effectively than just letting it fade away.... In the end, it was another free advertisement for the NFL -- as if it needs more of that.

o In the first half, England were all too happy to sit back and absorb pressure in their own end, while Spain took the opposite approach, preferring to pressure the man with the ball and give him relatively little time or space with which to make a pass. So guess which side created more turnovers and opportunities?

Saturday, November 12, 2011

The Experiment Continues: France 1 - USA 0

Photo by x-ray delta one on Flickr
The Jurgen Klinsman experiment continued Friday night at the Stade de France in Paris, with the Yanks visiting a French side led by Karim Benzema, Loic Remy and Franck Ribery.  If only Klinsman could work out a way to make the US' games last 70 minutes rather than the standard 90, or have a nil-nil final score count as a victory, then all would be well in American soccer.  Instead, we're left only with the following observations and wondering what might have been -- other than the narrow 1-nil French victory which resulted:

o It took the US about 15 minutes to threaten the French goal for the first time, and then only weakly. Playing Klinsi's preferred system with only the lonely Jozy Altidore up top, the US struggled for offensive opportunities even while giving itself an early foothold  in the game. I'd be alot more comfortable with Klinsi's sole striker system if we had a striker capable of doing more than holding the ball up.  Although Jozy had half a shout for a penalty midway through the first half, it was the kind of call a visiting team is unlikely to get on here road, even in an international friendly. 

Friday, November 11, 2011

Man Up!

Upsidedown 1
Photo by Dariuszka on Flickr

give you Columnist Ed, on one of his all-too-frequent rants.  Apparently, he's under the mis-impression that the standard in Spanish Football this season is still being set by a certain side from Catalonia.  Before I point out to him that the most dangerous squad in La Liga this season hails from the Spanish Capital -- a side which has come fully into its own in this, the Special One's second season in Madrid -- I'll let Ed offer you an entertaining side show of sorts:

First off, if your not reading, there's something wrong with you.  Seriously.  Don't even look at me if that's the case.  Turn away.  I can't take the sight of you.

Okay, with that behind us, let us speak of the darkness growing in the South, and by that I mean Barcelona.  How are we in the EPL to deal with their dominance?  Is it personnel or tactics?  I think it's both, but let's look today at tactics.

In his latest review of the Barca v. Athletic Bilbao (unedr the tutelage of Coach Marco Bielsa) match, Zonal spoke of how Bilbao was able to achieve a draw against the powerhouse by playing man defense rather than the zone.  This is along the lines of what I've believed has been worth a try for some time. 

The traditional defense In football is, of course, the "zonal marking" we see time and time again.  Getting eight or nine players behind the ball in two straight lines.  Tweaks occur by tightening in the middle or on the outside against certain players.  To be short and clear, this defense is widely used because it is very effective.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Game Day Beer Review: Bieres de Chimay Premiere (Red) Dubbel

(7.00% ABV).  Stylishly served in a Chimay goblet at Saia, on the beach in Fort Lauderdale. Chimay Red pours a hazy gold with a thinnish head that's white and thick as shaving cream. Premiere smells of malt. On tasting, the beer has a malty, bananas, bready sweetness, with a warm syrupy aftertaste. It's pure class. A

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Game Day Beer Review: Cayman Islands Brewery Caybrew Euro Pale Lager

(5.00% ABV).  Poured into a modified pilsner glass, Caybrew was a clear, thin goldish color, with a head that's white as the driven snow -- in fact, after the pour my waiter gave me, I was surprised that only half of the glass was full of foam.

The beer was nicely carbonated. Sampled while on a recent trip to the Cayman Islands, Caybrew had a relatively innocuos, malty smell to it.  The taste follows the nose: it was malty, with a slightly musty overtone.

It's a very basic light lager, and nothing special. It could be decent on a very hot day, but it would need to be icy cold. I definitely don't want to taste this one when it warms up. C-.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Order Restored: Week 11 in the EPL

My Trusty Gavel
Photo by Steakpinball on Flickr

Order was restored in the BPL over the weekend, as all the top teams -- save Liverpool (which begs the question: is Liverpool truly a top team, or merely a poseur? -- picked up three points, although some teams had an easier time of it than others.  The City juggernaut continued to roll on, and and United hung on for a home win to celebrate Fergie's 25 years in charge.  

At the other end of the table, Steve Kean's flying ouster demand was reminiscent of a certain New York Football Giants' banner, while lowly Bolton managed to hang a 5-spot on a dispirited Stoke City.  In other words, it's all systems normal and full speed ahead as we head into yet another interminable international break -- although not before we make the following observations:

o Manchester City did just enough on Saturday to keep their 5 point lead at the top of the table. This was the kind of game the Citizens will need to keep on winning if they want to come out on top this season, but that'll be easier said than done. QPR gave them quite a test on Saturday, and it's the kind of challenge that will keep on getting harder as Fall turns to Winter turns to Spring. We'll see if they're up for it....

o After what I saw of Blackburn's finishing on Saturday against Chelsea, they fully deserve to go down. Peter Cech left an open net on at least two occasions and yet Yakubu still failed to score.…. How bad was the Rovers' finishing, you ask?  It was positively Fernando Torres-like, and managed to hand a woeful Chelsea defense its first shut out in quite some time.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Nothing to Talk About: United 1 - Sunderland 0

Because He Wouldn't Shut Up
Photo by Joshjanssen for Flickr
I'm at a total loss of words concerning Manchester United. The last couple of United games have been dreary, boring, and totally uneventful.  Long gone are the days of one touch, breezy, tiki taka football, the kind in which a score always seems just around the corner. Now what we're "treated" to are games characterized by long periods of  Red possession followed by no profitable outcome. Yesterday's first half was a perfect example: 45 minutes of pure drudgery, piled on top of the ninety minutes of crap that United produced on Wednesday. I'm beginning to think that Sir Alex's master plan is to bore other teams to death.... Salvaged only by a Danny Welbeck goal (courtesy of Wes Brown) in first-half stoppage time, United "rolled" to a 1-nil victory over a terrible Sunderland side on Saturday, and picked up another three points at Old Trafford to celebrate Sir Alex's 25 years in charge of the Red Devils.

I'm not sure what's causing the doldrums.  Could it be Wayne Rooney playing in midfield, instead of his customary role as striker?  Or could it be that United are lacking a creative player in the middle of the pitch, one who could pull strings and make things happen?  Whatever the reason, United continued to look slow, lethargic, and totally out of sorts, even playing at home. The offense is bland, predictable, and all too narrow, and the Reds caused Sunderland, not exactly an EPL defensive standout, very few problems on the afternoon.  Fortunately on the reverse side, Sunderland caused United almost no problems at all.  Perhaps they miss Asamoah Gyan more than they thought they might....

Sitting on the bench, three former United stand outs, Paul Scholes, Ryan Giggs, and Gary Neville, must have sat there wondering what happened to the vaunted offense that they once knew. Even Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, also in attendance after a championship season in Norway, would have had a hard time saving this team in its current state.

On the bright side, Saturday represented the fourth clean sheet in a row produced by the United defense, a statistic of which to be proud.  If only the office were as proficient as the defense right now, there would be much more -- and many more interesting things – to discuss.  So for now we'll leave it at this: three more points ground out toward the season total.  They all count the same in the end.

This is a bored farlieonfootie for November 6.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

And Around We Go

FIFA 12 on Wii
Photo by EA Sports FIFA on Flickr

So I’ve been playing this FIFA 12 soccer on Playstation and it’s becoming an addiction.  I usually take Spurs, and while I’m pretty good against the middle and the bottom of the table, I have a tough time against United and Chelsea.  Talk about realism.  As for Barcelona – I’m just not ready yet, but is anyone in the world really?  With that in mind, let’s take a stroll around the Champions League this week and see how are top EPL teams fared:
1.      Damned United!  That’s the name of a great book, as well as a movie made from a great book, but I’m saying it here and now because their latest Champions League Match against Otelul Galati was Damned Unwatchable!  I don’t know if I’ve ever seen United play such uninspired football.  They passed poorly, they didn’t play hard.  They didn’t seem to really care.  Dear Sir Alex, would you please at the very least give us non-fans something exciting to watch?  I did like the Rooney experiment as a central midfielder, but for some reason Mr. New Hair thought he was Charlie Adam and kept booming passes across the field.  But unlike Charlie, most of his passes were to nobody or the other team.  Egads.  Let’s just forget this one ever happened.  Starting now.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Game Day Beer Review: Bieres de Chimay Grand Reserve (Blue) Belgian Strong Dark Ale

(9.0% ABV). Poured from a 750 ML bottle into a chalis, Chimay Grande Reserve is a clearish, dark brown, with a one-fingered chocolate-colored head that quickly dissipates. The beer is produced by one of the world's great brewers, and for this reveiewer in particular, beers don't get much better than this.

Chimay Blue's -- The Grand Reserve -- smell is sweetish, caramel malts and licorice, mingled with abundant spices and dark fruits, such as raisins and figs. The taste has a lot going on -- it's sweet, but not overly so.  It's a complex brew, with a mix of fruit and spices, and some breadish, more earth-like flavors.  The mouthfeel, though, is lighter than you might expect in a beer with this much taste, and the alcohol is definitely present.

I'm giving this one an A.  Pour me another, please!

Thursday, November 3, 2011

More Questions Than Answers: United 2 - Otelul Galati 0

Photo by Creativity103 on Flickr

Have you ever had the feeling you were watching a game played underwater?  I have.  In fact, I had it last night. 

Slow, lumbering, and far from smooth, the mighty Manchester United outscored but didn't necessarily outplay the tiny Romanian minnow, Otelul Galati, in a fourth round Champions League match at Old Trafford.  Fielding a lineup that screamed attack from the get go, the Reds put on a  performance that asked more questions than it answered, and relied on an 87th minute Wayne Rooney deflection to claim their final margin.  In a game that should have been done and dusted at the 45 minute mark, United were spared the questions and howls of derision an equalizer would have spawned, and were fortunate to gain another three points toward their likely qualification for the knockout stages of Europe's ultimate competition.  But if last night's performance was any indication, no serious fan of the club will be making their Springtime hotel reservations for Munich just yet.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Game Day Beer Review: Bayerische Staatsbrauerei Weihenstephan Festbier Marzen

(5.80% ABV)  Continuing with our Fall beer theme, we'll head back to Germany for an offering from one of Germany's oldest brewers, Weihenstephaner's Festbier:

Festbier appears a clear golden color, almost a crystal-clear, brassy gold, with only a small whitish head that quickly fades away into just a memory. The smell reminds me more of a Pilsner than anything else.

On tasting, I'm getting some straw, and just a hint of yeast, followed by a fairly sweetish malt finish.  This is your classic German beer, although I don't quite understand why it's labeled a festbier, or treated as a Marzen -- 'cause if it is, it's like no other Marzen I've ever had. 

What it is, instead, is a perfectly carbonated, well-balanced and refreshing beer, and one I could drink all day long -- in the Springtime. I'm wondering if Weihenstephaner is playing a Halloween trick on us, the drinking public, with the release of this beer in the Fall.

It's fairly decent, but it's not an Oktoberfest beer. B-, more for being off-style than anything else.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

The Sky -- or Rather Third Place -- is the Limit for Spurs

sky is the limit
Photo by Basibanget on Flickr

Just when you least expect it, up pops Columnist James with a report on the happenings over at White Hart Lane:

As November dawns in the Premiership so many of August's questions have been answered so unexpectedly and so many new questions have been created.  For example, as Mario Balotelli trudged off the ground of an exhibition in Los Anegles after a tragically misguided back footer, we all thought that Mancini would fail to manage the colossal egos on City as he had in the past.  That, and his stubborn insistence to maintain a conservative/Italian defense first mentality would doom City to more underachievement. Shortly thereafter, after an 8 goal emasculation of the Gooners,  we were asking not whether, but by how many points United would run away with the table this year.

Alas, as we encounter the first frosty nights of Autumn, it is City and not United who appear poised to run away with things even after the inevitable Tevez blow up and Balotelli antics.  While United find themselves struggling with injuries and disappointed with the play of a mid-field that many questioned going into the season, it has been City -- after their almost absurdly easy dismemberment of United two weeks ago at Old Trafford -- who are being hailed as the English Barca. And to reinforce the vital importance of an effective and balanced mid-field in modern football, City has benefited hugely from balancing the contributions of the magnificent David Silva with the dogged workmanship of the holders Yaya Toure and James Milner.

Which brings us to Spurs:  another club whose play has been compared to Barca of late, who have answered a different set of August questions in a most unexpected manner and who have, most surprisingly, benefited hugely from the contributions of a superbly talented, well balanced and, most importantly, committed mid-field.