Saturday, December 31, 2011

I Can't Fight That Feeling Anymore

Journey 79
Columnist Ed sobered up from the office holiday party just long enough to phone this one in:

o December and January seem to be the time in the BPL when everything reverts back to the mean.  Manchester United start winning big, the promoted clubs start losing, and whatever teams Roy Hodgson and Martin O'Neill are coaching start making their way up the table.  My fantasy team is also reverting to the mean -- as in the middle of the table -- despite what can only be described as beautiful play.  But more about that some other time.

o Just how bad does the Fernando Torres deal look these days?  It remains shocking to me that someone so dominant could become so bad.  Equally amazing is how someone like Luis Suarez can look so good and yet never score or be responsible for a goal.  Liverpool's problem is that they took the crazy money they received for Torres and bought two guys with 7 goals between them.  Not good enough.

o SkySports has done it to ESPN again, this time with Olivia Godfrey.  Ubba.  Dubba.

o Clint Dempsey is not a left halfback or a winger.  He plays the number 9 (and sometimes the number 10 position) and he does a good job of it.  Time for Martin Jol to start him in the position he always ends up in.  He's the best guy on the team, after all.

o I'm looking forward to Landon Donovan's return to Everton.  Too bad for him that this Everton side is worse than the one he played for before.  Also too bad Spurs didn't move for him.  They could use an extra winger for the seemingly always injured Rafael Van der Vaart.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Game Day Beer Review: Lagunitas Brewing Wilco Foxtrot Tango American Strong Ale

(7.80% AVB)  Poured from a 22 ounce bottle, this self-proclaimed "jobless recovery ale" from Lagunitas is a deep brown with reddish highlights and a slightly off-white head that sticks around to leave behind some decent lacing. The smell is all malts and hops, a bracing but delicious combination.

Wilco Foxtrot Tango has a fair bit of anise on the taste, but it's a bit lighter than you would find in, say, a Russian Imperial Stout. It's got the same complexity behind it, though: good balance between hops and malt, with a few other flavors, like caramel and an earthy chocolate, thrown in for full effect. You can also sense the beer's alcohol, even if you can't really "taste" it; it's readily apparent in the depth of character.

The mouthfeel is medium bodied, with fairly decent carbonation. I like most everything from this brewery, and this one's no exception: A-

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Playing the Phantom: Round 18 in the BPL

photo by db Photography | Demi-Brookevia PhotoRee

Some thoughts, random and otherwise, on Round 18 in the BPL:

o The round's big winners were obviously Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur.  With City, Arsenal and Chelsea all drawing (despite the latter two sides playing weak opposition at home), the title chase narrowed down to a three horse race.  The blue half of Manchester is starting to look a bit tentative, and the free flowing goal machine has become a bit unglued.  The rest of the season will be full of ups and downs for all three contenders, but the next three or four games could be crucial for all involved.

o Chelsea under AVB seem a very different beast. They're up for games against the big teams, and the adrenaline and muscle memory alone would seem to fuel their ambition, but the Blues this year are struggling to win against the middling clubs.  They used to win games like the Boxing Day contest against Fulham 4-0 just a couple of years ago, and I think their "new look" is down to more than (a lack of) talent. It's about a team that's struggling to find its way in a new system, caught betwixt and between, and until they figure it out the harsh truth would appear that they're not much better than a mid-table club.

o Based on his Monday look, at tonight's performance, Paolo Ferreira will be playing the role of the Phantom of the Opera.

o How often does Manchester United score five goals and fantasy football managers don't profit at all...?  Quiet games on Monday from fantasy mainstays Nani and Wayne Rooney (who, to be fair, was used only as a late game substitute) led to a paucity of points from United's leading players.  I'm fairly confident that almost no fantasy managers own Dimitar Berbatov (3 goals, owned by 1.2% of players) and Ji-Sung Park (1 goal, owned by 1.6% of players), while only slightly more field Antonio Valencia (1 goal, owned by 2.3% of players) in their squad. Making matters worse (from a fantasy perspective, obviously) was that my United defender, Jonny Evans, picked up a yellow card and played only 45 minutes -- picking up zero points in the process, despite the Reds' third consecutive shutout. It led to perhaps the most frustrating rout in my time playing the (fantasy) game -- I mean, what are the odds that United absolutely batter a team and I pick up virtually zero fantasy points...?

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Eight Games

photo by eschipulvia PhotoRee
Correspondent Scott weighs in on the Luis Suarez affair:

Since Liverpool’s recent insistence on drawing with every bottom-of-the-table team would necessarily render any journalistic post written by me to be replete with profanity, I turn instead to another profane matter:

“Eight games!?”  My incredulity and the volume of my exclamation are not properly reflected in the number of exclamation points written here but I did not want to be accused of hyperbole, lest I be banned for a game or two myself. 

Let me start by saying that, if I had to render a verdict, based only on what I know of Luis Suarez from observing him play, I would say it is more likely than not that the Uruguayan did utter a racial slur.  Patrice Evra became absolutely unhinged in that game after the exchange with Suarez which leads me to believe either a racial slur was used or a suggestion was made as to what unseemly acts might be performed on a member of the Frenchman’s family.  And since there was no retaliatory head butt…

The use of racially charged slurs is loathsome and has no place in football or any other sport or in any civilized interchange between decent people.  Moreover, such foul behavior should be punished immediately and severely.  That said, here comes the conjunction-forward question that is inevitable in my mind yet will likely anger some – BUT 8 Games!?  Come on, people!  This is sports at the highest level with all the pressure, competition and adrenaline that comes with that.  Verbal ejaculations are the grout between the shirt-pulling, shoving and hard tackles of EPL play.  That one such expression should be racially charged is, again, loathsome and, again, punishable but not to the extent of over twice as long as a ban for a rash challenge that breaks a leg and nearly ends a career.  Let’s get some perspective here.

That Suarez’s team mates supported him by donning T-shirts is beside the point.  As is the fact that his grandfather was black.  The point is that no sane person can reasonably claim that an 8 game suspension is appropriate for using abhorrent, racially-charged language.  Which makes me question whether a certain red-faced Sir Scot may be entering an early dotage given his recent statements claiming a ban of over 20% of the season to be “appropriate”.  And, to be fair, I also question the other Scot manager’s ridiculous plea for clarity as to what is allowed to be said.  The answer is: if you have to ask, then you shouldn’t say it. 

I don’t know what the right length of ban should be – maybe 3 is right as if it were a rash red card.  But I do know that 8 games is too many.  The only good thing about this is that perhaps the layoff will shake Suarez out of his goal-scoring slump.

This is farlieonfootie for December 28.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Five Things We Learned Watching Manchester United put Five Past Wigan

photo by S1lvers Familyvia PhotoRee

It's like Groundhog Day around here at farlieonfootie.  In a virtual repeat of their last game, United scored early on Boxing Day and were out of sight by halftime.  So why mess with success?  If the theme works, let's keep it going....  Herewith, five things we learned yesterday as United put five past a hapless Wigan side to go joint top of the table with City:

1.  Michael Carrick and Antonio Valencia are the ultimate utility players. With Sir Alex back in rotation mode on Boxing Day, the Englishman and the Ecuadorian are plug and play options who fill in whatever void injuries or rest happen to hand the Reds. Their versatility is hugely underrated -- very few players are good enough to play anywhere other than their "natural" position.  And while Valencia's move from winger to fullback might allow him some sense of familiarity, Carrick's move from midfield to central defense is a whole different kettle of fish and much more complicated than it might at first appear.  That both excelled yesterday in a position other than their regular spot has got to give the rest of the team a huge boost in confidence.

2.  Darren Gibson?!?!  That is all.

3.  Ji-Sung Park played today as if he got a massive lump of coal from Santa on Sunday.  The South Korean was full of piss and vinegar, especially in the first half, taking out a season full of frustration on Wigan Athletic, and getting only his second goal of the season to open the scoring. Park was a whirling dervish on both offense and defense, popping up forward and back, right and left, and causing all sorts of problems for the visitors. There's a downside, though, to this sort of performance: Sir Alex may actually begin to believe that he doesn't need any new midfield signings if Parky keeps it up....

Monday, December 26, 2011

Game Day Beer Review: North Coast Brewing Scrimshaw Pilsner

Another offering from one of my favorite American breweries, North Coast Brewing, out of Fort Bragg, California, Scrimshaw Pilsner pours a deep golden color, maybe a shade toward orange, with very little head.

The beer smells extremely mild, with some wheat noticeable -- I'll call the scent "bready." I'm also getting the slightest essence of a citrus fruit on the nose.

It's Scrimshaw's taste that gets you hooked, though. It's mild, but perfectly balanced: hops, malt, barley and water. Check, check, check, check: they're all there. It's basically everything you want in a pilsner: crisp and refreshing, with good carbonation. Drinking this reminds me of Oskar Blues' Mama's Little Yella Pils -- not in taste, but in practice. Why would you drink a mass beer, even the blandest style, if you could be drink one of those two beers...?

Scrimshaw's so much better than an ordinary mass beer -- I could knock back about ten of these....  To bastardize an old Schaefer advertisement, Scrimshaw is the one beer to have when you're having more than one!

It would be a perfect beer with pizza. Maybe I'm just hungry for some pizza, but I still have the feeling this would be a perfect match....  Run out and get some today: A

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Merry Christmas

photo by krisdecurtisvia PhotoRee

"So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in a manger...."

Wishing a blessed and peaceful Christmas to all our readers around the globe.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Sticking Your Finger in the Socket: Round 17 in the BPL

photo by Rennett Stowevia PhotoRee

Some brief thoughts on the first round of matches during the busy December holiday season -- part of what makes the BPL the best League in the world:

o Talk about a competitive league.... Prior to playing Manchester City mid-week, Stoke had won four games in a row. That mini-streak was good enough for a club record, which shows just how tough it is to win consistently in the Premier League.

o And speaking of a tough league in which to win a match, our own Correspondent Ed was taught a fantasy footballing lesson this week, when he matched up against our Dear Leader (the title is once again up for grabs, with Kim Jong-Il's recent demise), farlieonfootie. 76-57 only begins to tell part of the tale, and the result was in even before the last match of the round kicked off.  Good try, Ed, but just not good enough.

o For my money, Charlie Adam's just not cutting it at Liverpool. And neither is Stewart Downing. Adam missed a crucial penalty against Wigan on Wenesday, and the last time Downing scored in the League for the Scousers was, well, never. Combine those two with the towering failure that is Andy Carroll, and realize that one reason Kenny is complaining so much about the referees this season is to take the spotlight away from his three underperformers....

o If it's the holiday season, that means two things: fixture congestion and hangovers. Arsenal seemed to suffer from both at the outset of the busy period, appearing dazed and confused before Yossi Benayoun's 88th minute winner saved their blushes against a truly terrible Aston Villa squad. Robin Van Persie scored -- again -- for the visitors, tying him with Thierry Henry's club record of 34 goals in a calendar year, and leaving him only two short of Alan Shearer's League record. The Flying Dutchman will be sad to see 2011 come to an end, as an injury-free year has allowed him to truly showcase his stuff, which is easily amongst the best in the world.

Friday, December 23, 2011

All Kidding Aside

Ed with his Thinking Cap On
photo by kiddharmavia PhotoRee
Columnist Ed finds himself thinking, for once:

Is it really possible, or are we just kidding ourselves? 

Do Spurs have a real chance to win this thing?

Between munching bacon sandwiches even Uncle Harry has said that he believes they have a shot.  And why not?  Well, here are my reasons why not, as well as my reasons why not, not.  Or not.  Wait, did I say that right?!  Whatever, I think you know what I mean.

So let's start with the good news first.  Here's why spurs can get it done:

1.  Spurs have arguably the best midfield in the EPL.  This point has been made over and over, but yet it's still true.  Bale, Modric, Parker, Lennon, Van der Vaart, when healthy, play with creativity and speed, a dangerous combo.  Even when the team is not in sync, the individual skills of the wingers are often enough to put points on the board.  See, for example, the performance at Fulham.  By comparison, United and City each have weaknesses in the midfield, with City's only to become more problematic when Ya Ya heads out of town.  All in all, controlling the center of the field is a good start to winning any game you play.

2.  Spurs are winning against the teams they should beat.  This wasn't true last year, when Spurs often struggled against weaker opponents after thrashing teams like Inter Milan in the Champions League.  To win the EPL it's often just about grinding out those 1 to nil games at Stoke.  Okay, bad example, but the argument still stands.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Five Things We Learned Watching Manchester United Put Five Past Fulham

photo by Xanboozledvia PhotoRee

Why five, you ask?  Because, as discussed on The Guardian podcast earlier this week, sixteen seemed a bit much....

1. Nani is looking much more comfortable on the left wing -- I know he only played there a short while on Wednesday night, but the play he displayed on what is widely considered his "less good" side led to the game's opening score. Last season, when deployed on the left -- which was often the case to accommodate Antonio Valencia on the right -- Nani never seemed to bring his best stuff. And when he did, it was often through cutting the ball back toward the middle of the pitch that he scored or created goals. Yesterday's first five minutes were illustrative, though, of the new and improved Nani: staying out on the left flank, the Portuguese maestro swerved in two superb crosses after taking the ball toward the baseline. The second cross led to a classy finish by Danny Welbeck, and showcased the torrid form that Nani's in right now. 

2. The midfield, while not good enough to win in Europe, is likely good enough to win the Premiership. Michael Carrick's return to the Manager's good graces has coincided with a decent run of games for the United midfield. The Englishman has brought a calm assurance to the team's possession, and the Reds seem to be more patient on the ball, as well. Nani's move to the left (albeit nullified when Jones was replaced by Young) has coincided with a return to form by Antonio Valencia. When the Reds attack other teams from wide areas, it opens up the center of the opposition for Carrick's surgical passes and Rooney and Welbeck's dangerous runs.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

A Thin Line

photo by Cam Genereuxvia PhotoRee

James is here with the latest from White Hart Lane:

Spurs entered the weekend facing a resurgent Sunderland squad under newly appointed Manager Martin O'Neill in a proverbial "trap" game before the Thursday blockbuster derby against Chelsea at the Lane. Spurs were coming off their first loss since August after being robbed of at least a point by the now infamous Chris Foy at the Britannia, and in middle of the top four chasing pack of Arsenal, Liverpool and Chelsea who all were, for the most part, not losing.  The stress level increased with the news that gareth Bale was not available due to an ankle injury, and leaped off the grid when Aaron Lennon went down with a probable torn hamstring 30 minutes in.

With Lennons's injury, the signature element of Spurs attack - pace down the wings - pretty much disappeared, and into that void surprisingly stepped the person of Roman Pavlyuchenko, the languid, lazy Russian whose depressed work rate stands in such stark contrast to Emanuel Adebayor. Although I am certain I audibly moaned upon his insertion, it comes as no surprise from a karma standpoint that Super Pav scored the game winner.  He's done this sort of thing his whole career at Spurs - mope around in a completely disinterested fashion and then - suddenly - the ball is on his foot and he scores a marvelous goal.

This one occurred in the 61st minute and came courtesy of a beautiful back-foot pass from Man of the Match Rafael Van Der Vaart, who had shifted to "wing" upon Lennon's removal, but who really seemed in the second half to make up part of a diamond-and-one formation with Luka Modric' beside him in the middle, Scott Parker in back, and the constantly offside Adebayor up front.  This actually seemed to work reasonably well in the second half, as Spurs enjoyed the better of the chances and left the pitch clearly the superior side on this day, but well short of the dynamism they have shown with a healthy Bale and Lennon on the flanks.  In short, they looked fairly average - clearly better than the Sunderlands of the world, but perhaps not up there with the competition at the top of the table.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Game Day Beer Review: Unibroue Maudite Strong Dark Belgian Ale

Poured from a growler, purchased on draft at the Victoria Gastro Pub in Columbia, Maryland. Drank after a very enjoyable Thanksgiving dinner.

Maudite was poured into a pilsner glass. I know this wasn't the best glass for it, but hey, it wasn't my house, so you take what you get....  The beer was a clear, dark amber that showed almost no head at all -- likely on account of the aforementioned glass....

It smelled of caramel and malt, with maybe some apples just about finding their way into the scent. It definitely smells like delicious....

The beer is nicely carbonated, and has a bit of chocolate in the early going. It's fairly complex: I'm getting malt, chocolate, a sweetish apple taste, just the faintest bit of mild, hoppy bitterness, and a clove note in closing to bring it all together.  The taste stays with you for quite awhile.

It's a bit thinner than some other Belgian Strong Dark Ales I've been drinking, but damn, it grows on you. More, please! A

Monday, December 19, 2011

Hiding in Plain Sight: Manchester United 2 - QPR 1

photo by TakenByTinavia PhotoRee

Sir Alex put out a strong side for United's visit to the capital yesterday, shocking most observers by going with a lineup unchanged from the eleven that beat Wolves just eight days earlier. Manchester United were looking for a victory to put pressure on Manchester City and move into the top spot -- even if just for a couple of hours -- prior to the Christmastime fixture congestion.  The Reds' controlled the match from start to finish, and although the 2-0 final scoreline might imply a tense match, it belied the action on the pitch.  Herewith, the game report from our roving correspondent:

It's an ideal start for the champions, with Wayne Rooney getting just enough onto the end of an Antonio Valencia cross to head it past QPR 'keeper Radek Cerny inside of the game's first minute. Its 1-nil at the outset, but before another 120 seconds can pass -- including the time needed for a brief celebration and re-start -- United threaten goal again, QPR's back line a shambles and Nani picking out Danny Welbeck before Cerny can bail his side out and keep the damage to a minimum.

Rooney, Valencia and Nani look absolutely electric early on, making QPR's defenders appear as if they're back in the Championship. United look bigger, stronger and faster than the home side in the opening quarter hour, like QPR but on steroids.

Rangers' first opportunity of the day comes when Patrice Evra slips and falls near his own box, but luckily for the visitors Jay Bothroyd squanders the gift high over the bar. QPR have come back into the game by the 25 minute mark, although it's United, with the movement of Valencia, Nani and Welbeck, the drive of Rooney and Phil Jones, and the calm assurance of Michael Carrick on the ball, who really catch the eye.

How Jonny Evans misses an open header from directly in front of goal is a question both he and Welbeck will ponder for quite some time, with Welbeck wondering about the missed assist for his hard work in heading the ball over to the central defender, and Evans attempting to determine why he's still not on the score sheet. Jones will soon be thinking along similar lines, put through on goal with only Cerny to beat, but his finish is less than sublime and tipped around the bar by the 'keepers' foot. Ranger's 'keeper is more than up to the task today, and it's Valencia he denies next, somehow tipping the ball wide of goal as he falls to ground.  Evans is cleared off the line and Rooney is forced just wide of net as the Reds continue their tremendous onslaught on the home side's goal.  This is a different United side than we've seen lately, hungry and confident, and looking to take the game straight at the opposition.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Speaking Elvish: Week 16 in the EPL

photo by 50 Watts (formerly A Journey Round My Skull)via PhotoRee

Not much happening in the English Premier League on the penultimate Saturday prior to Christmas: only five games on tap yesterday, and it would be misleading to label most of the action I saw as 'scintillating.' Furthermore, Chelsea was the only one of the "big six" teams in action, making for a rather humdrum day of footie watching. Nevertheless, we push onward and upward, as the show must go on....

o Has there been a defender who's cleared more balls off the line this season than Russell Martin of Norwich City?  He did it again vs. Everton on Saturday and prevented another goal, which was crucial in helping Norwich to a point at Goodison Park.  This many clearances should also help Martin receive an honorary goalkeeper card at the end of the season. 

o There were lots of empty seats at the DW for Chelsea's visit on Saturday. You can't really blame the fans given Wigan's form this season, but they missed a helluva performance by their team on Saturday. Once again, Wigan showed a spirited fight to continue the upward trend they've been on for last few weeks, and they looked the more likely winner as time wound down on the game. Can Roberto Martinez pull yet another rabbit out of the Wigan hat to keep his boys up for one more season?  It's still too early to say, but I no longer think Wigan is nailed on for relegation. 

o Just a quick question: You think there's any way that Juan Mata speaks Elvish...?

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Game Day Beer Review: Oskar Blues Brewery Ted Fidy Imperial Stout

(10.50% ABV).  I have to admit I was puzzled by the name of this beer the first several times I saw it. Ten Fidy -- I just couldn't quite work out what it meant... The meaning should be well apparent to you, however, if you look just to the left of where this review begins. If you still new help after you're taken a gander at the alcohol level of this brew, drop me a line and I'll help you out. All I'll ask for in return is a little Ten Fidy....

This excellent brew comes from Oskar Blues brewing, located in Lyons, Colorado. It's one of my favorite domestic breweries, and if you haven't tried something from these guys, you owe it to yourself to do so.

I've reviewed other beers from Oskar Blues on the website before, but much to my surprise I've never reviewed this particular offering, especially as it's one of my favorites.  With winter quickly approaching, and the weather beginning to cool down a bit, the timing seems about right, so here goes: 

Ten Fidy pours like no other beer you've ever seen.  It's thick and viscous, kind of like a ink black motor oil.  It doesn't create a huge head, but what head it does create is a solid mocha brown color before it disappears.

I'm getting booze, chocolate, and licorice on the nose, but it's the taste that really sets this thing apart.  It's a mélange of sweetish coffee and chocolate, followed by a boozy, licorice tasting finish that lasts and lasts and lasts.  It's thick on the tongue, with just a tiny bit of carbonation.  

I know Imperial Stouts are not everyone's cup of tea, but this is probably my favorite style of beer.  It's a  sipper, definitely not sessionable, and I consider it to be a great after dinner drink when you're sitting around the house and only want to have one beer. It would also make a great dessert beer, paired with something deeply chocolate, but I don't usually eat dessert when I'm drinking beer. This one's dessert enough for me: A

Friday, December 16, 2011

Just Good Enough

Scott is careful to always roll up his pant leg when bicycling to his weekly football game
photo by richardmasonervia PhotoRee
Columnist Scott is back on the Liverpool bandwagon, but would never consider hopping on the Barcelona one:

Early on at Anfield this past Saturday, the stench of “we should win but…” pervaded as Liverpool dominated Queens Park Rangers, but created few quality chances and squandered the ones they did.  With Maxi Rodriguez (the alter ego of Maxi Man, the soccer virtues of whom have been extolled previously on these pages) in the lineup, statistically the Reds should dump in some goals but frustration quickly seeped into the Liverpudlian collective conscience.

While perhaps starting earlier, it was quickly at full saturation when, in the 9th minute, Luis Suarez hit the ‘keeper in the chest on a free header, further extending his goalless streak.  Two minutes later the Uruguayan was able to simultaneously vent his frustrations and augment those of his teammates when he shot from a nearly completely obtuse angle while ignoring the waving hands of those wearing red.  Clearly sensing that Suarez might explode (or bite them) if he went too much longer without a goal, every red shirt was forcing the ball to him rather than taking the shot themselves.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Livin' on a Prayer

photo by slopjopvia PhotoRee
Columnist Ed thinks he's onto something:
Dear Diary:
I want to start by apologizing for not dropping you a note sooner, but frankly I’ve been in such a funk lately that even putting pen to paper has seemed like a bridge too far.  I think you already know what’s causing my angst, but permit me to list it again in hopes of finally cleaning out the brainworks, so to speak. 
First of all, everyone in the office is calling me “Wiggie” now, due to the fact that I’m currently in the same position in the company’s fantasy league  – 18th – as a certain club known more for rugby than footie.  It’s shocking considering all the high powered spreadsheets that I employ to formulate my lineup.  (Call me crazy, but I really thought that the z-axis I installed this year would get me where I need to be.)  But seriously, if Nigel Reo-Coker and Steven Hunt don’t put up some numbers soon I’m going to personally visit their homes and give them the old Who’s Your Father. 
Second, I’m still not over the fact that United lost to some team called FC Swiss Miss in the group stage of the Champions League.  It’s awful, it’s embarrassing, and the hurt just won’t go away.  Well, it does go away some when I pound some Arrogant Bastard Ale (Clean, intense flavor with full bodied taste of anger, 7.2% ABV, A double minus for the arrogance), but it’s getting harder and harder to get away with that in the office before 11am.  

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Planted by the Potters: Stoke City 2 - Spurs 1

photo by Bodsvia PhotoRee

James makes a return to these pages, in search of the silver lining in Spurs' weekend's loss to Stoke:

Spurs' fantastic league run had to end some time.  And in gazing at the schedule through the last few weeks there were two games that popped up as troublesome:  Chelsea at the Lane next week and our trip to the Britannia last Sunday, a notoriously difficult place to play for reasons that are well known. The "cold Tuesday at Stoke" expression seems particularly profound after the events of last weekend.

Although the location, support and weather are clearly factors in Stoke sitting 8th and for Pulis never having been relegated despite negligible budgets and talent levels, the main reason for Stoke's recent success is their Neanderthal style of play in a league that, overall, is evolving from the hoof and throw mentality.  But not the Potters, who not only employ the style but seem to happily embrace it. This is so even for their fans, who are famous for chanting "we only score on throw ins" and taunted Spurs at the end of the first half on Sunday with "2 nil to the rugby team."

Of course none of this is a surprise for those that follow the Permiership and certainly not for Harry Redknapp and his Spurs.  But there they were in the first half looking like they were continually trying to play chess in the middle of a game of checkers.  Credit to Stoke who came out ready to play, vastly more so than the Lilywhites.  They consistently beat Spurs to loose balls, bullied them all over the pitch and took full advantage of Spurs' sloppy marking (the second goal was the otherwise sublime Scott Parker's worst moment so far in a Spurs' shirt) to race to their first half lead.  Even when Spurs made the occasional counter attack, it appeared that a cross would come aimed haphazardly at Adebayor in the box surrounded by four red and white striped trees.  It was during the first half of this game that I realized how short a team Spurs are, particularly without Dawson and King in the back, while, for some reason, Gallas and Kaboul, for all their virtues, seem genetically unable to get more than six inches off the ground.  Stoke took full advantage of this in the first half and did all the annoying things the Potters do - one could read whole chapters of "War and Peace" while Shotton dried the ball with his special ball-drying shirt during any one of the hundred throw ins Stoke executed.  

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Clash of the Titans: Chelsea 2 - Manchester City 1

Clash of the titans

It was a putative clash of the titans at Stamford Bridge on Monday night, with the former Champions of England, Chelsea FC, hosting the once and possibly future champions from the city of Manchester.  Titanic amounts of money and even larger egos were at stake, pitting the noveau riche Russian oil Oligarch (who made his money the old fashioned way,  by stealing it) versus the nouveau riche Middle Eastern oil oligarch (who made his money the new fashioned way, by fleecing the West).  All eyes in the football world were turned squarely on London, as the title bout held repercussions up and down the table.  Straight to the match observations we go:

o Chelsea had it all to play for yesterday, entering the contest 10 points behind City in the table. A victory would also ensure that Chelsea moved to third in the standings. So how could they possibly have let the game begin so disastrously, allowing Mario Balotelli to waltz into the goal mouth, not a care in the world, and open the scoring before the home fans could even dry off their seats?  It was shocking defending, even by Chelsea's standards this year, as Balotelli made Branislav Ivanovic and Petr Cech look like rank amateurs on his way to scoring a goal in his eighth straight start.

o City opened the game looking like a schoolyard bully toying with the 80 pound weakling. Confident in possession, knocking the ball around this as if it was a Sunday kickabout at the park, City looked relaxed and comfortable in the hostile Stamford Bridge environment. On the rare occasion when they didn't have the ball, the Sky Blues were quick to close Chelsea down and forced repeated cheap turnovers from the home side, who opened the game looking almost as nervous as a very short nun at a penguin shoot.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Yes, But Can They Do it on a Cold December Night in Stoke?: Week 15 in the EPL

O&E dress

Lots of 10am Kickoffs on Saturday meant the inability to really watch and concentrate on more than one game at a time -- and loyal readers of this space might have a hunch that it was the Manchester United match that got the closest view.  Consequently, this column is a bit more focused on Sunday's action than is typical:

o Steve Keane looked dressed for a funeral yesterday on the eve of his one year anniversary at the helm of Blackburn, wearing a gray suit, silk rep tie and black overcoat as he stood stolidly on the Stadium of Light's sideline. The Manager could have been forgiven for thinking his choice of dress was appropriate, as he was just about in the process of laying the "sack Steve Keane" movement to rest before his side gave up an 85th minute equalizer and a 93rd minute winner at the Stadium of Light -- a result that was extremely harsh on the visitors and that may well lead to Keane's own demise.

o Keane may have lost the Blackburn fans, but he clearly hasn't lost the locker room, as evidenced by the way his boys threw their bodies around the box in a determined effort to keep Sunderland out of the net -- especially in the game's second half, a 45 minute rampage that saw the Black Cats throw wave after wave of attacks at Rovers.  The two late goals will mean even more calls for the Keane's head, though, and one can perhaps find fault with the team's increasingly deep lying positioning, which left Yakubu more isolated than Robinson Crusoe, and gave the impression that Roves were more interested in hanging on to their early lead than they were in trying to finish the game off with a second goal.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Back in the Groove: Manchester United 4 - Wolves 1

photo by spaceplebvia PhotoRee

Staring the Europa League squarely in the face, and with Captain Nemanja Vidic lost for the rest of the season, Manchester United hosted Wolves yesterday at Old Trafford, seeking the succor of home cooking to get their season back on track.  The campaign, which began so promisingly back in the glory days of August and September, has this week threatened to dissolve into a series of tough questions and pointed fingers, the result of the team's poor recent run of form.  Herewith, our correspondent's report:

It's an open game right from the sound of the referee's whistle, with Wolves taking a shot within the game's first 30 seconds. Not to be outdone, Nani shows his guile in teeing up an opportunity at the other end of the pitch just three minutes later, sending a perfectly weighted through ball across the face of goal, but there's no one for United at the other end for the tap in.

The attacks continue as Michael Carrick misses a spectacular diving header, connecting on the end of a luscious Antonio Valencia cross, but sending the ball just over the bar. United are dominating the early going, taking advantage of Wolves' lack of pace on the wings.

Wayne Rooney in particular is operating in acres of space early in the contest, and today could be the perfect opportunity for the Englishman to get his season back on track. Wolves' 'keeper Wayne Hennessy bails his team out, likely not for the first time today, after Carrick intercepts the ball in an advanced position and slots the ball through to Rooney, but the Hennessy is up  to the task to deny United's main man.  His luck doesn't last for long, though, as it's only a minute later that Nani drags the ball along the top of the box before beating him and finally giving the home fans something to cheer about. It's 1-nil inside of 20 minutes, with Nani scoring for the first time since September.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Game Day Beer Review: Anchor Brewing Our Special Winter Warmer Ale

Brewed for distribution only between November and mid-January, Anchor Brewing's "Our Special Ale" has become something of a holiday tradition in my house. Now in its 37th year of production, this beer is one that I look greedily forward to every holiday season. It's one of the best domestic holiday beers, in my opinion.

Poured from a 12 oz bottle into a modified pilsner glass, Our Special Ale is darker than you might imagine. It's a deep amber color, with the light in the room reflecting through the crystal clear beer like a string of lights on a Christmas tree. Our Special Ale offers a full, light mocha-colored head that leaves copious amounts of lacing in its wake.

On tasting you realize this is a fairly complex brew. I'm getting some upfront malts balanced by a certain hoppy dryness, but it's also full of flavor in between, as well: cinnamon, chocolate, pine, and even some faint clove. 

The overall effect is wonderful, as  it's all tied together. This beer is incredibly smooth, and oh-so-easy to drink. 2011 could be my favorite year yet: A

Friday, December 9, 2011

My Resignation

photo by BigTallGuyvia PhotoRee
The column in which Correspondent Scott throws in the towel:

No, much to the chagrin of you loyal readers whom I have bored with my meager literary ramblings, and I doubt to the relief of farlieonfootie, the resignation is not from my post as an unpaid and underappreciated blogging scribe, but rather refers to my acceptance, belatedly many would say, that Liverpool, in all likelihood (I still have to qualify), has no chance at winning the EPL title this year. 

Patronizing, “I-told-you-so” chuckles are surely being enjoyed by many, exacerbating the depressing cloud that envelopes that first sentence.  But results are results and facts are facts.  The result that prompted my Prozac prescription was a 1-0 loss to Fulham this past Monday at Craven Cottage.  And the fact that increases the dosage of that medication is that Liverpool have “progressed” from drawing games they should win to losing them.  A troubling pattern to say the least.

The pace of the Fulham game was frantic with both sides getting chances in the first half.  Jordan Henderson, in the space of 10 minutes, showed why he is both a liability and a potentially brilliant emerging talent.  Around the quarter hour mark he completely muffed a clearance that gifted a goal scoring chance to an opportunistic Fulham offense but then, only minutes later, he bucked the meaningless-passing malaise that had infected the Liverpool offense by boldly charging into the box and curling a looping shot that bounced agonizingly off the inside of the post.

It's Alive

As if to prove that quantity is better than quality, here's Columnist Ed:

I’m guessing it was from a few inappropriate comments to the boss man about his relegation zone performance in the firm's fantasy league, or maybe it was that time I rubbed the top of his head at the firm holiday party in a crude attempt to make a wish (I don’t know, it just seemed like it would work at the time).  But for whatever the reason, I’ve been put on the Chelsea beat this week, so here are my comments on a team that’s seemed somewhat dysfunctional so far.

It was actually nice to see that Chelsea remember that they are a good team this week in their Champions League game against Valencia.  They looked bigger, stronger, faster, and more skilled than the Spanish side.  Except for Mata who merely looked more skilled.  Mata is an interesting player.  He’s so slow as to be a defensive liability.  He’s also small enough to get shoved around a bit.  However, he gets the most out of what he’s got by being a very creative player on offense.  I can see why he can’t get on the field for Spain, and against good teams I think his skill is not enough.  But he’s a nice player that has added a ton to the Chelsea attack this year.

Having Fernando Torres behind him has definitely changed the tempo of Didier Drogba.  There were many times over the past few years where he semed disinterested in the games he appeared in.  In the game against Valencia, I saw a statistic that nearly put me to the ground.  Drogba had run 3.83km in merely 30 minutes.  I think he went months last year without running that much.  Plus, he sprinted with the ball on a nice fast break, and put one in the net after a nice move in close space.  Drogba hasn’t lost any ability in his age; it’s all a matter of desire with him as far as I can see.  It would be a mistake to get rid of him and keep Torres.  It would be expensive to do what they should do and get rid of Torres to keep Drogba.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Excuses, Excuses: FC Basel 2 - Manchester United 1

photo by edwin.11via PhotoRee

  • Too slow
  • Too much through the middle
  • Not enough wing play
  • Too old
  • Too young
  • Injury to Vidic was a major blow
  • Rooney's out of form
  • No midfield
  • Chicharito injured
  • Berbatov injured
  • Owen injured
  • Anderson injured
  • Carrick suspended
  • Smalling fell asleep
  • Lindegaard would have stopped that shot
  • Ashley Young can't handle big games
  • Rio's lost a step
  • No Da Silva twins
  • Fletcher's still sick
  • No Paul Scholes this year
  • Too muddy in front of goal
  • European ref didn't call the game the right way
  • Lucky bounce
  • Jonny Evans' is a disaster waiting to happen
  • Too nervous
  • Rooney's more focused on his England suspension than the Basel game
  • Tom Cleverly was needed to provide creativity
  • Should've put on Welbeck sooner
Bottom Line?: Just not good enough this season. 

Glory, Glory Man United!

This is farlieonfootie for December 8.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Another Good Week for The Lilywhites

photo by Here's Katevia PhotoRee

James is back on the Spurs' beat.  And just in the nick of time:

There's death.  There's taxes.  And there's the fact that Spurs will sign a reasonably accomplished center half in January, and it will probably be Gary Cahill.  This after an in-form Spurs side and the jaw dropping idiocy of referee Stuart Attwell conspired to hammer another nail into the Bolton relegation coffin and provide further lift for Spurs charge up the Premiership table.  As for Cahill, Spurs chased him unsuccessfully in the last window and will with no doubt bring him in next month. His reputation for headiness and solidity should not be diminished by the events of last Saturday.  

The unsurprising fact that Cahill and the rest of the Bolton back line had trouble dealing with Spurs' front line in the first 17 minutes aside, one would be hard pressed to witness a more ludicrous red card than that given by Attwell upon Cahill's sliding tackle of Scott Parker at that point.  Either both cleats would have had to have been up (they weren't) or it would have had to have been a clear goal scoring opportunity (it wasn't: I had a better chance of scoring from my family room than Parker from that place on the pitch).  Uncle Harry looked embarrassed.  Owen Coyle looked like someone had confiscated the rest of his scotch for life.  And what little drama was to be found in this match dissipated immediately.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Nodding Off: Fulham 1 - Liverpool 0

Correspondent Ed Preparing Game Notes on Monday's Contest
photo by russelljsmithvia PhotoRee

Andy Carroll got the nod alongside Luis Suarez on Monday, as Liverpool traveled to Craven Cottage to take on Fulham.  Or maybe it's better to say Carroll caused a nod on Monday.  As in, I just about nodded off while watching him play. And King Kenny didn't look so happy with his charge, either. Carroll looks totally out of synch with his Liverpool teammates on offense -- they're trying to play a high tempo, quick movement game, and he's just not quick or good enough to keep up.

Meanwhile, Fulham's strike corps is not in a much better state: Bobby Zamora is a striker who generally personifies the attitude that if one touch in the box is good, three must be even better.

Fulham's attack looked labored at best, and stuck in the mud at worst. They had no movement or rhythm at all to their play until after Jay Spearing was red carded, and created very few real chances in the first 75+ minutes on Monday night playing in front of their home crowd. I'm not exactly sure what Martin Jol's new system is, but the Fulham players don't seem to be getting it. At all.

And it's not just on the pitch that Fulham has problems.  Such is the current state of chaos in the Cottagers' locker room that their players were recently given a gag order, told by management not to speak with the media. Lots of dissatisfaction with the current state of affairs, if you believe the reports....  It's such a strange situation at Craven Cottage: ever since Uncle Woy was wooed away to take the reins at Liverpool West  Brom, Fulham has been on a path straight downward. First, Mark Hughes walked away from the head coaching job FOR NO APPARENT REASON AT ALL, then Martin Jol came in, and has only won 3 games (including Monday night's contest). Fulham now find themselves in a relegation dogfight, and it could be a long year in West London. At least they'll always have their Michael Jackson statue....

Monday, December 5, 2011

Karma's a Bitch: Week 14 in the EPL


The super-inept Mike Dean assured himself a place in the headlines once again, incorrectly -- unbelievably, incredibly, inexplicably -- handing out a yellow card when the accident-waiting-to-happen named David Luiz mauled Demba Ba as the last man on a clear goal scoring opportunity on Saturday at [insert new name here] Park. Not finished yet, only a couple minutes later Dean awarded Chelsea a kick from the spot when Danny Sturridge dove theatrically over the outstretched leg of a Newcastle defender. Tim Krul saved Dean momentarily from a post-game lynch mob when he denied Fat Frank's low and slow effort to keep he match knotted at zero. In truth, Lampard looked as if he rushed his shot, most likely in an effort to gain a slight lead in the sprint to the post-game buffet table.

So here's the question: How often does Dean need to be the storyline before the FA take action?  I can't remember a referee who more consistently makes improper game-changing decisions.

o The formerly "solid" Newcastle defense is beginning to shows signs of cracking. Toon gave up a ton of chances to United last week, and looked a complete shapeless shambles against Chelsea this weekend. If it wasn't for some good work in between the sticks by the aformentioned Krul, Sturridge would have had a hat trick before half time.

o The Magpies apparently used up their season allotment of god luck last week at Old Trafford. Giving up a disputed penalty, hitting the bar three or four times, plus being cleared off the line seems like a fair result to me -- Ain't karma a bitch, Newcastle fans?

o Roberto Martinez declared that his team had "turned the corner" after gaining four points in their last two League games against Blackburn and Sunderland. To which I ask: Turned the corner into a dead end?  Wigan's time in the Premier League is running out, my friend.

o So it turns out Manchester may, in fact, be Blue. I learned that from seeing the color of all the unoccupied seats at The Emptyhad Stadium for Norwich City's visit to the League leaders on Saturday.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Stretched: Manchester United 1 - Aston Villa 0

photo by Dan Zenvia PhotoRee

Manchester United faced off against Aston Villa today needing a victory to keep pace with league leaders Manchester City, as well as chasers Spurs, Arsenal and Chelsea.  The Reds  were hoping that their Dane in goal, Anders Linegaard, paired with Rio Ferdinand, Nemanja Vidic, Patrive Evra and Chris Smalling on defense, would bolster a side that has looked less than solid at times this season. Phil Jones kept his place in the lineup, albeit playing midfield this time around, and was accompanied by Ashley Young, Michael Carrick and Nani.  Wayne Rooney and Chicharito played up top to round out the 4-4-2 played by the Champs to open the game.

The contest began ominously enough, with Chicharito twisting his ankle and being carted off on a stretcher inside of 8 minutes. Hernandez's injury was not only worrisome in the context of yesterday's game, but even more so given the injury earlier in the week to Dimitar Berbatov, putting additional strain on the United strike corp that is already producing at a paltry clip. The Mexican was replaced by Antonio Valencia after a 4 minute stoppage, and with main man Wayne Rooney's continued drought in front of goal, United looked as if they would depend more than ever on someone unexpected coming up with the goods to take all three points from the contest.

Although United had considerably more of the early possession,  in keeping with recent form they created very few real chances. Their lack of a cutting edge changed at the 20 minute mark, though, with  Nani teeing up Jones' inaugural League strike, a cross turned into the net by a perfect toe poke, to give the visitors an early 1-nil lead.  Nani tried to double the lead off his head inside of five minutes; although his long range effort was on target, Shay Given denied it rather effortlessly.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

A Bitter Pill

Photo by Be. Futureproof on Flickr

Columnist Scott on Liverpool:

Liverpool will have no chance at a title any time soon, and will struggle to be in the top four if they continue not to win games that they should.  This is exactly what happened when they met Manchester City at Anfield last weekend.  Despite downing their whipping boy Chelsea again a few days later in midweek League Cup action, the Reds let another 2 points slip from their grasp (just like they did with Norwich City and Swansea previously) as they failed to score the winning goal in a game they won in every other sense.

With King Kenny and His Scarfness roaming the sidelines, Manchester City left Mario Balotelli and Edin Dzeko on the bench, while Liverpool did the same with last game’s heroes Craig Bellamy and Maxi Rodriguez.  Through the first quarter hour, City looked the better side, pressing early and often while Liverpool struggled to keep possession, despite the The Kop’s boisterous exhortations.   Only Luis Suarez seemed to show any creativity and the hot-potato passing (of which Jordan Henderson is the master) was worrisome.  Such a lethargic start was capped at the 17 minute mark when Pepe Reina had to bolt from the confines of his penalty area (for the first of three times during the game) to tackle a City player who had pounced on a short back pass from Jose Enrique.

Friday, December 2, 2011

How Good is the EPL?

Post game, Penistone
Photo by Matthew Wilkinson on Flickr

Asks our friend, Columnist Ed:
Our friends at Zonal Marking closed an article on the Liverpool vs. Manchester City with the following damning remark:  Overall it was a stereotypical Premier League game – fast and frantic, but relatively little technical brilliance.” 

But is it true?  Do the best in the EPL lack the technical brilliance of the top teams in the other top leagues in Europe?  Let’s review:
With respect to Manchester United, one would have thought the team would be improved from last year with the additions they made.  They seemed to get smaller and quicker, losing only their goalkeeper and the aging Paul Scholes.  But now we’re starting to see just why Sir Alex was trying to move in Wesley Schneider.  They are simply lost in the middle of the pitch, with no creative talent – not Carrick or Anderson or Rooney – to call on.  Giggs, at about 38, is unbelievably the best option they have right now, but he’s just too old to be an impact player for 90 minutes.  Or even for thirty.  And how many times in the history of United could you say this?:  I’d takes Spurs midfield of Modric and Parker all day over anyone United can put out there right now.  Wow.  No midfield means a struggle in the Champions League and at times in the EPL.  And yes, a certain lack of technical ability.

How about the league leaders, the currently undefeated Manchester City?  I thought they would make a strong run in the Champions League.  But last week, they looked to be pretty much at the same level of a team that’s in seventh place in the Italian La Liga.  They lost that game 2-1, but it could have been worse.  Now their opponent, Napoli, does play a somewhat unusual formation together with a counter-attacking style, but really, how could the Italian Mancini not be ready for that?  Ultimately, City has top drawer talent with Sliva and Toure and Aguero, but to date Toure and Milner and Barry play as more or less blunt objects in the midfield, and Kompany and Prescott bring size more than they bring skill.