Monday, December 31, 2012

A View from Liverpool on Sir Alex's Week That Was

photo by Ben Sutherlandvia PhotoRee

As a Liverpool supporter, Scott feels entitled to comment on the Sir Alex situation -- proving only that Liverpool supporters will pick on someone even if it's their birthday....:

I'm not even going to write about Liverpool's slump to Stoke City on Boxing Day. In fact, I didn't even watch it. Having duly recorded it for later viewing, I promptly bumped into the score and, after choking back a bit of vomit in my mouth, resolved to delete the offensive footage unseen. The Premier League Review show provided all the lowlights I needed to want to put that debacle in the rear view mirror and drive on to Loftus Road.

In such a state, it should not be surprising that my attentions turned to the hullabaloo surrounding Darth Ferguson and his on-pitch berating of referee Mike Dean and the subsequent war of words with Alan Pardew.

As with most things in life, nobody is blameless nor totally at fault. Coaches should have a right to question calls and hear why a ref did or did not make one. So the fact that Ferguson approached Dean does not trouble me. Nor does the fact that the former was, to put it politely, animated when expressing his views. Dean had a right to sanction Ferguson on the spot if he felt the exchange was inappropriate. He chose not to do that - I understand I was not privy to the actual conversation and respect his interpretation and decision. And if that decision, and the one not to report the incident in his Match Report, was influenced by Ferguson's seniority, then I begrudgingly congratulate the old knight for lasting so long in the toughest league around.

But then Darth Ferguson showed his dark side of the force after Pardew had the audacity to suggest, politely, that the Man United man had received preferential treatment since his antics brought no consequence. The Newcastle manager's comments were no doubt influenced by the two-match ban he received for a similar incident, although in his case a slight push was involved.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Why Stop at Five?: Six Thoughts on Manchester United 2 - West Bromwich Albion 0

Columnist Ed Grinds it Out
photo by Generationbass.comvia PhotoRee

o Sodden: The non-stop Manchester rain swamped the pitch and made for slow going throughout the affair. Much muddier than usual and pockmarked in multiple spots, the Old Trafford pitch played extremely "heavy" and made the option of moving the ball around the park virtually unworkable.

o 1,2,3: 2 own goals at Old Trafford in 3 days was only 1 too many -- that's because the second one of the week came off the leg of West Brom defender Gareth McAuley, who kneed Ashley Young's fizzing cross between his own goalkeeper's legs inside the game's 10 minute mark. The unaccustomed early lead gave the home side some significant confidence, as they dominated possession in the game's first quarter hour - controlling 80% of the ball.  West Brom played as if they were allergic to the far side of the midfield line, showing only the faintest inclination to move forward, and none at all to press the ball on defense.

o Lethargic: One or two outbursts of action to the contrary, the game settled down into a pace slightly faster than that at which the famed tortoise moved. Both sides played as if there was a gentleman's agreement to play kick about at a down tempo rate, the ball switching from side to side like a slow moving metronome, with neither goaltender having to do any heavy lifting.

o Unscientific: We don't believe the experimental starting lineup chosen by Sir Alex on Saturday worked. Although it allowed the Scot to rest several of his most valuable players, pairing Shinji Kagawa and Danny Welbeck up top appeared a strange move, all the more so given the duo's lack of recent playing time.  It was as if Sir Alex believed the Baggies' strong first half was all a bit of a mirage, and for the hour or so, the decision didn't come back to bite him.  But despite the fact the Baggies spent much of the that time playing as if they had some place they'd rather be, United created as few opportunities as we can recall in any recent home game.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Game Day Beer Review: River Horse Brewing Tripel Horse Tripel Ale

(10.00% ABV) Poured into a red plastic solo cup as the scent of Christmas cookies baking in a nearby oven wafted throughout the room.

Tripel Horse smelled of rum, raisins and yeast, with a definite sweetness filling the air.

The beer was well carbonated and boozy, with both a spicy and sweet taste evident -- likely from the combination of malt and various spices, including coriander and clove. There was also a ton of citrus flavor in the beer.  All in all, a nice break from the ordinary, and definitely drinkable for such a high ABV. B

Friday, December 28, 2012

Best Served Cold: Round 19 in the BPL

photo by ValetheKidvia PhotoRee

o If revenge is a dish best served cold, Adam Johnson's missile at Sunderland must have been slippery as ice. At least that's the way it appeared as the shot skittered underneath Joe Hart's arm and into his net to beat the City 'keeper on his near post for the winner at the Stadium of Light on Wednesday.

o Stoke City, as encapsulated on one play, a Jonathan Waters goal that sealed the Saints' Boxing Day victory over the Scousers: a) long throw in; b) the ball head flicked from one Stoke player to another; c) the ball controlled with the chest; d) the ball volleyed in mid-air off right foot; e) Stoke players celebrate when ball hits the back of the net. Never touched the ground....

o Victor Moses has made quite an impact on the Chelsea attack, giving it the teeth and incisiveness that its fancier attackers lack. For all the ooh-ing and ahh-ing about Oscar, Juan Mata and Eden Hazard, it's been the addition of the former Wigan man who has made the Blues' offense really turn over. While the other boys are dancing, Moses takes the ball directly at the opposition, requiring a ton of defensive cover, and allowing his fancier teammates to be operate more freely. Full credit to Rafa Benitez for recognizing this, and bringing into the starting lineup a man that former boss man Di Matteo seemed to overlook too often.

o But if he got that one right, oh, man, do we think he has the next one wrong: Perhaps it's just us, but the only thing more ridiculous than the thought of David Luiz playing midfield is the actual sight of David Luiz playing midfield, hair billowing in the wind. The Brazilian looks really good -- almost like he belongs there -- until he gets into the final third with the ball and has absolutely no idea what to do with it.  We also witnessed a lot of standing around and watching other players near the 18 yard box. It's hard to tell if Rafa is doing this just to pull our collective legs, or just to piss off the Chelsea faithful, but this is an experiment that looks as if it could go badly wrong.

o Least intimidating sign in any English Stadium, at any level: "This is Loftus Road."

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Pulse Pounding: Six Thoughts on Manchester United 4 - Newcastle United 3

Photo by LibraSon on Flickr

o Gloomy: The day's weather matched yet another dismal opening by the home side. Cloudy, gray skies and a torrential downpour made for a slick pitch, but neither of these meteorological excesses were responsible for the day's first giveaway -- Michael Carrick's overly generous bit of charity, gifting the ball to Demba Ba in a very dangerous position. Carrick's error led to a further mistake by the defense, as United's Spanish 'keeper, David De Gea, parried the resulting shot directly into the path of an onrushing James Perch.  And so it was that we found ourselves in a familiar position: less than ten minutes in and United trailing at home.

o Missing: Missed passes in the final third continued to bedevil the home side. No one was guiltier of this than United veteran midfielder Ryan Giggs, but numerous Reds fell victim to attempting to thread the needle one too many times, hitting passes that lacked the required inch-perfect accuracy. The result was a paucity of opportunities for the home side, even as they attacked the famed Stretford End -- until the home side equalized near the half hour mark after a goal mouth scramble that came off Robin Van Persie's deflected free kick, with defender Jonny Evans conjuring something from little more than nothing.

o Cheat: Once again, Referee Mike Dean played a key role in the day's outcome. Ignoring the blatantly obvious fact that Papiss Cisse was two yards offside, as well as the fact that the Senegalese striker's very presence interfered with Evans' ability to play the ball, Dean placed himself at the center of yet another offside controversy at Old Trafford by allowing the Magpies second goal of the afternoon to stand as an Own Goal by Evans (his second strike of the afternoon). It was clearly familiar ground for the apparent Liverpool supporter in charge of the game, as Dean overruled his assistant to make the call -- something he notably neglected to do when Chelsea won the League at Old Trafford three seasons ago.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Oh, Cruel Fate: Round 18 in the BPL

photo by polandezevia PhotoRee

o Fate was more than a bit cruel to Reading on Saturday. At first we were convinced that the Royals had set out their defensive stall much too early  -- Who goes to Eastlands thinking they can play non-stop defense for the entire second half...?  But then we almost, just almost, began to believe that they were actually going to pull it off: the first shutout at Eastlands in quite some time. But up popped the unlikely head of Gareth Barry to seal what could be a vital three points at the end of the season for Manchester City.

o And because of that ultra-late winner, we'll name Gareth Barry our Player of the Week -- will wonders never cease?! -- but only because of the dramatic nature of the midfielder's stoppage time winner on Saturday. His play would be ruled a foul 99.99% of the time, but because newly inserted Reading man Nicky Shorey made no attempt whatsoever to play the ball, the goal appeared justly awarded to our eyes.

o We're not quite certain what Rafa is doing with Chelsea, but you have to like the results. That is, unless you're an Aston Villa fan....

o They may not be turning Japanese, but Chelsea turned up the heat on their Premier League rivals in Manchester with their outlandish victory on Sunday. Outdoing even their 7-1 defeat of the Villans from a couple of season ago, the Blues demolished Aston Villa, making the two point conversion for a remarkable 8-1 final on Sunday, in a game that could have seen 4 or 5 more goals -- and (amazingly so) one in which the Villa 'keeper was the best player on the pitch.  The end result was one of the more comprehensive beatings we've seen in several years:  When the names of Frank Lampard and Fernando Torres are both on the score sheet, you know you're in serious trouble....

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Merry Christmas

photo by *clairity*via PhotoRee

In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world.... And everyone went to their own town to register.4 So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. 5 He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. 6 While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, 7 and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.

This is farlieonfootie wishing all of our readers a very Merry Christmas.

Monday, December 24, 2012

The Winter of Our Discontent: Five Thoughts on Manchester United 1 - Swansea City 1

photo by tlindenbaumvia PhotoRee

As the calendar turned to the Winter season, Manchester United traveled to Wales yesterday to see if they were able to reclaim the three points lost with Manchester City's late, dramatic win at Eastlands on Saturday.  Here are five things we saw that may have made the difference in a frustrating draw that saw the lead at the top shaved to four points:

In Tom We Trust...: It appears that young Tom Cleverley has earned the Gaffer's trust enough to nail down a semi-regular spot in an extremely unsettled United midfield. True, the likes of Anderson, Nani and Kagawa are all still out injured, and their return will complicate Sir Alex's task, but for now the young Englishman appears the Manager's choice to pair with Michael Carrick in midfield -- although he was unable to inject much dynamism into the match at the Liberty on Sunday.

For a Team that Used to Suck at Corners...: recently as a season ago, United have dramatically improved their scoring capability on set plays. It could be the quality of the corners -- RVP vs. Nani, 'nuff said -- or the fact that so many United players appear capable of scoring this season -- stand up, Patrice Evra! -- or that they were playing against Swansea on Sunday -- a team that has conceded 12 times off corners to date this year -- but it should have come as no surprise that the first time the ball ruffled the back of the net came off a Manchester United corner kick.

Michu...!: Nor should anyone have been shocked when the Swansea midfielder (forward?)  leveled the score from directly in front of Big Dave's net. The Spaniard is in the form of his life this season, and was perfectly positioned to tap in the equalizer. That's where the biggest goal scorers almost always are: right time, right place....

Opportunity Knocked in the Second Half...: ...but no one was home -- likely because the game was played away from home for Manchester United.  We can't remember a game in which the visitors spurned so many one-on-one opportunities, with Wayne Rooney and Robin Van Persie equally guilty in sending the final final pass awry or taking one too many touches to sustain the offensive advantage.  A sharper United could have (should have?) had a two or three goal advantage heading into the final 30 minutes. Instead, the away fans were left slowly simmering, wondering what might have been....

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Game Day Beer Review: Goose Island Beer Co. Mild Winter English Dark Mild Ale

(5.60% ABV) Poured from the bottle into a Willi glass, as recommended, Mild Winter appeared an iced tea brown with a thickish white head. Moderate carbonation showed through the glass.

The beer smelled like malt and biscuit.

It had a moderately dry, biscuity flavor with a slight toasty undertone. The beer was not very complex, but it worked for us -- a much better than average AB-InBev product. B

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Patience, Please (Hell Yeah!)

Ed Promises That Good Things Come to Those Who Wait
photo by SuperFantasticvia PhotoRee
Ed is never short on opinions, some of them even correct
I recall some time ago asking whether Liverpool FC would have the patience required when changing over to Brendan Rogers.  Could they get through a season of pure mediocrity or worse as he transitions from one system to another?  Like it is in politics, personnel is policy in football, and so far Brendan has been able to bring over just a few players who dwell in the tiki taka system.  Joe Allen being one, and I'm actually not sure who the other one is.

Yet despite the mismatch of personnel, Liverpool have been able to dominate possession.  The problem has been, of course, their inability to score.  The reality is that Liverpool is still recovering from the monstrous gap from their overspending for West Ham's Andy Carroll, and are left with a deficit and a single striker.  Kind of like Chelsea, except without the supporting case of Hazard, Mata, Oscar, and the like.

Give Liverpool some time, fans.  They've gotten the possession part down, and will start to move up the table as the season progresses.  More importantly, if they could spend 50MM pounds on Carroll, they'll be able to spend it again in the future.  How much better would they be, for example, with Berbatov or Chicharito or Ibrahimavic?  Maybe they won't be able to shell out the money necessary for this guys this year, but wouldn't be surprised to seem them do it next year.  Then we'll see how things go for them.  But until that happens, take a deep breath and when you exhale…...lower your expectations (aaaahhhhhhhhhh…….).

# # #

I've heard that there is some consideration to managing the wrestling that goes on during corner kicks following the Fellaini head butt.  I think it's high time for this.  Clearly, this can be difficult to call for an official as there are so many players in the penalty area during corners.  One would think, however, that the fourth official should be able to assist.  But also, aren't we really only concerned about the player trying to head the ball?  If players are warned that holding will be called, and if a few calls are made, defenders will start to hold less.  This will result in more goals and make corner kicks more appropriately threatening.  It's time to phase in this simple change, even if it seems hard at first.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Going Out with a BANG!

Not much significant to report on today, not with the world ending and all....  And we know that not only from the Mayan Long Count Calendar, but also from the following weather forecast.  Yesterday was okay in these parts, but according to the weatherman today is going to be a real bitch....:

So if it's true that "Laughter is the Best Medicine," we thought it appropriate to go out with a chuckle from the following video, which we saw on ESPN this week:

That's all for today -- enjoy the games this weekend.

This is farlieonfootie for December 21.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

A Smattering of Thoughts

While Correspondent Scott Thinks, Correspondent Ed Just Sits and Waits
photo by Photocapyvia PhotoRee

Correspondent Scott has thoughts, but only a smattering of them -- which is not unusual:

o Rafa Benitez seems to have stepped on the accelerator on his way out of Chelsea, losing to Corinthians 1-0 in the Club World Cup final on Sunday.  After starting with two 0-0 draws and a 3-1 thumping by West Ham, the Spaniard seems destined to give truth to the “Interim” part of his title.  Even with the 3-1 victory over Sunderland and the 6-1 drubbing of FC Nordsjaelland, a stumble against Leeds United on Wednesday in the Capital One Cup may garner him an even earlier exit than initially thought.

o And this just in from the land of civil rights, free markets and unrigged elections: Fans of two-time defending Russian champion Zenit St. Petersburg are calling for non-white and gay players to be excluded from the team.  Apparently, Landscrona, the largest Zenit fan club, released a manifesto proclaiming this stupidity.  Even though any author who deems his scribbling a “manifesto” is, according to 4 out of 5 choosy moms who also choose Jif, a wacko, it is unfortunate that this type of idiocy gets any attention at all (I’m allowed to discuss it here because nobody actually reads my columns except my Mom who even admits she only gets to about every 4th one).  Not surprisingly, and very appropriately, the club distanced itself the fan-atic club.  As punishment, I recommend they be forced to live in St. Petersburg and watch only Russian soccer.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Game Day Beer Review: Bieres de Chimay Speciale Cent Cinquante Tripel Ale

(10.00% ABV) Brewed to honor the 150th Anniversary of the world famous Chimay abbey and brewery, Cent Cinquante poured a pale yellow at the bottom and darker gold color on top. Absolutely alive with carbonation, the beer had a massive white head which would not recede.

Upon pouring, the yeast was noticeable from across the room. The beer had a slight barnyard straw smell, backed by a citrusy lemon and orange zest.

Cent Cinquante yielded a rich, yeasty taste, and it was oh, so smooth. The beer was crisp and clean, and offered tart apple flavors. The booze was quite well hidden for such a high ABV beer.

We'll gladly wait another 150 years for another beer from a brewery that's this good. Buy it if you can find it: A

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Butthead: Round 17 in the BPL

photo by foxypar4via PhotoRee

It's difficult to be too lighthearted in our remarks on the weekend's returns given the tragic events in Connecticut this past Friday, but we'll do our best to keep the focus on sports:

o For as meekly as fourth place Spurs played on Sunday, they looked positively buccaneering compared to the pale imitation of Swansea that turned up at White Hart Lane. Offering a 90 minute effort devoid of shots on goals -- their novel game plan evidently involved giving Hugo Lloris the day off -- Swansea played as if they believed their aim was mid-pitch possession, with each sideways and backward pass representing another scoring opportunity. Unfortunately for the men from Wales, the only pass that counted was Jan Vertonghen's into the back of the net, which is why Spurs find themselves occupying the fourth and final Champions League spot at week's end.

o Who said Chelsea's Fernando Torres couldn't score a last minute, big-time goal in a game with a trophy on the line, just like his predecessor Didier Drogba...? Wait.... He was offside? Never mind.

o We couldn't be bothered to watch any of QPR's victory over a flaccid Fulham side -- let's be honest, did you? -- but we did see the highlights. Two things stood out in our minds: Fulham made it 88 minutes into the game without doing a single thing -- a single thing! -- that the producers of Premier League Week in Review found noteworthy, and the most unlikely of images came in the immediate post-game aftermath, as Uncle Harry roamed the sideline looking to hug anything that moved to celebrate Rangers' first win of the season and found....Martin Jol. Naturally, the stolid Dutchman hugged back.  We guess there... is a heart in there after all....

Monday, December 17, 2012

Three Steps Back: Aston Villa 3 - Liverpool 1

photo by pawpaw67via PhotoRee

Scott's a bit discouraged:

After what seemed like one step forward against West Ham last week, resulting in a top 10 table place for the first time this season, Liverpool quickly and ignominiously exceeded the proverbial two steps back by conceding 3 goals at home, to bottom-dwelling Aston Villa, and losing 3-1 with only a garbage-time score keeping them from total humiliation. In a retread of their early-season exploits, the Reds dominated possession, shots, tempo and pretty much anything else you can think of. Except for goals.

Aston Villa executed the counter-attack game plan to perfection. With nary a sniff of goal for the first 29 minutes save a weak Christian Benteke header in the second minute, Aston Villa was being utterly dominated. But then, in the 29th minute, Liverpool gave too much space to Benteke who unleashed a speculative shot from 30 yards out that caught Pepe Reina off=guard and struck the inside of the post, putting the visitors ahead, much to the dismay of the Kopite faithful.

Here we go again.... With Luis Suarez back in the lineup and constant pressure on goal, not to mention nearly 70% of the possession, a goal for the Reds seemed as likely as a politician prevaricating. But there were early warning signs. Like when, in the 6th minute, Suarez had Steven Gerrard wide open in front of goal but put his pass behind the streaking captain. Or the fact that the normally frighteningly dangerous Raheem Sterling couldn't seem to get his crosses right.

Even after the goal, Liverpool pressed on as the team far more likely to score. But it was Paul Lambert's men who actually did the deed, again on a counter attack. This time, and it is hard to say, it was a thing of beauty. Benteke was played through and he back-heeled to a wide-open and salivating Andreas Weimann who made no mistake.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Five Thoughts We Had While Watching Manchester United 3 - Sunderland 1

Photo by WoodleyWonderWorks on Flickr

Buzzing: Old Trafford was buzzing like a bee yesterday. As the club enters a December holiday period glutted with games, there was the very real sense -- palpable even on television from across the Atlantic Ocean -- that we are entering a most important time of the year. The season will be made or broken over the next few weeks, and given City's deserved victory over Newcastle in the early Saturday kickoff, United needed to out the pedal to the metal. So would they?

Rampaging: The Reds overwhelmed Sunderland in the game's early going, with Ashley Young, Tom Cleverley and Antonio Valencia gutting the Mackem defense like a fish. After weeks of frustrating the fans, Young has been a revelation the last two games: he's been pacy and incisive.  And Cleverley is beginning to make the central midfield position his own -- playing with boundless energy and determination.  He's adding goals to his game, too, which is a massive bonus.

Assisting: Not only is he scoring, he's adding assists to his game. Who? Robin Van Persie, of course. Some strikers do nothing but shoot -- Daniel Sturridge, we're talking 'bout you! -- while others appear selfish almost to a fault. Van Persie strikes the perfect balance -- up near the very top of the League scorers' table, but also setting the table repeatedly for others --Wayne Rooney first and foremost.  RVP is sharp as a razor right now, and if he can keep injury free this season you've got to believe the Reds are the odds-on-favorites to be lifting the BPL trophy come May.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Here We Go: Liverpool 3 - West Ham United 2

photo by Official U.S. Navy Imageryvia PhotoRee

Scott is thankful for narrow victories:

Things could be worse for a team with only one experienced striker. After being 18th in the table not that long ago, some may complain about being 10th now, but I say we are headed in the right direction and, with only 4 points between us and 4th place, I would say the January transfer window has become increasingly important. Finally in the top half of the table, albeit only on point differential, Brendan Rodgers is starting to put his mark on this Liverpool team and they are responding. The headlines may be splashed with Manchester shades of red and blue right now but, come April/May, Liverpool will command Champions League respect, if not a place at the championship table.

That said, there was the not-so-little matter of West Ham to deal with last Saturday. Sans Suarez, how would the Reds do against the Caroll-less Hammers? Well, a bright start yielded a spectacular goal from Glen Johnson who proved again that Liverpool has some of the most dangerous fullbacks in the league. Glorious is how my notes describe the upper left corner strike that gave Jussi Jaaskelienen no chance at all.

West Ham upped the pressure after that and, after a couple of yellow cards, one deserved (Steven Gerrard) and one not (Jonjo Shelvey), an unintentional handball by Joe Allen at the edge of the box gave West Ham their equalizer. It was clearly unintentional but it was clearly a handball. People get this wrong all the time – it doesn’t have to be intentional to be a handball. If the hand or arm is away from the body and the ball strikes it, giving the defender an advantage from said strike, it is a handball, intentional or not. The guys at our Monday pickup game could use a lesson in this.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Marginal at Best

Ed types all of his pieces on a Royal KMM Magic Margin Typewriter
photo by Twylovia PhotoRee

Ed has a point -- for once:

Watching Manchester United play Manchester City this weekend reinforced the value of intangibles in the game. When City were down by 2, you just knew David Silva, Carlos Tevez, Edin Dzeko and the rest would force some goals to put the game back in reach. In fact, before each goal you could literally see it coming. 

But then there's United. They began the game with two terrific goals by Wayne Rooney. Then they spent the second half like a boxer against the ropes, being dominated and bullied by City. But in the end when Robin Van Persie lined up that free kick you just knew it was trouble for City. Again, you could literally see that goal coming.
So what is it? What is it about United that enables them to squeak by time and time again? Part of it is in the margins. Everyone is pretty good in the EPL, and the top teams have roughly equivalent talent. But United's talent is also just that much better with RVP. But also, United must simply believe it more. I'm not sure what else it could be. The same thing happens so many times with them, it seems that being a tight place makes them focus all the more.

I've quoted NFL coach Bill Parcells before in this column, and I'll paraphrase him here again. His philosophy was that every player reacts to pressure, it was just a matter of how they did so. His mission was always to find those players -- even if they weren't always the most talented -- who seemed to get better when the pressure was on.

Is that Sir Alex's philosophy? Is that the type of player he's looking for? Or is it the coach that inspires the players to act that way under pressure?
Let's contrast that with Tottenham Hotspur's tough loss against Everton. For most of the game Everton was the better team for sure, but when Clint Dempsey scored on a deflection (you can't score if you don't shoot!) it seemed they had the game won. But then Everton turned it on and Spurs seemed, as is almost always the case in these situations, to get worse.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Game Day Beer Review: Abita Brewing Abbey Dubbel Ale

(8.00% ABV) Abita Abbey Ale was drunk from a paper Dixie Cup on a chilly evening in Northwest Florida -- you've got to use the tools that life hands you.... Winter was definitely in the air.

The beer smelled of caramel and clove -- with the scent of cherries wafting into the air, as well. 
Abbey Ale was sweet, but strangely so in our estimation. It had a bit of a weird Tabasco/Ketchup taste going on. There was some cherry there, too, but we found the beer to be slightly unbalanced, and not the finest hour from this great southeastern brewery. B-


Wednesday, December 12, 2012

The Mayans Were Right: Round 16 in the BPL

photo by kyle simourdvia PhotoRee

o Four goals in five days for El NiƱo, and neither of the weekend's two resembling a goal struck by a man lacking confidence. Maybe the Mayans were right....

o We don't know which sight was more hilarious: Lukas Podolski warming up on the sideline with a substitute's bib pulled over his calf-length puffer coat or yet another Foreign Flopper rolling in agony after being airbrushed by West Brom defender Steven Reid: Congratulations go to Santi Cazorla for winning our Play Actor of the Week Award....

o Allowing two goals after the 89th minute is never a good thing, but it's especially bad when your team is developing a reputation for throwing away points late in matches. AVB's boys did it again on Sunday at Everton, and his team looks much too inconsistent to seriously challenge for the last Champions League spot. 

o Not to mention the fact that the Bearded Wonder™ seems bent on making Hugo Lloris his number one goalkeeper, a decision that proved fateful when the Frenchman appeared at fault on at least one -- and possibly both -- of the late Everton goals.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Five Thoughts on the Manchester Derby

photo by EG Focusvia PhotoRee

1. It Ain't Over Just Yet, Folks: Yesterday's huge United victory notwithstanding, the BPL title has not been decided. Let's get real: Manchester United have a six point lead at the top of the table with five months of the season still left to play. Anyone remember the Reds having a larger lead than the current one back in April 2012, before coming unglued against Everton and handing the title race over to City?  While it may now legitimately be a two horse race, and United have a clear advantage, it's an awful long season and I'm fairly certain no one on the Red side of Manchester should be celebrating anything just yet.

2. Wazza's Turning Purple:  Wayne Rooney's finally hit a purple patch, and it's come at just the right time of year. Still the heart and soul of the club, Roo has struggled in front of goal for much of the season's early going. But as any veteran United watcher knows, when the man starts scoring he scores in droves. Considering the upcoming fixture congestion, could there be a better time for Wayne to take the team upon his back and fire a Christmas-time point haul?  If only he can stay away from the holiday party scene things are looking quite good....

3. Frustration and Hatred are Not the Same Thing: We're getting a little tired of people calling out the haters whenever a player who has been criticized come up trumps and has a good game. We've been as frustrated as anyone with Ashley Young's play in the season's first half, but that doesn't mean we dislike Young and shouldn't be able to enjoy a fine performance such as Sunday's. It just means we're expecting a bit more consistency from the player in question. If it's true that his early season injury caused Young's multiple sub-par performances, then we'll look forward as much as any United fan to seeing what the fleet-footed winger can do when he's fit.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Flicker: Manchester United 3 - Manchester City 2

photo by The Wandering Angelvia PhotoRee

Q. Any derby day surprises to the United starting lineup?

A. Quite unsurprisingly, yes: for beginners, how about Fergie starting his "backup" goalkeeper, David De Gea, less than a week after telling the British press that Anders Lindegaard had become his number one choice between the sticks....? Although many United fans likely saw though this managerial feint, there was a palpable sense of relief among the Twitterati when the young Spaniard's name was revealed as first choice. Other surprises included the selection of the recently injured Antonio Valencia and Tom Cleverley, and the fact that the starting eleven did not include a single surname spelled Scholes, Giggs or Fletcher. Onward and upward, as they say.

Q. How 'bout for the remaining quarter of Manchester?

A. We were a bit surprised to see a Sky Blue lineup that included Mario Balotelli at the expense of Carlos Tevez, but we were not as shocked to see David Silva experiencing the type of miracle cure usually reserved for those bathing at Lourdes. Tom Cruise revealing himself as a City fan pre-match seemed entirely appropriate, as well.

Q. How went the early going?

A. It was virtually all City to begin the game, as might be reasonably expected at Eastlands. That is, until the Wayne Rooney goal on about the quarter hour mark, which came against the run of play and on the Reds' very first effort on goal. The scuffed shot, none too pretty in and of itself, looked a real beauty in the eyes of United fans worldwide.

Q. Did City get right back up after the surprise counter?

A. It was actually United who seized the momentum and appeared to have the bit between their teeth. The Reds appeared determined to impose their will on the contest, a turnaround that became even more evident when Rooney capped off a sweeping move to double the visitors' advantage near the half hour mark, this time more emphatically finishing Rafael's picture perfect pull back.

Q. So, 45 minutes in, and 2-nil to the Reds. Your thoughts at the half?

A. We couldn't have been any happier after viewing the team's best half of the season. Showing great urgency both on and off the ball, the Reds played with ambition and determination, while the Blues looked the very picture of a toothless tiger. Roberto Mancini slowly twisted on the sideline as his team played the ball side to side, while Sir Alex looked as energized as his charges as he walked to the locker room. In addition to Rooney, standouts for this viewer included Ashley Young, as well as the entire United back line: the shape was good and the lads were disciplined.

Q. Any notable developments to begin the second half?

A. Yes: Jonny Evans was forced to limp off almost immediately after the second period began, and Mario Balotelli was handed his walking papers in favor of Carlos Tevez shortly thereafter. Somewhat less surprising was seeing Samir Nasri being booked for verbal abuse, his oral diarrhea finally raising the ire of referee Martin Atkinson -- the latter about to become central to the outcome.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Game Day Beer Review: Russian River Brewing Redemption Belgian Pale Ale

(5.15% ABV)  Rounding out the trio of beers sampled during a recent trip to the Russian River Brewing brewpub in Santa Rosa, California, is Redemption, a Belgian Pale Ale.  The beer, as shown above, was poured on draft into a goblet. It was a clear, deep golden color with the palest white head imaginable. Although the head looked delicate, it left behind a heavy white sheen as it dissipated.

While the beer's visuals were impeccable, it smell was fairly mild. Nothing spectacular stood out on for this reviewer.

Redemption tasted to us like a somewhat muted Belgian ale. The heritage is definitely there, but it seemed much more subtle in the presentation than those coming from across the pond. We tasted  Belgian yeast and some slight candy syrup, as well as the distinct bite of apples.  We liked the beer, but only third best of the three we sampled while there: B+

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Temporary and Tempestful

photo by dsassovia PhotoRee

The second of two pieces this morning.  Check out Columnist Scott's rantings below:

o The Drog may be temporarily back at Cobham, but oh how we bet Rafa Benitez wishes the big Ivorian could play at Stamford Bridge, as well. How the Chelsea hierarchy ever thought it was possible to go through a whole season with two strikers while loaning out their third is beyond all reasonable understanding -- especially when compared to the riches contained on the benches of the squads the Blues hoped to compete with.

o But even if he hasn't won any games in the League yet, Benitez has begun to address a serious flaw that had developed under the guidance of Roberto DiMatteo: over-dependence on certain key personnel, leading to over-use of that same personnel, further leading to under-production from the very men the club needs most. If the poster boy for this movement was none other than the 2011/12 edition of Manchester City's artful dodger David Silva, Juan Mata and Eden Hazard were becoming valid candidates for this year's award. Always a believer in squad depth and rotation, Rafa seems to be addressing the flaw, correctly realizing that the physicality and pace of the English game do not lend themselves to fielding the same key players for virtually every game.

o But speaking of squad rotation, here's an interesting counterpoint: you may be able to get away with playing a consistent side if you're not overly involved in numerous competitions. While a lack of European games may lead to a stronger Premier League campaign for Bobby Manc's boys in sky blue, it could also present a real issue for the Italian boss man: with no European games on the docket, playing time at Eastlands will be at a real premium this spring. Sir Alex has correctly noted that it may be difficult for his cross-town counterpart to keep all of the egos on his side in check given the paucity of opportunities now staring them directly in the face.

Liverpool 1 - Southampton 0: Observations

Scott watches most games while dressed in camouflage 
photo by Jayel Aheramvia PhotoRee

Columnist Scott's thoughts on Liverpool's most recent victory and more:

o I was thrilled to see Lucas Leiva back in the lineup. Back-to-back injuries have kept the Brazilian out for over a year and his strong work in the midfield has been missed. Unfortunately, it seems it is going to take a few games for him to blow the rust off and contribute in a meaningful way. Sloppy with his passes and tentative in possession, he has a way to go to get back to his previous level. But we wish him well and hope he continues to get playing time.

o Luis Suarez doesn't seem to be diving as much. In fact, I think it has been a couple of games since I've groaned over his antics. Sure, he still complains about every call and doesn't shy away from going down when there is contact, invariably demonstrating with hyperbole the symptoms that he has suffered. But he doesn't dive as much, even when he gets pulled by the shorts in the penalty area. And for that we are thankful.

o Jose Enrique seems to be back. Marcelo may claim to be the best left back in the world, but Liverpool's defensive Spaniard has all the tools to refute such braggadocio. He is fast and strong, tactically solid defensively, uses his body well, makes incisive passes and, impressively, has the foot skills and moves of the best forwards in the league. Were he of any other nationality, he would be getting regular international play.

Friday, December 7, 2012


photo by Peter Fuchsvia PhotoRee

Ed loves all things German:

And so the Champions League Group Stage is finally over, and neither Chelsea nor Manchester City have made the cut.  United won their group – an easy one -- and Arsenal somehow managed to get by as well.   City was in a difficult group, but after watching Real Madrid wax Ajax, you’ve got to wonder how they couldn’t even manage third in that Group. 

I suspect City’s problems are a combination of a lack of speed on the edges, a decline in the play of the back four (particularly Vincent Kompany) and the lack of leadership.  Yeah, I’m coming at you, Roberto Mancini.  I think Mancini has lost the focus of the players.  Rumors of his leaving and his style make City feel like hired mercenaries rather than a club.  Distress and distractions abound at every club, but emotional leadership is also important – and by that I mean getting the players to play together and with enthusiasm. 

As for Chelsea, who knew they would be this bad?  Clearly they lack a striker – a huge problem, actually -- but they’ve got enough playmakers to score regardless. Some have suggested that Frank Lampard and John Terry are critical leaders for that team.  This may be true, but it’s not enough of an explanation.

So where does this put the BPL in comparison with the other leagues?  Well, despite the money in the league, and despite the league being fairly tough from top to bottom, I actually rank them third in Europe right now.  First is the Bundesliga, and I’m not just saying that because I like to say “Bundesliga”, which I do. 

Bundesliga.  Bundesliga.  BUNDESLIGA!!! 

Thursday, December 6, 2012

A Night to Forget: Manchester United 0 - FC Cluj 1

photo by Bistrosavagevia PhotoRee

Q. Youth to the fore last night?

A. Yes, for sure, with the match representing a dreaded "dead rubber" in the Champions League group stage. Scott Wooton, Alexander Buttner, Tom Cleverley, Nick Powell and Danny Welbeck all got looks from the Boss. Sir Alex being Sir Alex, though, he also made a few "oldsters" available, including Ryan Giggs and Wayne Rooney. Evidently wanting a better view of the action, the Gaffer opted to sit in the stands and watch his young side from high above the fray.

Q. Did the infusion of youth result in faster and more free flowing team?

A. No, it seemed as if slow and boring were the instructions given in the locker room. Dead rubbers often play out this way.  Although Cluj needed to win the game, United weren't particularly in the mood to give their Romanian group mates a gift. A defensive-minded stalemate was the result.

Q. So: Half and hour in and not much to report, eh...?

A. Yup, that was about the state of things after 30 minutes: some dogged back and forth but precious few real opportunities created by either side.

Q. Is that the way the half ended?

A. Well, United did turn up the heat a bit before the interval, as the offense finally began to build up some momentum. Basically, it was the result of Wayne Rooney beginning to impose himself on the game.  Somewhat more worrying than the scoreline, though, was that Tom Cleverley limped off just before the break, and the youthful side that began the game was now being led by midfielders who were 38 and 39, respectively, as Paul Scholes partnered Giggs in midfield.

Q. Did United look comfortable in the second half?

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Game Day Beer Review: Russian River Brewing Pliny the Elder Imperial IPA

(8.00% ABV) Poured from a 510 ML brown bottle bought at the  brewpub into a plastic solo cup.  This beer was drunk less than a week after it was bottled -- and if you read the label ("drink fresh, do not age," etc.) you'll realize how important this fresh quality is in the brewer's eyes. 

Pliny poured a deep cherry goldish color, almost the color of a strong Shirley Temple. The clear white head settled down quickly.

The smell is apparent even before it's even lifted to the nose: it's piny and fruity.  Upon a closer smell the resinous hops dominate, although there are some tropical fruits such as pineapple mixed in, and maybe some mint and other floral tastes, as well. 

Hop bitterness is the first thing you notice on the taste, although they're not overboard. The beer is dry and chalky in the middle and finishes with an oily hop resin on the aftertaste. It's medium bodied with relatively low carbonation.

It's an insanely, almost mezmerizingly drinkable beer, especially with the high ABV:  A+ 

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Remember When: Week 15 in the BPL

photo by *Mickyvia PhotoRee

o Chelsea finally showed some signs of life on Saturday, scoring their first goal in three games under new coach Rafa Benitez. Unfortunately for Rafa, West Ham scored three of their own and were deserved winners at Upton Park. The Hammers looked a constant threat during the second half, and after 2 points from a possible 9 for the interim Bossman, here comes the inquest....

o And in reflecting on West Ham's magnificent performance, remember when Venky's decided that Big Sam wasn't the right man to lead Blackburn?  We wonder how that decision's working out for them....

o Marouanne Fellaini's fantastic goal against Manchester City this weekend cements his status as the best player of the season to date. The Afro'd one's drive and determination -- not to mention his physicality -- were all on display as he never gave up on a ball that was whipped in by Leighton Baines to earn his side a draw. Another draw for the Toffees -- this is beginning to get a bit repetitive....

o And add City super sub Edin Dzeko to the growing list of Premier League play actors. Dzeko' dramatic fall may have conned referee Lee Probert -- whose decision may also have been influenced by Fellaini's deserved "who me?" reaction -- but television replays confirmed that the contact in the box was minimal at best, and the resulting City penalty and point can most charitably be described as fortunate rather than earned.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Game Day Beer Review: Russian River Brewing Temptation American Wild Ale

photo by ingridtaylarvia PhotoRee

(7.50% ABV) Poured on draft at the brewpub in Santa Rosa, California into a goblet, a beer from the venerated master of the wild ale format, Russian River founder Vinnie Cilurzo.  Temptation poured a clear-as-a-bell gold color, with a fizzy white head with tons of tight bubbles. As the beer disappeared there was lots of lacing left behind. 

We smelled apples on the nose, as well as some grapes and some typical barnyard funkiness.

The beer had a nice level of lactic sourness, which was the first thing we noticed. It was crisp and refreshing, with a just-right level of carbonation. It was definitely winey on the aftertaste, but less so than, say, Dogfish Head's Noble Rot. The beer finished nice and  dry. We liked it -- a lot. A+

Sunday, December 2, 2012

From Under the Couch: Manchester United 4 - Reading FC 3

photo by dickuhnevia PhotoRee

o O'fer 141 years against The Red Devils shouldn't give Reading a whole lot of confidence coming into the match. 

o Nevertheless, it's more of the same to begin the match: less than ten minutes gone and Reading ahead 1-nil. A failure to clear the ball gave Lindegaard no chance whatsoever.

o The equalizer took only six minutes, and the go ahead goal only two minutes more. Sixteen minutes in and it's 2-1 to the visitors. Anderson buries a perfectly weighted Ashley Young pass to pull the Reds level, and Wayne Rooney slots home a penalty after Jonny Evans is bundled over in the box.

o Less than 20 minutes gone and we're back to level again. Lifelong United fan Adam Le Fondre is left all alone to nod in a corner and pull Reading back into the match. It looks as if its going to be one of those days....

o Yup, it definitely going to be one of those days. By minute 23 Reading is back on top: another corner, another goal, and the Reds are behind. Again. 

o What the hell happened to the defense today? And where and what the hell was Lindegaard drinking last night...?!

o It's Rooney to pull things level again at the half hour mark. Thirty minutes played and six goals scored. 

o Five minutes later and Robin Van persie is on the scoreboard to put United back on top.  This IS English football. It's also a defensive embarrassment.