Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Some Observations From This Past Weekend

Randy took a break from his beer for just long enough to deliver the following:

With the beer still flowing (this week it’s Magic Hat #9), I take note of a few observations from this past weekend's matches:

Dea Gea Finally Looked Worth the Money

For a least one game David De Gea looked like the future goalkeeper of Manchester United. De Gea had several strong saves on Sunday, including a brilliant stop on Anthony Pilkington and another strong save on Grant Holt.  The United defense, and Rio Ferdinand in particular, did a solid job of keeping De Gea clean and giving him room to operate. While he can still look tentative at times, De Gea was much more aggressive then he has been in past matches. While only one game, this could be a springboard for De Gea and a performance he and the United defenders can build upon.

De Gea Looking Good

Paul Lambert for Manager of the Year
While Norwich went down to defeat against Manchester United this weekend, they did give the Red Devils a good run. Lambert’s managing has been impressive this season with his ability to effectively change systems based on the game situation. He is the first manager since 2000 to have back-to-back promotions, League One to Championship in 2009/2010 and Championship to Premier League this past year. Norwich are safely sitting in the top half of the table, currently eight, and can easily make a run at Chelsea for fifth and a place in the Europa League next season.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

The Full Brady: Round 26 in the BPL

photo by One Laptop per Childvia PhotoRee

It was back to the future at Stamford Bridge on Saturday, as Didier Drogba, Frank Lampard, Michael Essien and Ashley Cole all returned to AVB's Chelsea lineup. Unfortunately for the Portuguese Inspector Gadget, it was only back to the very recent future in the first half, as the Blues once again struggled to find the net.

o The second half was a bit better, with old boys Drogba and Lampard re-discovering their scoring touch. Hmmm. Old, "washed up" Chelsea team members play and score. Chelsea has their first comfortable win in quite a while. Coincidence....? 

o It can't hurt that American Tim Ream is gaining BPL experience, but I'm not sure that playing in the Bolton defense is going to do much for his confidence.

o Martin Jol looked especially dapper wearing his suit and tie on the sideline of the West London derby at Loftus Road on Saturday. Perhaps his track suit was being dry cleaned...?

Monday, February 27, 2012

Respect Your Elders: Manchester United 2 - Norwich City 1

photo by ssoosayvia PhotoRee

Wayne Rooney and Tom Cleverly are Manchester United's most keenly felt pre-game absentees versus Norwich City, on a mild and sunny Sunday in eastern England. The former is still struggling with a throat infection, while the latter picked up a knock on his "good" ankle against Ajax, meaning both should be back in the none-too-distant future. It's a key game for the Reds, who need a victory to keep pace with Manchester City, whose emphatic 3-nil win over Blackburn on Saturday moved the League leaders five points clear at the top.

Ryan Giggs appears for the 900th time in a Premier League contest, and he's joined in the midfield by the Barclay's Premier League Player of the month, Paul Scholes, as well as Michael Carrick and Luis Nani. Phil Jones, Jonny Evans, Rio Ferdinand and Patrice Evra man the ramparts in front of David De Gea, while Chicharito and Danny Welbeck are both preferred to Dimitar Berbatov up front. Without further ado, it's off to Carrow Road for our match commentary:

It's De Gea off his line in the early going to grab a high cross, and the visitors will hope that his early commanding presence is a sign of things to come. Nani's length-of-the-pitch run almost pays off at the other end, but Norwich's Zach Whitbread intervenes at a critical juncture to hoof the ball out of bounds.  It's Giggs who nearly makes headlines as the Champions begin the contest in a confident mood, but he nicks Jones' fine cross just over the bar. With opportunities for the visitors coming fast and thick, it's Scholes who makes the early pressure pay off, ghosting in on goal before converting Nani's cross into a 1-nil lead within the game's first eight minutes.

Norwich lay on some bone crunching challenges to remind the visitors that they're no pushover, and their physical efforts seem to inspire the crowd and bring them back into the contest. Before they fully get their grip on the game, however, Welbeck nearly doubles the lead -- trying to finish off a beautiful give and go between Nani and Chicharito -- but Norwich 'keeper John Ruddy denies the Englishman at full stretch.

Norwich is intent on tying the game through a series of set pieces, looking to take advantage of their big bodies, physical presence and aerial prowess.   By the half hour mark, it's the home side giving as good as they're getting, pinning United back, and De Gea's outstretched leg is all that denies Anthony Pilkington his equalizer.  The save forces Sir Alex from his comfortable perch on the sidelines, the Scot red-faced as he barks out orders, likely demanding better marking from his defense.

Hernandez misfires in one of United's by now rare forays into the offensive end, a tame roller offered when surely a crisper finish would have found the back of the net against the run of play. But it's De Gea who's looking especially sharp today with another outstanding play, somehow snagging Grant Holt's biting header to deny what the Norwich attacker believed a certain equalizer.

The home side's confidence is growing, it's closely held and controlled possession contrasting sharply with the visitors' unraveling form. Although his team are behind on the scoreboard, Norwich City Manager Paul Lambert has good reason to believe his charges have the game well within reach as the two sides head into the break.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Game Day Beer Review: Bell's Brewery Hopslam Double IPA

(10.00% ABV).  To paraphrase Bono, there's been a lot of talk about this next beer, maybe, maybe too much talk.  I've reviewed it in the past, and given it one of my very highest ratings.  With its annual late winter release timed to get people in the mood for Spring, I sought it out once again, to determine if the Hopslam reality would live up to the hype....

Hopslam was poured on draft at Tap 42, at an official Bells' Brewery event. Poured into a chalice, the beer was a bright, clear golden yellow, with next to no head.  Admittedly, the lights were pretty low, so I'm not certain I got all I could out its color.

The beer smells sweet and hoppy, with just a tiny hint of floral notes. 

This year's Hopslam is much hoppier than I remember it being out of the bottle, and seems to be missing the tropical fruit sweetness that I remember so vividly and loved so much when I last tasted it.  It didn't taste nearly as well balanced as the 2011 edition.  The beer I drank also had a ever-so-slightly sour aftertaste, another thing I'm not sure I recall from the bottle. I wonder if it could be down to a transportation or storage issue, or just a variation in style from one year to the next...?

I will say that the 10% ABV in this baby is extremely well hidden. You have one too many of these, and you'll remember it for awhile....

While Hopslam didn't live up to my expectations this year, it's still worth seeking out: Hopslam is a much better than average beer. B+

Saturday, February 25, 2012

A Royal Pain: Real Madrid 1 - CSKA Moskow 1

photo by apasciutovia PhotoRee

February 25 is Columnist Scott day at farlieonfootie.  Herewith, the second of two columns from our footballing idiot savant:

Convalescing from my latest attempt to relive my footballing glory years, I had the time and opportunity to catch Real Madrid's meeting with CSKA Moscow in the first leg of a Round of 16 Champions League tie.  While it was clearly winter, it was no wonderland at Luzhniki Stadium, with sub-freezing temperatures and frozen artificial turf making Cristiano Ronaldo & Co. long for the more temperate clime of the Santiago Bernabeu.  Perhaps even more chilling than the weather was how disturbingly similar the Muscovites’ uniforms were to those of a certain team from Catalunya.

But any sartorial stress Real may have felt melted off after a less-than-noteworthy first quarter hour.  With only one CSKA chance put wide in that time, things finally got going after Karim Benzema (groin injury) was replaced by Gonzalo Higuain in the 14th minute.  For it was only two minutes after his introduction that the Argentinean was the beneficiary of some crisp, short passes that led to his first-time shot, blocked as it was by Sergei Chepchugov.

Perhaps seeing the writing on the wall when the quality of Benzema was replaced by the quality of Higuain, the Russians began to muscle their way through the match, knocking down Los Blancos whenever possible.  And the physicality of the home side seemed to be having its desired effect, as Real was not breaking forward as quickly as normal, instead opting for more subtle build up play.

They were rewarded for their patience in the 28th minute when some poor defending by CSKA surrendered the ball in their own box and, after a poor clearance of the resulting cross, Ronaldo flawlessly drilled home a half volley into the bottom left corner – according to the announcers, his 36th in 35 games this season, and his 122nd in 124 games since joining Real -- not too shabby.  The balance of the first half saw Real assuming more and more control of the game, despite CSKA’s press in the final minutes.

Despite the 22 degrees Fahrenheit that chilled both players and fans, CSKA came out flaming hot after the interval, but failed to bring enough fire wood as they were reduced to embers after 10 minutes.  Ronaldo put Jose Maria Callejon through on the left but the Spaniard failed to convert, just one more example of a disappointing day for him.  Fortunately, Los otros Blancos were playing well and creating chances despite the crowding in the box.

For their part, CSKA was dangerous on the counter with the speedy Africans, Ahmed Musa and Seydou Doumbia, testing Real's defense, notably in the 62nd minute when the former streaked through for a sizzler that brought out the best of Iker Casillas.

The Last Word on Luis Suarez

photo by warrenskivia PhotoRee

This article arrived via slow boat from China.  Our apologies to its author, Columnist Scott:

After waiting patiently for our budding blogger, Cole, to complete an essay on the provenance and pop-culture importance of Cracker Jack for a second-grade project, I was finally able to sit beside my little scribe and his little sister to watch the most anticipated handshake since that of Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat.  

Such was the media glare concerning the pre-game ritual, intensified by remarks from both teams which were capped by Kenny Dalglish's insistence that tradition would be observed, that even my wife Liz insisted I pause the previously-recorded game to allow her to join the family for a lesson in sportsmanship, prior to what would surely be Liverpool's return to the upper echelon of English football.   (And, yes, I enjoy writing sentences that long to drive farlieonfootie crazy).

Instead, Luis Suarez embarrassed himself, his team, his manager and his fans by refusing to acknowledge the hand of Patrice Evra, even after promising that he would. I've written on these pages before about how difficult it can be to support a team with a villain and that, based on all the history and evidence, I believe Suarez did, indeed, racially abuse Evra. Still, I was hoping beyond hope that the polemic Uruguayan would suck it up, shake a hand and get on with it, so that we Liverpool fans could feel good, without reservation, about cheering for our beloved team. But now, instead of seeing Suarez as the tireless, creative spark he can be, I'm back to viewing him as the World Cup cheat who goes down way too easily and, now, is masochistically obstinate about moving beyond his ill-conceived racial remarks.  

He clearly believes he did nothing worthy of a suspension, but that doesn't matter now. And if he felt that strongly, then he should have challenged the ruling before, rather than force me to rewind three times and then have a 10 minute discussion about sportsmanship and race with an eight year old and a five year old. Ultimately, I had to conclude, with two innocent children inquiring up at me, that even though we support Liverpool, and there are many great and "good" players on the team, Luis Suarez made a bad decision and needs to learn from it.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Second Gear: Manchester United 1 - Ajax 2

photo by doviendevia PhotoRee

Admittedly, not my best work, but then last night wasn't Manchester United's, either:

o Last night's 2-1 home loss to Ajax, which saw the Reds advance into the final 16 of the Europa League tournament, was shown on GOL TV in the US.  I wish GolTV's main football analysts, Ray Hudson and Phil Schoen, had the opportunity to call more games involving teams from the BPL. With Schoen playing the straight man to Hudson's lyrical mixture of melody, comedy and know-how, the two men combine to offer an insightful and entertaining brand of football commentary -- easy on the ears and informative, as well.

o I will say, though, that I disagreed with Hudson's assessment that Dimitar Berbatov was "missing in action" and "pretty woeful" last night. To the contrary, I thought The Berb was one of the most creative players on the pitch last night.

o Chicharito appears to be rounding back into form. The Little Pea may have begun the year slowly -- whether due to injury, weariness, or a combination of both -- but the Mexican striker was handed a rare start last night and found the net within the game's first six minutes.  If last night was a sign of things to come, the rest of the Premier League better start worrying right now: the kid's got an uncanny nose for goal.

o How do they allocate seats at old Trafford?  Who thought to put Harry Redknapp and Stuart Pearce virtually right next to each other, with Roberto Mancini on Redknapp's other shoulder?  I would have paid good money to hear the conversation in that section....

o Dimitar Berbatov is a sublime passer of the ball. He's also fairly unselfish for a proven goal scorer. I was mesmerized by some of the silky early through balls that Berbatov played for Chicharito to run onto.

o Some of United's early ball movement was phenomenal, and at times in the first half they looked much more like the team they were in the first couple games of the season than they did during the drab and dreary run of 1-nil wins that collected points in the table but earned the club no style points.

o I guess Sir Alex was less impressed, though, as he and Ryan Giggs looked slightly bored watching the first half from the sideline. If you'd told me they were watching paint dry I might have protested, and suggested they were watching grass grow, instead.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

The Europa All-Stars

All Star Week Downtown 2009 (91)

Columnist Randy returns with a proposition:

Here in America, every major sport has an All-Star game: the NFL (Pro Bowl), NBA, NHL, Major League Baseball (MLB) and even the MLS all have All-Star games. These games are somewhat entertaining, but in general are just glorified exhibitions games. Some notable exceptions are the MLB All-Star game, which decides home field advantage for the World Series, and the MLS All-Stars that get the honor of being trounced by Manchester United.

This got me thinking. Europe has plenty of trophies to play for, the FA Cup in England, the Europa League and, of course, the Champions League amongst others. The one thing missing, of course, is a European-wide All-Star tournament. Image the best from the Barclay’s Premier League, La Liga, Serie A and the Bundesliga all battling it out for the crown of “Best Football League in the World”.  It would be glorious. The tournament would be played the first two weeks of June, giving the players some time to rest and practice. The locations for the first round would be determined by coin flip, with the championship game rotated among the major cities in England, Italy, Spain and Germany like the Super Bowl. Imagine 90,000 screaming fans in Wembley, or close to 100,000 in Camp Nou in Barcelona, watching the best of the best in the world.

Now you might ask, “Why not other leagues? “ Well, that one’s easy: at the end of the day you want the biggest draw (read: money) for the games, so it would naturally involve the biggest leagues. Plus, historically these have been the strongest leagues. Sorry France, maybe next time.

To pick the best players we could borrow from how several sports leagues do it here in America: one-third fan vote, one-third player vote and one-third manager vote. This way a player that is immensely popular but having a bad year will not necessarily take a spot away from a more deserving player.

Since we still have a good way to go in the BPL season I’ll take a first look at deserving All-Stars so far, and then come back towards the end and update the list for our final All-Star team. Let the controversy begin!


Robin Van Persie* (Arsenal) – Leading the league in goals, enough said.
Sergio Aguero* (Man City) – Seemingly always involved in the scoring.
Demba Ba (Newcastle) – A goal scoring machine. He plays, he scores.
Wayne Rooney (Man United) – Second in goals to RVP.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

All Good Things Come in Threes

photo by DownTown Picturesvia PhotoRee

Columnist Ed returns from a rather lengthy dry spell to appear once again in our pages:

1.  Chelsea's Imploding

Chelsea is a good story this week, made better by their loss to Napoli in the Champions League last evening.  Napoli run a 3-4-3, a system not seen in the EPL very often.  They've also got two and half top-level strikers.  But that's all they have.  Their back three are average at best, as is their midfield.  Yet the score last evening could have been 6-1 in favor of Napoli if not for several easy chances missed by the Italians.  So what's going on at Chelsea...?

Well, first of all, Andre Villas-Boas is trying to phase out the wrong players at the club, and he's doing it all wrong.  The first rule of the phase out is that you don't phase someone out until you have someone better to replace him.  That would seem obvious, right?  The best player at the position should start until he's no longer the best player.  Age alone should not be the trigger.

It follows that Raul Mereiles -- who was absolutely painfully awful last evening, both in possession and on defense -- should not start over Frank Lampard.  Until Luka Modric or Wesley Sneijder is on the team, Lampard's the guy.

And with all due respect to Didier Drogba, Daniel Sturridge may now be better.  Fernando Torres is, of course, not close to either of these two.  And ABV had an opportunity to phase out Drogba by giving Sturridge a chance at the top spot.  Instead, he stuck it out with Torres.  Granted, this may not be his fault, but wow, I'm not sure what teams Torres would start for right now.  And on the other end, Sturridge could be leading the league in goals if he played for Manchester United or Spurs, or even in the appropriate position at Chelsea.

Finally to pile on -- Chelsea's defense has been abysmal this year.  David Luiz plays with the confidence of someone who believes he's twice as good as everyone else, when, unfortunately for Chelsea, he's actually about half as good.  This leads to constant mental errors.

It's hard, though, to chalk up the defensive problems solely on account of the players.  I can imagine almost any manager in the league would be delighted to have Ashley Cole, Branislav Ivanovic and Gary Cahill in his back line.  Which brings us back to the Manager: I have a theory that his biggest problem is his lack of ego.  I suspect he's being pushed around by the players and the ownership.  Ultimately, AVB seems like too nice a guy to get it done in the EPL.  His players don't fear him; I suspect they find him to be weak.  As such, all it takes is one more bad loss and his brief tenure will be over at Chelsea.

2.  Manchester's Greek Problem

It turns out that Manchester United are still splashing around in $700 million dollars worth of debt.  It would be easy to explain all of United's problems on this debt, and perhaps it has and will keep them a step behind the mega-clubs like Manchester City, Barcelona, Real Madrid, etc.  That said, they did bring in an astounding $227 million in revenue last year.  That's a monster number. Plus they were able to spend $72 million on new players.  That's not exactly poverty.  Interestingly, though, I think the problem is more a result of how they spent their money than how much they brought in.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Game Day Beer Review: Brauerei Heller-Trum Aecht Schlenkerla Rauchbier Marzen

(5.50% ABV)   And now for something completely different....  While perusing Beer Connoisseur's current issue, I saw this smoky German classic listed as one of  2011's best beers. And while perusing the aisles at my local liquor store, I happened to see it on the shelf. When opportunity knocks, you've got to answer the call....

This is not a beer for everyone -- I'll start right there. It's a classic German Rauchbier, with its smoky aroma immediately apparent before it's even poured out of the bottle.

In the glass, Aecht Schlenkerla is dark black, with just a glimpse of ruby red noticeable in the sunlight, and a full, tan head that leaves behind fairly decent lacing before saying goodbye. It smells deeply and intensely smoky, like the aftermath of a slow burning fire, the beech wood incredibly aromatic.  If you close your eyes and let your imagination run free, a campfire has got to be located nearby. 

Aecht Scherlenka is smoky on the taste, too, although the smoke is by no means overwhelming, because the beer also has that beautiful marzen drinkability to it.  The aftertaste lasts a very long time -- I feel like I just smoked a fine cigar. It's a surprisingly smooth beer, one that cries out for food -- a German sausage, or some good ol' American barbecue, would be the ideal accompaniment.

It's got a crisp, carbonated mouthfeel, and is eminently drinkable -- this beer really grows on you. In fact, the marriage between the smokiness and the marzen is so good, that one begins to forget about the former, and instead you'll find yourself focusing appreciatively on the malty smoothness of this masterpiece from Bamberg. A+

Monday, February 20, 2012

Happy Presidents' Day

photo by jimbowen0306via PhotoRee

To all of our followers in the US, we wish you a Happy Presidents' Day.  To everyone else, get back to work...!

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Game Day Beer Review: Shipyard Brewing Applehead Wheat Ale

(4.50% ABV) I'd seen this brew advertised in several of my recent beer publications, and figured it had to be a Springtime counterweight to Shipyard's successful Fall offerings. As a result, I thought I would try to get a bit ahead of the season and sample some Applehead -- all for your benefit, of course, dear reader.  

I poured Applehead straight from a 12 ounce bottle into a modified pilsner glass.  It's a bold and brassy gold color, with a slightly tannish head that quickly fizzles away without a trace. The beer actually appears very similar in color to its more popular children's tipple, apple juice.

The fruit promised in the name doesn't disappoint in the beer's smell, as the apple scent is front and center.  There are some slight cinnamon spices and a bready smell, as well -- it's actually very reminiscent of apple pie.

On tasting, the apple and spices are there, too, with the cinnamon especially reminiscent of the pumpkin spices in Shipyard's Fall beer. Applehead has a thin, malty backbone, and a certain buttery goodness.  Its crisp, and not overly sweet.

It's definitely unusual -- probably not my everyday first choice -- but likely a decent call on a hot Spring or Summer afternoon. B

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Exposed: AC Milan 4 - Arsenal 0

photo by ephotographyvia PhotoRee

Another Champions League night, another night without Manchester United. Wednesday night's rent-a-date was a fairly bitter pill to swallow: Putting myself firmly in the Gooner camp, I chose to watch a decent but fatally flawed Arsenal side bring their potent attack and vapid defense to Italy to take on AC Milan's enigmatic attack and experienced defense at the San Siro. 2012's match pitting an English visitor against an Italian host was unlikely to offer any "Taxi for Maicon" or head butting theatrics, but would it serve up some entertaining football....?  To answer the question, farlieonfootie headed off to Italy to catch all the action:

The two sides traded blows in the early going, although truth be told, both looked more eager than threatening with their initial attacks.  It was difficult to determine whether it was the shocking state of the pockmarked San Siro pitch or Zlatan Ibrahimovic's equally woeful and scraggly attempt at a beard and mustache that proved more distracting to Arsenal's initial efforts. Having failed to create much in the way of real offense, the Gunners found themselves in a giving mood, returning the ball time and again to the Italians, although none more costly than the turnover which resulted from Arsenal 'keeper Wojciech Sczcesny's poor kick out near the fifteen minute mark.

It was none other than former Premier League man Kevin Prince Boateng who took full advantage of the visitors' generosity to open the scoring, chesting down and nailing in a volley from an angle sharper than that of his up-swooped hairdo. While Arsenal Gooner-in-Chief, Arsene Wenger, could only watch and grimace from the sideline, his men on the pitch were busy turning in a performance as bland as a plate of un-buttered spaghetti.

Arsenal played the game in slow motion, as if seeking to savor each and every second of their time in northern Italy. For their part, Milan was more than content to play the game at normal speed, a gear that was one click too many for the woeful Gunner defense to handle.

The difference in the two sides' pace was all too apparent shortly before halftime, as Ibrahimovic raced to the endline before picking out an unmarked and onrushing Robinho.  The Brazilian, no stranger to the Premier League himself, made no mistake from the top of the six yard box as he bolstered the home side's advantage with a stunningly easy headed goal.

The second half saw the introduction of Arsenal legend Thierry Henry, the Frenchman joining the game as a replacement for an ineffective Theo Walcott, as Wenger sought to cajole some offense -- indeed, any offense -- out of his troops.  The alteration did little to change the momentum of the contest, however, as Robinho was at the double less than five minutes after the half kicked off, the Brazilian showcasing the kind of form he rarely reached while at Manchester City, bulging the back of the net as well as the scoreline, which now read 3-nil in favor of the locals.

Friday, February 17, 2012

One Bridge Crossed: Manchester United 2 - Ajax 0

photo by Jos van Zettenvia PhotoRee

Sir Alex and the boys traveled to the city of bridges, Amsterdam, for a Thursday night Europa League clash against Ajax FC. While not the Champions League by any stretch of the imagination, at least the thought of playing a world famous European opponent gave United fans some small sense of satisfaction -- and the thought of heading to a city full of hashish dens and red light sex shops probably didn't hurt the attraction for the traveling fans, either.

Regardless, the most exciting news coming out of the United camp pre-game was the midfield pairing of Michael Carrick and the returning Tom Cleverley. Injured since November, Cleverley has in his absence become a savior of sorts, the answer for whatever ails the club -- in fact, United's lack of advancement into the Champions League knockout stages would clearly have been different "if only Cleverley had been available," or something like that. Off to see if the reality would come even close to living up to the hype, farlieonfootie's crack team of reporters invaded Amsterdam to turn in this report:

It's a new anthem and unfamiliar teams in the pre-game highlights, but the packed stands full of 50,000 enthusiastic home supporters seem to care little, as they experience the joy of a mid-week European clash -- Manchester United's first such match outside of the Champions League since 1995.

The contest began cagily enough, both clubs longstanding veterans of the conservative approach required to succeed in pan-European football.  As the clock ticked toward 15 minutes, though, the game began to open up ever so slightly, with the home side seemingly the primary beneficiary of the increasing amounts of open space showing on the green grass of the Amsterdam Arena pitch.

Both teams battled for supremacy in the middle third, and the lack of substantive penetration of the final third on either end was primarily due to the teams' conservative opening gambits rather than a lack of accurate passing or strategic indecision.

Javier Hernandez gave the hosts something to think about as he was slipped behind the Dutch defense, but Ajax 'keeper Kenneth Vermeer was alert to the danger and responded well by smothering the ball before the Mexican could inflict any further damage. For their part, Ajax seemed content holding the ball, as if possession alone could guarantee them a result, while lacking the true cut and thrust shown by United, even if the end result was the same. The hosts did finally call on United 'keeper David De Gea as the clock hit the half hour mark, although the embattled Spaniard's full stretch more than covered the open net behind him.

The vaunted Cleverley effect was little noticed by the interval, which ended on a small note of controversy as Ajax pleaded for a non-existent foul just outside of the box.  That their pleas were correctly waved off by Italian referee Gianluca Rocchi was confirmed by television video evidence as the two teams trotted off the pitch.

A track meet broke out to begin the second half, as if the coaches' halftime instructions included a change to the two teams' pay structure, with new compensation measured in terms of a taxi cab, payable according to the number of miles traveled. The feeling of a goal grew near, with United laying siege to the hosts' goalmouth, but it wasn't until Ashley Young poked home a misdirected cross near the hour mark that the seal was finally broken and the visitors took a deserved 1-nil lead.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly: Manchester United 2 - Liverpool 1

Today's blog features farlieonfootie's newest man with a point of view, Columnist Jeff.  In his inaugural piece, Jeff offers his esteemed opinion on last weekend's action versus Liverpool, including his thoughts on the now infamous "handshake-gate."  How Jeff manages to type so well while simultaneously clutching a craft beer tightly in one of his hands is a question that we'll eventually have to get to the bottom of....  

With no further ado, Columnist Jeff (@jghopslam on Twitter, for those of you keeping track):

The Good

First, the good: Manchester United wasn't flawless on the day, but they were certainly the better side over a full 90 minutes. The first ten minutes of the match were cagey from both sides, and United surprisingly had little of the ball on their home pitch.  Liverpool looked up for a fight, but that quickly changed after ten minutes passed. United wasn't necessarily at their usual best: their passing was off at times, but it was certainly brilliant in spurts.  What was most impressive on the day, however, was the Reds' movement, tackling, and strong desire to win every 50/50 battle.  The stats won't show a lot of fouls, but then again, they didn't need to: United's tackling was simply on point throughout the game. United just seemed more determined than Liverpool in every facet of the game, and you really can't ask for anything more than that.

I stated that United's passing was off, and it certainly was at times. The main culprit early on was Ryan Giggs, but what the Welshman lacked in accuracy, he more than made up for with his brilliant movement and dribbling.  The passing wasn't all bad, though.  It has to be said that the passing of Scholes and Carrick was often brilliant to watch. I tweeted during the game that Scholes and Carrick may not be Xavi and Iniesta, but their bossing of the midfield was still football porn,  nonetheless. 

The buildup to Scholes' header directly at Reina certainly deserved a goal. That WAS vintage United at its best. What was lovely to watch on that buildup was how well Wayne Rooney and Danny Welbeck work together (I'll come back to that later). The man that most impressed me during the match, though, (and has been impressing me and I'm sure all United supporters of late) was Antonio Valencia. The man is simply on fire, and it's hard to argue that there is a winger in Europe playing better than him at the moment. Week after week he is making every Left Back he comes up against look foolish. Saturday was no different; his abuse of Liverpool's Jose Enrique was borderline criminal. 

Time after time, Valencia got down the right wing and either blew past Enrique, out-muscled him (Enrique is no light weight, by the way), or simply dribbled around him. It was surely lovely to watch.  Every week Valencia is making me feel guilty that I said in the beginning of the year that he was "playing more like a Wigan player than a United player."  The man was obviously not 100% back from his injury at the time. I can't wait until we get both Nani and Ashley Young back from injury, as we will have a lethal combination of wingers at our disposal. I'd like to see a stat on how many games this season we've had all three of these guys healthy and available to play at the same time. It can't be many.

Back to Rooney and as importantly, Welbeck: these two just simply click. They both seem to be on the same wavelength at the moment.  Rooney, despite having four goals in two games is really not firing on all cylinders in my opinion, which is scary for the rest of the League to contemplate, because he is bound to break out at any moment.  Call me crazy, but I don't think he's at his absolute best right now.  When he's on top of his game he is unplayable.  At the moment, however, while he has shown some great soccer in bursts (think the second half on Saturday, or the second half a week earlier, against Chelsea), I also believe he is not always making the best decisions with the ball, particularly with his passing and movement in the final third of the pitch. With that said, he has also played of late like a man possessed, and that is more than making up for the lack of the things I just mentioned above. 

Rooney definitely seems to love working with Welbeck.  Their one-twos and holdup play for each other is brilliant, and they seem to be gelling more and more with each game.  Welbeck had another great game, even though he didn't show up on the scoresheet. He just seems to do all the little things right. He is becoming a complete forward before our very eyes, and it's truly a joy to watch. It's amazing that he's been able to keep last year's fan favorite, Chicharito, and last years top goal scorer, Dimitar Berbatov, on the bench.  But it surely isn't without merit.

There's one last person I want to mention from this game, and that's Rafael.  Since coming back from injury, the Brazilian fullback has been in top form. He and Valencia have been dominating the  right-side of the pitch for weeks now.  Valencia was on form before Rafael returned from injury, but it surely isn't just a coincidence that he's been even better since Rafael has come back. 

We all know that Rafael is great going forward. What I've been most impressed with of late, however, is his defending. His defensive game doesn't get much mention and often gets criticized due to his aggressive fouls that sometimes lead to trouble. Since his return, though, Rafael seems to have gotten the hot-headed fouls out of his system while still maintaining his aggressiveness. In the Liverpool game, I can't remember a single time when he let someone beat him, and his tackling was brilliant throughout. He just seems to have a knack for stealing the ball off attackers.  I don't have to stats to back it up, but from what I saw he had many interceptions and won many one-on-one battles throughout the game.  

None of this is new or comes as a surprise: the potential has always been there, but again his over-aggressiveness has hurt him in the past.  Case in point is the Champions League game against Bayern a couple years ago. Rafael was having a brilliant game.  He had Ribery, one of the best and trickiest wingers in the world, completely in his back pocket. Only to then make some bad decisions, which led him to being sent off.  I'm not seeing those bad decisions this season.  It was only a matter a time before he matured and got that out of his system.  Rafael's biggest challenge now will be to stay healthy, but that's a story for another day. Anyway, I've been saying this since his debut for the club: this kid will be the best Right Back in the world someday. Barring injuries that will happen; there is no doubt in my mind.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Game, Set, and Match: Barcelona 3 - Bayer Leverkusen 1

photo by Evil Erinvia PhotoRee

Barcelona traveled to Germany to take on Leverkusen last night as the Champions League started up again, the latest round a visceral reminder of the early and unexpected exit that Manchester United was dealt when this tournament was last played. Without a rooting interest to compel me to watch the proceedings, I adopted more of a neutral stance when choosing which game to watch this round, and found myself viewing Barca's visit to Germany in search of an answer the age old question: does speed beat height?

There have been several truisms in the Pep Guardiola era at Barcelona: one is the almost universal admiration for the "Barcelona way" of football, a 21st century re-boot of Johan Cruyff's Clockwork Orange.  A lesser known but equally valid truism, however, is that Barcelona has struggled on the road in the Champions League over the past several years.  And if their problems on the road in this competition weren't enough, all is not necessarily well for the Blaugrana even in La Liga these days, with Barca  falling ten points off the pace set by their arch rivals from Madrid after their latest loss this weekend. Would that poor road record and weak run of league form carry over into the team's performance on Tuesday -- could there be another shock Champions League exit in store? -- or were the Blaugrana merely playing possum, waiting to turn on the afterburners only when needed?

Barcelona saw plenty of possession as the game kicked off, weaving their way in and around their taller Teutonic counterparts, while stringing their tiki taka passing game along, the ball moving this way and that, one ball following the other as regularly as the beat of a metronome.  At the halfway point of the game's first 45 minutes, Barcelona's possession bordered on 80%.  For their part, Leverkusen countered with their irregular and lurching runs forward, often forgetting to take the ball along with them.  The Germans were rudely and repeatedly reminded of the importance of that latter action as they were forced to beat hasty and rather regular retreats to stop yet another Barcelona attack on the home side's goal.

If the 30,000 German fans had come to see the visitors play football, then surely they were sated by the 40th minute, having watched the men in green complete approximately seven passes for every one completed by the home side.  But if Leverkusen thought they had held their visitors' dominating ball retention to an interesting but ultimately meaningless statistic, they were sadly mistaken: with less than four minutes to go in the half it took only one Lionel Messi flick of the foot to find Alexis Sanchez goal bound, as the visitors finally found a point to go along with their statistical domination of the proceeding so far.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Game Day Beer Review: Moa Brewing Breakfast Wheat Ale

(5.50% ABV)  I have to admit I was first attracted to this beer by its packaging.  Much like a reader who judges a book by its cover, I was intrigued enough by the attractive packaging to give this beer a try -- see below for a picture of the box that a four-pack of this unique wheat ale comes in.

Moa Breakfast Ale is fermented in a cork and cage bottle, and I poured it into a pilsner glass to enjoy. The beer comes out of the bottle a brilliant golden yellow, and man, this thing is absolutely alive with carbonation. It just looks zesty.... It's also got a head of foam that's as white as the highest mountain tops on the Southern Island of New Zealand, the area  from which this beer hails.  Interestingly, it's an area that's better known for its white wines than beer, but Moa Brewing is doing its best to change all that.

I'm getting floral notes on the nose. Moa Breakfast Ale smells sweet, like a subtle kind of bubble gum.  There's also a slight hint of perfumy fruit present.

Moa is a very easy drinker. It's crisp and refreshing, showcasing a delicate sweetness, with the same floral yeast and cherry notes as on the nose. Theres just the tiniest bit of Belgian funk noticeable, and a slightly sour finish that keeps this beer from being overly sweet.

It's a very light beer -- and a very enjoyable one, as well.  I could drink this beer all day long.  Moa: it's not just for breakfast anymore.  A-

Monday, February 13, 2012

More Questions Than Answers, Part II: Round 25 in the BPL

Sunderland look a completely different side under Martin O'Neil, who is playing with roughly the same squad as his predecessor had....  Is Steve Bruce really that poor a manager?  The Black Cats were extremely unfortunate to lose 2-1 to the Arsenal on Saturday, although only a true Gooner-hater could begrudge Thierry Henry his late game winner in his last game in his beloved Arsenal kit....

o And where did this kid James McLean come from? This is more a rhetorical question, as I actually know where he came from (Derry City, brought in by Brucie to Sunderland), but what a difference that guy is making to a dangerous Sunderland side....

I wonder what Aston Villa owner Randy Lerner thinks of his decision to dump O'Neil now...?  Is Alex McLeish really filling O'Neil'
s boots?

o And speaking of clueless American owners in the EPL, what is one to make of the curious case of John W. Henry? The owner of Liverpool and the Boston Red Sox was conspicuously silent in his reaction to Luis Suarez' despicable racist behavior until the club finally issued a statement yesterday.  There's no way in the world that Henry would have allow this type of behavior -- condoned by the club and manager, no less -- to happen with the Boston Red Sox. Did he think Americans aren't paying attention because this was all happening overseas?

o And speaking of despicable racist behavior, Micha Richards chose to leave Twitter this week after being barraged by racist tweets.  What in the hell is happening in England?

o Did anyone else enjoy seeing the pair of American flags behind Tim Howard's goal as Everton took on Chelsea at Goodison Park on Saturday? There was one flag for each American in the Toffees' starting lineup. And with a shutout and an assist on the afternoon, the Yanks proved they're more than just a couple of pretty faces, too.

What in the world is wrong with Petr Cech, and how has he escaped the type of criticism solely reserved for David De Gea?  On at least three separate occasions on Saturday, Cech kicked the ball straight to an Everton player. As if trying to deflect attention away from his poor performance, Cech even tried the latest publicity stunt, Bradying, after he was beaten for the second time on the afternoon.

Petr Cech Tries the Newest U.S. Fad: Bradying

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Shaking Fists: Manchester United 2 - Liverpool 1

photo by Vectorportalvia PhotoRee

Luis Suarez' return to the Liverpool starting lineup overshadowed all other stories leading up to kickoff at Old Trafford yesterday. For those of our readers who've been away on a short visit to another planet, the Uruguayan striker's return was predicated by an eight game suspension due to the racial abuse he hurled at United defender Patrice Evra the last time these two teams met in the League.  Evra himself was in his customary left back spot and sporting the captain's armband to begin the game, necessitating a midfield handshake between the abuser and his victim just prior to the festivities commencing. 

Somewhat unsurprisingly, and despite the public assurances of his Manager to the contrary, Suarez tried to skip Evra in the handshake line, injecting even further drama into an already caustic atmosphere.  To their credit, United fans showered the racist Suarez with a resounding chorus of boos, vocally demonstrating their displeasure with the Uruguayan's despicable behavior. The atmosphere that ensued made a tense rivalry even more overheated than per usual. Herewith, our report:

I'm so blown away by the refusal of Suarez to shake the offered hand of the United Captain that the first five minutes of the match pass in a  complete blur.  By the time I come back to my senses, Antonio Valencia is hauled down just outside the box by Jose Enrique, necessitating the first crucial decision of the afternoon.  Referee Phil Dowd -- who will have his hands full today -- chooses to ignore the flashpoint and instead of brandishing a deserved card, he awards a free kick. Enrique bowls over Rafael just a few minutes later, and once again Dowd refuses to go to his pocket, but the warning signs have been served to both Liverpool and the referee.

At the other end, Liverpool right back Glenn Johnson flashes just inches wide of goal, De Gea beaten, as he momentarily escapes Evra's attention, and cuts inside before taking aim. The possession is virtually 50/50 over the game's first 15 minutes, and it still feels at this point as if both sides are feeling the other out. In truth, there's some sloppy play from both teams, turnovers marring the enjoyment of both sets of fans.

Rafael and Danny Welbeck almost combine to sneak the ball past Liverpool 'keeper Pepe Reina after the United defender was played into the box by Antonio Valencia.  United's own understated South American, this one from Ecuador, and a person who prefers to let his boots do the talking, is giving Stewart Downing and Enrique all they can handle on the right hand side of the pitch.

There's not many chances for either side in the game's first 25 minutes, as both sides continue to probe cautiously. United are guilty of one too many turnovers at the game's half hour mark, leading to a choppy feel to the game, and the most sustained possession comes from the defenders on both sides of the ball.

Paul Scholes' bullet header is beaten away by Reina after a wonderful passing spell by the home side; in truth, if the header was either side of the Spaniard, the Reds would be one to the good on the afternoon. Welbeck flashes forward a minute later as United begin to stretch the Liverpool defense for the first time, but his decision making betrays him as he chooses to cross the ball into a blur of white shirts rather than take an unobstructed shot on goal.

Welbeck displays some sure-footed touches to create another half chance, but once again, that's all it is -- a half chance.  The Englishman seems slightly reluctant to pull the trigger on the afternoon, more content to try an intricate movement with Rooney than a solo shot on goal. It's a tense atmosphere heading onto the locker rooms, as Suarez stirs the pot once again by firing a ball into the stands after the halftime whistle. Referee Dowd is so blind to any transgressions by this point that he appears to be escorted off the pitch by a seeing eye dog.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Game Day Beer Review: Sierra Nevada Ruthless Rye American India Pale Ale

(6.60% ABV) Poured on draft into a trusty pilsner glass, Ruthless Rye is a rich copper color, with a massive tannish head that really brings the beer to life.

The beer smells primarily of hops, although there's a certain spiciness to it, as well. I'm sensing just the slightest hint of citrus on the nose, but you almost have to be looking for it to really notice its presence.

On tasting, the rye hits you up front, with a rich, earthy flavor that gradually settles into that familiar Sierra Nevada smooth and hoppy finish.  The beer has a greater depth than the brewery's flagship pale ale.

This is a nicely carbonated beer, and an enjoyable take on a classic American style. A-

Friday, February 10, 2012

Emotional Ginger

Correspondent Ed is an Emotional Ginger
photo by ljcybergalvia PhotoRee

Correspondent Ed is in a fragile state of mind:
o Spurs played an almost perfect game last Monday.  They put on a defensive lineup, stayed behind the ball, and played for a draw.  I say almost perfect because Gareth Bale really should have scored, and they lost track of Luis Suarez for an instant, and he also should have scored. 

o I cannot understand the reluctance of Kenny Dalglish to start Suarez.  Surely he's been training and is ready to go.  In fact, he dramatically changed the scoring opportunities of Liverpool as soon as he entered the field.  If he was coming back from injury, sitting him is understandable.  But from a suspension it makes no sense.

o Speaking of Suarez, upon viewing the replay there is no question he should have been sent off for his kick of Scott Parker.  Immediately before the play, he gives a forearm to Parker's back.  There is no question that he knows Parker is there when swings his leg at him.  As someone not entirely familiar with Suarez's history, it's probably taken me too long to realize that this guy has problems.  The support of Dalglish and the Liverpool fan base will likely blow up in their faces on this one.

o But why, oh why, do we constantly have players getting away with this conduct in an era when we can review their actions on tape?  It's time for football associations worldwide to review and penalize dives and cheap shots.  It is hard to understand any rationale for not doing this.  Stopping the game is one thing, but allowing players like Adam Johnson to flop and admit he flopped (to his credit) without penalty is another. 

o Uncle Harry was found not guilty of tax evasion.  This is good news for Spurs fans worldwide, and hopefully will provide a much needed boost for the team and its manager for the final third of the season.  The problem, of course, is that now Redknapp is the odds-on favorite for the England team.  From 20,000 feet, I would think that the England position is a job no one should want -- intense scrutiny and pressure, minimal time to prepare, egos galoure, and overly optimistic expectations.  I'm also hoping that the loyalty of Spurs to Redknapp through the ordeal will get him to stay.  However, I do not know the pull that country will have on Uncle Harry.  We will see.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

One's a Born Liar, the Other's Convicted. Or Something Like That...

photo by jimmyack205via PhotoRee

So, two pieces of news to discuss, both inter-related, but neither setting my particular world on fire.  It may be a different situation for Spurs' fans, though, as they are the ones who could be most affected by yesterday's twin deveopments.  Viz.:

Harry Redknapp was acquitted by a jury in London of all charges stemming from his prosecution for alleged tax evasion.  While I profess to be an expert in neither English jurisprudence nor tax matters, I do happen to know one -- or at least I know someone who has an opinion on the matter, which is all that really counts in today's talking head world.  For confidentiality reasons, I'm duty bound to keep our expert's name private, but you can call him Rosie....  And here's Rosie's take on the verdict in the Redknapp case:
What a travesty of justice.  The defense counsel called an admission by Harry on tape to a newspaper reporter "repugnant to all our basic instincts of fairness."  I would like him to explain why a taped admission is "repugnant" in any way, other than that it teed up his client for a conviction.  Oh, but that's right, Harry was lying to the paper because. . . . .well, no reason, really, just because he could, whereas with the police he was 100% truthful (despite his first attempt to keep everything under wraps) because, well, there would be no possible motive to obfuscate the issue with the police, would there?  I mean, everyone tells the police the truth!  
Harry also seemed to have taken the position that he is an idiot of a businessman, but yet he's clever enough to open offshore accounts in tax havens (just a coincidence, I suppose, that he picked Monaco, and not France or the United States) for, ostensibly, tax purposes or portfolio deals, or both, and to be a manager that has built a reputation on clever transfer deals -- thus the "wheeler dealer" moniker (his offense to that remark was always related to this trial).  
I also found the "we paid tons of taxes, why would we cheat on these?" to be entirely unpersuasive.  Most people that cheat on their taxes pay something, just not everything.  I heard the judge instructed the jury that they had to be 100% sure that the defendants did x, y, and z.  If that's the standard in Britain, no one is going to get convicted any more.  What happened to beyond a reasonable doubt?  Weird.   
From what I head about what happened, this seems to be slam dunk that the prosecution lost to a celebrity.  I think Harry's popularity won the day.  He's a great manager, but wow, what an awful story.  I would love to hear a person on the jury interviewed;  I suspect they would say that they felt about 99% sure he did it, but couldn't get to the 100% number.  
In a related development, across town yesterday afternoon, Fabio Capello resigned as England Manager.  Related, you ask?  But of course....  You don't actually think the FA would have accepted Ab Fab's resignation if Redknapp had been convicted, do you?

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Game Day Beer Review: North Coast Brewing Old Rasputin Anniversary Edition XIV Barrel-Aged Russian Imperial Stout

(11.5% ABV)  It's a Big Game tradition: the first time I tasted the Anniversary Edition of this world-class beer, it was during the Super Bowl two years ago.  As a consequence of that fateful night, I've been on the lookout for it again ever since.  Having learned from North Coast Brewing's Twitter account of its recent release, and with Super Sunday drawing close, I stepped up my detective efforts to locate the barrel-aged version of Old Rasputin, Anniversary Edition XIV.  Although I was ultimately unable to locate it nearby, I did manage to track down a bottle at BX Beer Depot in Palm Beach County, Florida-- a not inconsiderable distance from the farlieonfootie tasting room. 

I finally popped open the bottle during the Big Game earlier this week, and it didn't disappoint: I poured Old Rasputin XIV into a Riedel "O" Series tumbler, and beheld the deep, dark chocolate brown sight of it, with its massive toffee-colored head that lasted a good, long time.  The 14th Anniversary Edition smelled heavily of bourbon and licorice, fueled by booze. Just on smell alone, it was evident that this was going to be a massive beer, a real beast.

On tasting, I got rich, boozy chocolate, like a bourbon-soaked chocolate chip. There was also just the slightest hint of vanilla flavor, likely from the oak barrel aging, that rounded out any potentially sharp edges from the 11.5% alcohol.  The beer had a nice malty depth to it, and a medium- to full-bodied finish.  It packs a serious punch -- this is definitely a sipper, and one you're going to want to share, unless you like waking up on the floor.

I'd love to see how this one ages, but I was only able to find a single bottle this time.  That sad news was tempered by two pieces of better fortune: the Giants' fourth Super Bowl title is now in the bag, and the friend that I shared the bottle with on Super Bowl Sunday let me in on a little secret -- he still has a bottle of Anniversary Edition XII hidden away for a later date. A

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Johnson's a Cheat and Dean's a Stooge: Round 24 in the BPL

Mike Dean in Better Days
photo by twm1340via PhotoRee

Lots of fans disguised as empty seats at the Emitates on Saturday to watch Arsenal vs Blackburn. Is it getting too expensive for the regular guy to see the games, or the sign of a burgeoning protest against Arsene Wenger and Ivan Gazidis? -- to paraphrase a certain Sir Will, That is the question....

o They absent fans missed quite a game. I'm not certain if Correspondent Ed watched, but Theo Walcott took the Arsenal offense out for a drive on Saturday, teeing up Robin Van Persie for a couple of tap ins. The Flying Dutchman will rarely have an easier hat trick than he grabbed on Saturday, and he made our decision about which man to name Player of the Week rather easy, too.

o Not for nothing, but Arsenal 'keeper Wojciech Sczcesny looks slightly like Archie, of American comic book fame.

Archie, or Wojciech Sczcesney?  You decide.
photo by Jason Grotevia PhotoRee

o Who says you can't teach an old dog new tricks?  Arsene Wenger doesn't learn. Last weekend, Arsene Wenger took off Alex Oxlade-Chamberlin to a round chorus of boos from the crowd. So this time when he was ready to replace his superstar newsboy after 70 minutes, Andrei Arshavin was nowhere on sight. Welcome, Thierry Henry.

o Pitch invasion seems to be the new trend in the BPL.  Last week some guy handcuffed himself to the goalpost at Goodison Park; this week, a cat on the pitch interrupted play at Anfield.  While the ESPN cameras lingered lovingly on said kitty, I kept wondering if the publicity might encourage other felines to try the same trick....

o Stoke played Sunderland in a winter Wonderland, like a game played entirely within a snowglobe.  It was pretty to watch on television, but I'm not so sure I would have wanted to be a fan sitting and watching in the stands. It was difficult to see the ball, and the players were slipping and sliding all over, but the weather made for some compelling viewing -- from Florida, where it was 80 degrees farenheit.