Saturday, March 31, 2012

Game Day Beer Review: Brooklyn Brewery Mary's Maple English Porter

Porter has never stood out as one of my favorite beer styles, despite its association with George Washington and the American Revolution.  Nevertheless, I made a mental note to seek out Mary's Maple Porter from the Brooklyn Brewery when I saw it for sale, and I'm very glad I did.  In part I was enticed because maple syrup seems to be today's trendy beer ingredient, finding its way into more and more offerings, and it's easy to see why: it tastes damn good with beer.

Spotted on tap in Fort Lauderdale, Mary's Maple Porter was brewed with the addition of a decent amount of the aforementioned maple syrup, and its release notes say that the syrup brings out a "complex interplay with caramel, chocolate, and coffee flavors from [the] blend of roasted malts."

What I'll say is the following: Mary's Maple Porter was poured into a snifter, and appeared a solid dark brown.  The beer also featured a massive mocha-colotred head, as shown in the photo above.
The beer's smell was a bit difficult to pin down, but if pressed I would say it featured a subdued chocolate scent, with maybe just the slightest scent of hops also apparent.

It was sweet from the outset of the tasting, with a definite syrup flavor on the finish. I feel like I just had breakfast, but boy did I like it.  Mary's featured a nice bit of carbonation, which gave it a good mouthfeel, and made it easy to drink.  So much so that I wanted another...which I then had!: A

Friday, March 30, 2012


photo by Muffetvia PhotoRee

While “yeesh” is not a word recognized by, it has been a common word around our house of late, along with those words that have letters substituted, in polite company, by a combination of ampersands, asterisks and exclamation points.  Capitulating to Queen’s Park Rangers at Loftus Road last week surely slapped the Champions League hopes out of even the most ardent Liverpool supporter.  But losing to lowly Wigan at Anfield this weekend, after inducing a torrent of the aforementioned password tricksters, produced a general malaise through which I have been unable to navigate and to which I have only been able to say “Yeesh!”

Speaking of appropriate words, “depose” and “abdicate” come to mind when thinking of King Kenny. In fact, I see three possible scenarios: 1) the Reds turn it around and Dalglish retains his crown; 2) they continue to underperform and Dalglish abdicates his throne preemptively, or upon coming to a “mutual agreement” with management, potentially over the summer ,or certainly if they start the next campaign poorly; or 3) not much has improved in Camelot by mid next season and the King is deposed.  Legendary status will buy him extra, but not unlimited, time.  I, for one, am rooting for him.

They have been called the “Gruesome Foursome” signings: Charlie Adam, Stewart Downing, Andy Carroll and Jordan Henderson. In the case of Henderson, I agree with the moniker - he has been wildly inconsistent, even detrimental at times, with his rare flashes of brilliance a bit like catching a glimpse of the aurora borealis at a temperate latitude.  Still, he is young and may develop, vindicating Dalglish.  Although, I have to say that starting him as much as he has seems excessive, given his contributions to date.

As for the other three members of the quartet, they had all enjoyed recent success in the BPL prior to arriving at Anfield. But, criticism can be directed correctly at Dalglish for spending such amounts on three midfielders while putting Raul Meireles out to pasture and benching Maxi Rodriguez.  Meireles and Maxi were two big reasons for Liverpool’s late-season success last year, and now one wears blue and the other rides pine.  Not to mention Dirk Kuyt, who is none too pleased that, despite being one of the most consistent players in the squad, keeps finding himself coming off the bench (and thank goodness he did in the Carling Cup final).  And let’s not forget the spunky Craig Bellamy, whose ability to be impactful during his brief appearances on the pitch would make him a valuable acquisition even if he didn’t arrive on a free transfer.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Stopped: Barcelona 0 - AC Milan 0

photo by RiyAdh - M!s$via PhotoRee

Wednesday night began with AC Milan never having lost a European quarterfinal match at home.  When the dust had settled on Barcelona's visit to the northern portion of the Italian peninsula, although the home side's record had been tested, it was still intact. To Milan for our game report: 

The opening gambit was fast and furious at both ends: Robinho misfired for the Italians on a point blank opportunity as the game opened, the Brazilian betrayed by his own touch. At the other end, Barcelona wunderkind Lionel Messi was betrayed only by the Italian-laid pitch, which stopped the diminutive Argentine from grabbing an early advantage for his side.

When Milan 'keeper Abbiati felled Barcelona's Alexis Sanchez, all eyes turned expectantly toward the Swedish officiating crew, but the penalty shout was denied. If further evidence was needed that a goal from the visitors might soon be forthcoming, it came in the form on a slightly offside Messi tapping the ball behind Abbiati: while the crowd gasped, however, the scoreboard remained unchanged.

Milan's Zlatan Ibrahimovic flubbed his lines during an early attempt to play a starring role in the evening's festivities, the enigmatic Swede shooting straight at Victor Valdes when a more creative offering would have found the net. While Barcelona controlled the lion's share of possession and dictated the game's tempo, their Italian hosts remained just dangerous enough that neither side's supporters could be comfortable throughout an engaging but scoreless first half.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Impotent: Chelsea 1 - Benfica 0

photo by mik_pvia PhotoRee

Roberto Di Matteo's Chelsea side invaded a raucous Estadio da Luz Tuesday night, in search of a first leg victory in the Champions League Elite Eight round.  The aging Londoners introduced fresh legs into their lineup, including those of forgotten man Solomon Kalou, while resting several -- shall we say -- more mature players such as Frank Lampard, in the hope of lasting a full 90 minutes against their Portuguese rivals. The evening represented a homecoming of sorts for two players in Blue, with Raul Meireles returning to his home country (albeit to a rival team's lair) and David Luiz playing against his former teammates from just over a year ago.

While Benfica 'keeper Artur was less than authoritative on an early cross, and Ramires looked lively in the early going for the visitors, it was the home side with the game's first real opportunity.  Chelsea's blushed were spared, however, as Oscar Cardozo fired wide after being picked out on the lob by Javi Garcia.

Juan Mata busied himself buzzing about the pitch like a pesty fly, albeit an insect wearing orange boots. Nico Gaitan and his teammates, on the other hand, more closely resembled a swarm of gnats -- clustering and problematic, but a group which dissolved just prior to the moment at which they would be struck.

Chelsea had good reason to be the happier of the two squads heading into the break, coming closest to a goal through Meireles' nearly lethal dart, while having blunted Benfica's attack at almost every turn.  In general, Di Matteo's charges had not allowed the home side to impose their will in a tepid 45 minutes of sleepy inaction.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

A Real Nail Biter: Manchester United 1 - Fulham 0

photo by Arturo de Albornozvia PhotoRee

I should have known there would be a problem when I saw the overabundance of confident pre-game chatter on my Twitter timeline, showcasing lots of happy talk about narrowing the goal difference on City.  A strange thing happened on the way to a 4-0 victory, however.  Instead of a comfortable walk in the park, United were forced to hang on for a 1-nil nail biter over Fulham  yesterday at Old Trafford.  Despite the narrowness of the result -- a game in which United appeared  they may surrender the lead on multple occasions in the last fifteen minutes -- the win moved the Red Devils three points clear at the top of the table after thirty games.  It's squeaky bum time for the Champions, a time of year they know well.  To Old Trafford for our match report:  

o United looked in the mood early on. Fielding an exceptionally strong squad at home, the Reds showed no lack of ambition or aggression against the Cottagers in the opening ten minutes. Allowing Fulham virtually no opportunities to leave their own end of the pitch, it was only the final touch which stopped the Red Devils from taking an early and deserved lead.

o I don't know if it was the television broadcast or the excitement of the title race, but the crowd at Old Trafford on Monday clearly started the contest in top voice. They then proceeded to fade pretty quickly as Fulham came into the game....

o Clint Dempsey in pink boots?  No thank you.... I'm guessing that Ryan Giggs got a good view of them from the back, however, as Deuce flew by him repeatedly in the center of the pitch.  Playing Michael Carrick and Giggs in the middle opened up quite a bit of space for Dempsey and Moussa Dembele to run into, as Fulham withstood United's early assault, came out of their shell, and gradually began to dominate midfield.

o United were absolutely wasteful in possession last night, displaying a heavy touch and a knack for wayward passing.  Several Reds were guilty of turning the ball over repeatedly, including some of the biggest names on the pitch: Wayne Rooney, Giggs, and Ashley Young among the guilty.

o Wazza's goal right before halftime was much needed, and brought a palpable sense of relief to the proceedings. Jonny Evans may not have scored a goal this week, but his assist on the goal was a clutch play by the Northern Irishman, who appears to be gaining new fans each week with his exploits filling Vidic's boots.

o Last season it was early goals that gave United confidence and led to the title -- remember Chicharito's opening minute tally against Chelsea...?  This season the Reds' magic hour happens to be just before half-time.  It seems as if we get the goals just when they are needed most, but are only rarely able to begin the game on a roll -- the kind of roll that leads to big goal outbursts.  Here's hoping United can change that, and add some goals to their tally in one or two of the upcoming games.

o Antonio Valencia may just be the most terrifying one footed player of all time. Combined with Rafael, who himself had a terrific game on Monday, United tore John Arne Riise to shreds on the right hand side of the pitch for much of the night.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Like an Overstuffed Sausage: BPL Round 30

photo by rickvia PhotoRee

o Fernando Torres, Raul Meireles and David Luiz on Wednesday; Didier Drogba, Ramires, and Gary Cahill on Saturday. Does anyone get the sense that RDM hasn't solved the problem that plagued AVB: i.e., that Chelsea's coaches this season have no idea who their best eleven players are...?

o Chelsea vs. Spurs on Saturday could have been useful as Exhibit A in the case of Quality v. The BPL.  Anyone who suffered through the weekend's first match would have a tough time trying to convince a jury that the BPL this season is as good as ever. The match featured so much passing sideways and backwards that I kept expecting Gareth Barry to appear on the pitch.

o Hauled off the pitch after 60 minutes on Saturday, David Silva is learning a hard lesson: it's a very long season in England, and Stoke is a tough place to go and get a result.  The pint-sized Spaniard is well off his early season form, played into the ground through over-use by his Manager, Roberto Mancini. He looked like a dark haired Bjorn Borg after getting his first half headband, courtesy of a stray Stoke elbow. Bjorn Borg after playing John McEnroe in the 1980 Wimbledon final -- the one with the 18-16 fifth set.

o After Wayne Rooney's bicycle kick winner last season, you'd think City would be used to dropping points on incredible goals.  But there's no way that they could have expected Peter Crouch to score the way he did.  Hell, even Crouch could not have meant to score on that shot. Or did he...?!  Making our Player of the Week's stunning goal even more remarkable, the ball never touched the ground from the time it left Asmir Begovitch's foot from a goal kick until it hit the back of Joe Hart's net. A certain contender for goal of the year....

o Carlos Tevez looked like an overstuffed sausage in his extra-large City kit -- as if the Argentine spent the last five months becoming very familiar with the dessert aisle of his local bodega....  No wonder he was brought on for only a twenty minute cameo at Stoke on Saturday: his kit wouldn't have lasted the full ninety.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Game Day Beer Review: Victory Brewing Baltic Thunder Baltic Porter

(8.5% ABV)  Poured into a snifter from the bottle.

Baltic Thunder appears a tawny brown with a thick off white head that displaysonly moderate retention.  The beer smells of abundant dark fruits, anise, and coffee, with a slight booziness also present.

Its taste is rich malts, dark chocolate and weak coffee, followed by a dry finish, possibly due to the alcohol.  Baltic Thunder has a mellow finish for such a big name, with just the right amount of carbonation leading to a very nice mouthfeel.  Another great one from Victory: B+

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Game Day Beer Review: Dogfish Head Tweason'ale Fruit Ale

I was looking forward to this next beer from the very first time I read about Dogfish Head's new "in-between" seasonal, which also just happens to be a gluten-free beer.  Tweason'ale was designed to be released four times per year, in between this Delaware brewery's various seasonal offerings (think Chickory Stout, Aprihop, Festina Pesche, and Punkin Ale).  And so it was with great excitement that I spied it on offer recently at one of my local watering holes and determined to give it a go.

According to its release notes, Tweason'ale was brewed with a mild sorghum base rather than a traditional barley foundation, and offers vibrant strawberry notes, while also featuring the addition of a malty buckwehat honey.

Poured on tap into a pint glass, I found Tweason'ale a deep golden color, with a reddish tinge.  The picture above makes the beer appear a lot darker than it otherwise should -- what can I say except the lighting was fairly low in the bar where I drank it....   The pour also featured a reasonable sized head that faded quickly into oblivion.

Tweason'ale smelled sweet, almost like candy. The smell of strawberries was also clearly there.  The strawberry was a bit more muted in the taste, but still definitely there.  I also got some strong honey notes. 

It's definitely different from most beers, and maybe lacking that certain bit of depth you might expect to find in a barley-based beer.  It was decently carbonated, maybe overly so.

Nevertheless, I like these guys: they consistently push the boundaries of how we should think about beer.  I could easily see where this would be refreshing on a hot summer day -- of which we have quite a few in Florida: B+ 

Friday, March 23, 2012

The Magic of BPL Round 29

photo by Miss Sydney Marievia PhotoRee

Round 29 combined BPL action with the weekend's FA Cup bouts, leading to a mishmash of football, and many teams playing twice in a very short period of time:

o I've got to say I was impressed with referee Michael Oliver, who oversaw a testy match on Saturday between Wigan and West Bromwich Albion. Showing maturity well beyond his 26 years, Oliver did a masterful job of straddling the very fine line between being a disciplinarian and letting the players play the game. In the process, he certainly didn't please either team -- but the mark of a fair deal in my book is one in which both sides feel a little aggrieved. There are big things in store for this kid: mark my words.

o The scenes out of White Hart Lame on Saturday were distressing and terrifying to witness, and made me realize -- once again -- that it's just a game we're watching. Full credit to the players, fans, officials and announcers who immediately grasped the impact of what they were viewing -- you could see the shock, terror and worry etched in their every face. Howard Webb's decision to abandon the game was the proper one, and greeted with great respect by the fans, who could easily have reacted differently. Our prayers go out to Bolton's Fabrice Muamba, and we wish him only the best, and a speedy recovery.

o It was the weekend of the misfit: how else to explain the fact that Fernando Torres and Stewart Downing both found the net on Sunday...?

o I tried to watch Sunderland at Blackburn, but I have to be honest: the contest just seemed devoid of life. There were fan scattered around empty seats, and the general crowd din was so low you could practically hear individual voices. All in all, it kind of reminded me of watching a Florida (Miami?) Marlins game, and trust me -- that's not a glowing recommendation for the BPL.

o I'll say this only once this season: Without Junior Hoilet, Blackburn's season would be in the toilet. But thanks to the best Canadian export to the BPL since a certain fragile midfielder in Manchester, Rovers look as if they may indeed beat the drop.

o It was great to see Fernando Torres returning to his unassuming life as Clark Kent mid-week against City, after a quick weekend cameo as Superman against Leicester City.  Misjudging balls, displaying the touch of a deaf, dumb and blind man, and seemingly afraid to shoot -- yup, that's the Torres we've grown to know and love.

o When in doubt, resort to cantenaccio: City went with their vaunted three holding midfielder offense, featuring Nigel De Jong, Ya Ya Toure and Gareth Barry all on the pitch for the second half against Chelsea.  With Samir Nasri also playing, it made for quite a crowd in the middle of the pitch, but in the end it got a result. And wouldn't you know that the play which kept City's title hopes alive would involve the only two men on the side who haven't been played to death this season by Roberto Mancini: Samir Nasri and a certain Carlos Tevez.  And for that very play, we are awarding our Player of the Week title to Sami -- you didn't think it was going to Tevez, did you?

o Meanwhile, I thought Chelsea set up even more negatively than City, and were lucky to get even their single deflected goal.  Sticking the aforementioned 'Nando up front all by himself, and leaving him there to provide "offense," RDM's plan must have involved shutting City out at home. Either the guy is brilliant and has brass balls, or he's a complete and utter idiot -- and the manner of City's 2-1 win made Di Matteo appear rather foolish in the end.

o The Arsenal - Everton game, which began so brilliantly, eventually settled down into a rather drab and dour 1-0 affair.  People can talk all they want about what a great job David Moyes has done, but with his record of producing goals at Goodison this season, I hope he moves up into second place on the BPL's list of longest-tenured coaches after Sir Alex retires....

o Sight of the week: Spurs' fans leaving White Hart Lane with their team down 1-nil in the 85th minute. Talk about fair weather: too bad they missed Rafael Van der Vaarts's dramatic stoppage time equalizer, which kept Tottenham's Champion League hopes alive -- by a thread. With the Blues' loss on Wednesday, the game this weekend between the two London clubs is shaping up into a Champions League six pointer.

This is farlieonfootie for March 23.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Five One Word Questions

Correspondent Ed enjoys playing number games in his spare time
photo by Simon Blackleyvia PhotoRee

From none other than Correspondent Ed:

Before we discuss anything else, it should be said that we at FOF express our best wishes for Fabrice Muamba and his family, and hope for a full recovery. 

Now onto League play.

1.  Torres?

First of all, it was almost a shock to see Fernando Torres bag two against Leicester in Chelsea’s weekend FA cup game.  Plus, Torres actually looked like he knew what he was doing.  Will this give him his confidence back?  Maybe…. But let’s not jump to the conclusion that he will immediately return to the player he was before.  This was a game against Leicester City, of the poorly named Championship Division, in the FA Cup.  It should be noted that the game was exciting, and it makes you wonder:  should the BPL consider . . . 

2.  Playoffs?

Why doesn’t the BPL have playoffs?  I suspect even more games would be impossible for the players.  Plus, without divisions how could it work?  And if divisions were instituted, how would the split be made and what would that mean to games played?  Problems galore, I suppose, but it should be said that what makes the Champions League so fun is that it is one big playoff game.  Someday, I suspect the BPL will see all the money to be made with some kind of playoff format, but until then the closest thing we have is games like . . . 

3.  Chelsea?

A rejuvenated Chelsea will take on City this week at The Emirates.  Chelsea are coming off a series of good wins for the club and their confidence should be riding high.  The effective “rest” this season given to the veterans by AVB may be the only silver lining of the Portuguese manager’s brief reign.  Interim manager Roberto Di Matteo understands that the “core” guys are still good, and that the cast surrounding them has improved, with guys such as Ramires and Mata.  It would seem the team as it is constructed now should undoubtedly be a Top Four team in the BPL.  But ultimately, are they really good enough to beat . . .

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Game Day Beer Review: Brouwerij Bavik Flanders Oud Bruin

(5.50% ABV) From the bottle, Oud Bruin pours a fizzy iced tea-dark brown, with just the tiniest hint of amber.  The  beer begins with an effervescent tan head that quickly fades away to just a ring around the outside of the chalice into which I poured the beer. 

Oud Bruin's smell is sour, with a definite vinegar sourness intermingling with ripe fruits, including cherry.  I'm also getting a whiff of dark fruit, like prune, on the tail end of the nose.

There are definite dark fruits noticeable in drinking, but I'm also getting a bit of a metallic taste. It's a true sour, lip puckeringly so in the middle, but it finishes smoothly, with some slight bit of funk and green apples. None of the flavors really linger all that long, however.

It's fairly thin, well carbonated and tingly on the tongue. This wouldn't be an everyday choice of mine, but I'm glad I tried it. B-

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Game Day Beer Review: Clown Shoes Brown Angel American Brown Ale

(7.00% ABV)  Poured into a modified pilsner glass from the bottle, at home on a lazy Sunday afternoon.

Clown Shoes' Brown Angel is, indeed -- as the name would suggest -- brown, with a hint of ruby, and some effervescent bubbles rising from the depths of the glass. There's an inch thick head of mocha-colored shaving cream that never really goes away.

There are some sharp hops and malt on the nose, with both scents apparent in equal measure. There's also some licorice or anise present.

Smoke is the first sensation I taste, followed by a nice, hoppy mellowness.  I'm also getting coffee and chocolate.  It's fairly different from other brown ales I've tasted previously. I don't know if Iove it, but I definitely don't hate it. B

Monday, March 19, 2012

Le Deluge: Manchester United 5 - Wolverhampton Wanderers 0

photo by jtravismvia PhotoRee

"Après Moi, le deluge." -- Louis XV

Sir Alex opts for an attacking lineup at Molineux, sending out a front line of Wayne Rooney and Chicharito, joined in action by an out-of-position Danny Welbeck and a just-returning-from-injury Antonio Valencia to slay Wolves.  It's a key game for the Red Devils, who will seek to inflict a psychological blow on trailing Manchester City, putting them four points down the table before they even take the pitch for their mid-week clash with Chelsea.

Welbeck and Valencia are joined by the calming presence of Michael Carrick and Paul Scholes in midfield, while the first choice partnership of Rio Ferdinand and Jonny Evans anchor a defense that also consists of Captain Patrice Evra, Rafael and David De Gea. To the Midlands we go for the latest installment of our season-long soap opera:

It's a muddled opening, with both sides seeking to gain the upper hand in the contest's early going. By the time five minutes have passed, United begin to control the game's tempo, Carrick and Scholes conducting the orchestra, and it appears only a slower-than-expected pitch is keeping the Red's passing game from clicking into fruition.  Rafael just misses picking out Chicharito for a certain score, and Wolves can consider themselves warned for the first time on the afternoon.

Michael Carrick fails to trouble Wayne Hennessy as United push attacking numbers forward, lured by the opportunity to attack the League's worst home defense.  Wolves display resiliency in shrugging off their close calls, as Stephen Fletcher almost opens the scoring with an unexpected twist to the plot; his glancing header off of Matt Jarvis' dangerous cross, however, is just wide of target. 

The shocker ultimately comes at the other end, however, and it's not the fact a goal is scored, but who scores it: Jonny Evans is ebullient, as an unmarked Carrick nods a Rooney corner into the box, where the Northern Irishman has an unmarked knee-high finish to put the visitors up 1-nil.

Ronald Zubar is fortunate to escape a red card for a reckless challenge on Rooney, as United look for a stranglehold on the proceedings; instead, he's shown rather leniently shown a yellow. At the other end, Rafael is found guilty of blocking as United give away a free kick, but Fletcher blasts it well high of goal and the danger is averted.

United are unable to get out of second gear, and seem to lack the sparkle of the opening 20 minutes. But when Zubar commits a second late and hard tackle, Wolves can have no complaint as he's shown the door for his second yellow card of the afternoon, and United have been gifted a true opportunity.  When Antonio Valencia fast breaks his way in on goal after a poor Matt Jarvis corner at the other end,  the Ecuadorian needs no additional help, and the opportunity has been grasped, along with a goal that makes the score on the day 2-0.

Danny Welbeck scores a third only two minutes later, tucking Valencia's cross into the back of the net, and goal difference now becomes a crucial target for the Reds -- a big day could be in store.  Valencia is absolutely on fire this afternoon, terrorizing Wolves without answer on the right hand touch line, and when the two teams go into the break the only question that needs to be answered for the rest of the afternoon surrounds the size of the Reds' final margin.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Game Day Beer Review: Radeberger Exportbierbrauerei German-style Pilsner

(4.80%)  Poured on draft at The Ambry, in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, Radeberger Pilsner was a pale golden color, with a thick head of foam that left behind some serious lacing.

The beer smelled bready and yeasty, with maybe a slight hint of floral notes.  Overall, however, it was relatively mild smelling.

It was bubbly and clean tasting, not offensive in any manner, with some sweet corn and a very vague hoppiness.  But it didn't really stand out for me: it's a decent, but not great beer -- all right for a German restaurant or German food, but not something I would search long and hard for at the liquor store.  On a positive note, however, it is highly sessionable. B-

Saturday, March 17, 2012

The Strange Case of Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde Meets Liverpool FC

strange case of dr. jekyll & mr. hyde
Scott returns to our pages with a cautionary tale:

Liverpool v Sunderland – Mr. Hyde

Yeesh!  What a horrible game all around on Saturday, when Liverpool traveled to Sunderland.  While the Reds deserved to beat Arsenal last week and were unlucky not to do so (undone once again by poor finishing), they thoroughly deserved their negative result this time out.  Disjointed and lackluster from the start, despite controlling parts of the game, they never seemed to get in gear.  It’s as if dominating last week (again) without winning (again) somehow painfully lobotomized whatever oomph was left in their league play.

Even the addition of Craig Bellamy and Sebastian Coates to the lineup wasn't enough to spark the visitors.  In fact, aside from knocking down the other team’s players, there wasn’t much action during the first 20 minutes.  Through the haze of poor passing and defending, the most exciting part was a Jordan Henderson shot to the scrotum.  Of course, field conditions didn’t help matters as the pitch seemed to be torn up so much that the ball was constantly popping up.  And, all the while, the fans were regaled by a continuous parade of plastic bags and other trash tumbling across the grass before blustery winds.

Jose Enrique’s performance was disappointing.  Normally reliable and creative going forward, the Spaniard's passing was sloppy and his defending was suspect at times.  But if Jose Enrique was a little off, Charlie Adam was downright awful.  The only thing the Scot seemed to do correctly was marshal the midfield.  Unfortunately, that was always just prior to a bad pass, or a give-away in the midfield, or a poor free kick, or a poor corner, or…. you get the idea.   When he was finally taken off near the 70th minute, it was the first time I’ve ever been relieved to see him not on the field.

Sebastien Coates was just OK.   Frankly, I found myself holding my breath whenever he had to make a play.  Of course, he is young and needs more time.  If only he were a goal-scoring forward or creative midfielder because the defense is OK, we just need goals.  So bad is Liverpool’s conversion ratio (it's the worst in the league, I’m told by our crack team of analysts), that it seemed they were not going to risk it getting any worse against Sunderland, opting instead to lack any creativity whatsoever and not take any shots.  That’ll teach the statisticians!

So laughable was Liverpool’s performance that it seemed only appropriate that Niklas Bendtner’s goal came after the nearly comical turn of events that saw Frazier Campbell’s shot bounce between Pepe Reina and the goal post like a ping pong ball.

Even the addition of Steven Gerrard in the 70th minute was not enough to shake the Reds out of their sleepwalking play.  And, for his part, Gerrard seemed desperate to cram 90 minutes of play into his 20 minutes on the pitch, forcing everything and rushing his shots.

Liverpool v Everton – Dr. Jekyll

Ahh, but what a difference is made by a derby game at home, with your captain starting.  Gerrard transformed from the frenetic, desperate substitute at the Stadium of Light to a poised, goal-scoring leader at Anfield.  Many will point to a few players left on Everton’s bench, but this one wasn’t even close.  Liverpool played as well as they did against Arsenal with one huge difference – they scored.  Of course, by “they” I mean Gerrard, as he bagged all three goals.  And, by “wasn’t even close” I mean I was so terrified of another let down that I couldn’t breathe easily until the second goal came, despite how well they were playing.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Stream of Consciousness: Manchester United 1 - Athletic Bilbao 2

photo by Thejaswivia PhotoRee

Stream of consciousness from United's depressing 2-1 loss at the Lion's Den last night, a result that saw the English Champions ignominiously bounced out of Europe this season.  What you are getting below are the raw, slightly unpolished gems that roll around inside my head on a daily basis:

o Is this game being shot from a blimp?  I feel dizzy I'm so high up right now.

o The game begins with Athletic on the front foot. Hasn't United tried this approach before....?  And failed?

o Was Marcelo Bielsa dressed by a homeless man?  Don't they sell suits in Bilbao...?

o Man United's defense tonight is shocking. Rio Ferdinand and Jonny Evans just got carved open like a Thanksgiving turkey.

o Who created Enjoyneering, and how do you do it?

o Ji-Sung Park is playing tonight as if he's slightly drunk.  Check that -- totally drunk.

o Bloody hell, that's a great finish from Llorente. Sign him up, Fergie, sign him up!

o One goal doesn't change anything. Did we give up when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor? #AnimalHouseQuotesILove

o Rafael injured. What a surprise.... The kid is held together by chewing gum and paper clips.

o I didn't realize berets were still in style in Basque country.  That's such a 1970s look.  Where is Woody Allen when you need him?

o GolTV loses its signal during the match.  What is this, the Internet...?!

o Apparently, sunspots are responsible for the loss of GolTV's signal, although they didn't seem to affect the shots of the crowd.

o Iraola just made Messi look clumsy...!  Too bad he didn't score.

o United look like Stoke City here. Kick and follow. Kick and follow.  Repeat, as necessary. It's depressing, to be honest.

o Playing the role of Peter Cech tonight is Chris Smalling.

o The ball goes in off Rafael for Athletic's second goal.  He's been one of Bilbao's best players in this tie.

o Now Ferdinand's injured. The only thing worse that can happen today is if we score three goals and have to play another European game this season.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Observations from BPL Round 28

photo by C.P.Stormvia PhotoRee

Columnist Randy is back with some random musings from the latest round of fixtures:

Tottenham to be renamed ColdSpurs

Tottenham again lost to a club they should have defeated, in a 1-nil loss at Everton. This marked the first time Spurs have lost three consecutive Premier League games under Harry Redknapp. Over this losing streak, Gareth Bale has all but disappeared and has looked uncomfortable on the right side. Spurs have taken a meager seven of the last possible 21 points, while Arsenal has taken 16 to climb to within one point of third in the table.  Spurs' upcoming games, while mostly winnable, are against teams that are tough to play and could easily see Arsenal pass them by.

Chelsea has petitioned the FA to play only against 10 man squads

Chelsea got their first post-AVB win in the League against Stoke this weekend. While playing fairly poorly, they were able to hang on to beat a 10-man Stoke team after an incredibly stupid red card by Stoke’s Ricardo Fuller. Winning 1-nil against 10 men for 75 minutes is not very confidence inspiring for the future.  Chelsea have taken only nine out of the last 21 possible points while dropping to 5th in the table, and are only five points clear of Newcastle for the Europa League spot. Unless they turn things around they could be on the outside looking in very soon.

Man United in the driver's seat

While United has had a pretty dismal record in European play, they have taken care of business in the BPL when they've needed to. With this weekend's win against West Brom, coupled with Man City’s loss to Swansea, the Red Devils are back on top of the table, one point clear of City. With players starting to return from injury (Valencia, Cleverly, etc.) look for United to keep the lead heading into their April 30th clash with City at The Etihad. That fixture will most likely decide the Premiership.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

The Winds of Change

Ed likes to take his dog "Uncle 'arry" to the beach every day, whether its windy or not
photo by independentmanvia PhotoRee

Winds of change, or some more hot air from Ed?  You decide:

The single biggest game this weekend was Swansea v. Manchester City.  This is not because the outcome may affect the title race in the BPL, even though it may have propelled United to first place and the realistic belief that a title is possible.  Instead, the significance of the game is one of tactics and styles.

There was Manchester City, the top team in the BPL in terms of personnel, a team that absolutely pounded Manchester United head to head, and a team whose bench could easily be strong enough to anchor another midlevel BPL team.  And on the other side, there was Swansea City, a team composed of some players that were working in different fields some time ago.  This should by all accounts be a blowout. 

Of course, City did not blow out Swansea; instead, Swansea dominated possession and looked the better of the two teams in its victory.  In fact, shortly into the game, City was forced to remove Gareth Barry from midfield – the same Gareth Barry that starts for the English national team – because otherwise they could not press enough and could not get possession of the ball at all.  And even with Ya Ya Toure, a player about a foot taller than any Swansea midfielder and about twice as fast, City struggled to retain possession and get chances.

Swansea play the short passing possession game, and have been called the Welsh Barcelona.  To me, I think Swansea are serving as the ultimate control test in the question:  Is it personnel or tactics that make Barca so great?  It’s seemed that Barca are so much better than everyone else because of their system (sorry Real, but it seems whenever you play Barca your top tier lineup always seems second best in performance and result), but because Messi and Xavi and others are so good – particularly Messi – it is extremely difficult to resolve the question.   But fortunately, I think Swansea finally does it, as there is simply no question regarding their lack of top-tier talent.

Swansea has also made the lower-tier teams in the BPL look poor.  Does Wigan, for example, really have more difficult financial constraints than Swansea?  Is Swansea’s talent level that much higher?  And isn’t Wigan’s Martinez supposed to be a footballing guru who’s slowly putting in a system that will allow them to maintain their position in the BPL?  How about Blackburn?  Same theory, right?

Unlike either of these teams, Swansea has also done extremely well against the top-tier teams, beating teams like Liverpool and City, and losing in close matches to United and others.  Of course, it’s imperative to accuse Swansea and its system for lacking a cutting edge, but is that really fair? 

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Wonder-Full: BPL Round 28

Stevie Wonder cor 18

I wondered where all the goals went on Saturday, as a paucity of them led to some very tight contests.  Sunday and Monday were a bit better, but BPL Round 28 was far from a classic in this viewer's eyes:

o If you're wondering about the current state of refereeing in the BPL, the game to watch this weekend was QPR vs. Bolton, as  the two linesmen overseeing the contest turned in a shocker.  One legitimate (over the line) goal was disallowed, while one illegitimate goal (offside) was allowed.  I'm not sure exactly what can be done about it, but it seems as if refereeing controversies are seriously damaging the integrity of the game.  Maybe the FA should employ more women like Sian Massey, who seems to understand the offside rule very well, indeed.

o People wondering if Stoke have an undeserved reputation for thuggery ought to be required to watch Ricardo Fuller's brutal act of stamping Branislav Ivanovic where no man should be stamped, committed after his full-strength team had utterly frustrated Chelsea for the first 25 minutes of action.

o If you were among the Chelsea faithful wondering about how the RDM era will work out at Stamford Bridge, you had to be somewhat disappointed by the Blues' slim 1-0 home victory over a Stoke side that -- thanks to Ric Fuller -- played with ten men for over an hour.  I'm not sure that effort will inspire much confidence heading into Chelsea's mid-week Champions League showdown with Napoli.

o Meanwhile, in North London, Spurs are wondering how their season all seems to have gone a bit wobbly.  It's as if the storyline arc hit its high point this season at Uncle Harry's acquittal, and the subsequent England manager conversation, and has gone steadily downhill ever since. While many people previously believed Spurs to be a lock for third place, the denouement is looking more and more like a dogfight for fourth, with a Chelsea side that has considerably more experience in these type of situations.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Game On: Manchester United 2 - West Bromwich Albion 0

photo by nyaa_birdies_perchvia PhotoRee

A few observations on the victory that returned the Reds to their rightful place at the top of the table for the first time in five months:

o Wayne Rooney's goal scoring may be in a hot vein of form lately, but his first touch and passing in the middle of the pitch -- especially as seen in the first half -- still left a bit to be desired.  Of course, it's hard to get too upset at Wazza.  Two goals per game makes this writer forgive alot.

o Rooney couldn't have picked a better time to hit form -- and Sir Alex is coaxing him on, suggesting his forward should target a 40 goal season.  If he hits that, the title chase is as good as over.

o It was a tense and very evenly-divided match over the first 25 minutes, as West Bromwich Albion started brightly.  The era of teams entering Old Trafford already beaten appears over and done.

o People can talk all they want about the improvement that David De Gea has made on aerial balls in the box, but for me at least as impressive has been the Spaniard's ability to deal with low balls. In the beginning of the season he often seemed to move in slow motion on balls down low, sometimes even diving over the top of them, but over the last couple of months his reaction time on the shots just off the ground has improved considerably.

o United began to seize control of the contest around the half hour mark, but still lacked that final incisive ball.  That is, until Chicharito swerved a very dangerous cross into the box on 35 minutes. Rooney made a difficult finish look very easy, the second time in the game he managed to toe poke an aerial ball goalward, and the game was on

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Game Day Beer Review: Kona Brewing Wailua Pale Wheat Ale

(5.40% ABV) Poured into a tall wheat beer glass from the bottle, Wailua Wheat is an orange-infused, off-yellow color.  The beer is very well carbonated, and poured with almost no head.  It's slightly hazy, but not really in a wheat beer kind of way, if that makes sense. Wailua Wheat smells of bread, and vaguely of ripe tropical fruits.

This is an easy drinking beer. The fruit taste hits you upfront more than anything, but I would categorize it as a somewhat artificial fruit taste. The beer is tingly on the tongue, and ultra light. It would be very easy to drink in the heat of Hawaii, while sitting on the beach.  There's virtually no aftertaste to Wailua Wheat.

I don't know that I would drink this if I was looking to drink a wheat beer; it's not really typical of the style. This beer definitely falls into the lawn mower category, and is likely to appeal more to the novice craft beer drinker or new convert than the hardened veteran. 

I'd drink it to cleanse my palate on a hot summer day, but I wouldn't go out of my way to seek it out.  B-

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Oh, How the Worm Turns: Arsenal 3 - AC Milan 0

Columnist Ed Enjoys Feeding Worms to His Pet Pigeons
photo by foxypar4via PhotoRee

Just when you thought they had been left for dead, Arsenal threw everything but the kitchen sink at AC Milan on Tuesday, and despite putting up three of the four goals needed to tie the scoreline on aggregate, came up just short by failing to score in the second half.  This might have been the best game of the season to watch so far, and it raises the following issues:

1.     Top to Bottom to Top.  It’s amazing how low Arsenal were when they found themselves two down to Tottenham, and how high they’ve flown after coming back to thrash Spurs and then end Liverpool’s season the following week.  I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a team more dispirited than the Arsenal team that took on AC Milan in Milan.  What happened exactly?  It's hard to say, really, although I can think of a few items below.

      But what we all need to be reminded of is that it’s a long season, and the story arc constantly changes, despite the predictions of the experts.  I recall a few saying a couple of months ago that Fulham was a dark horse to be relegated – now they're being compared to the best team in Fulham history.  We’ve also seen Uncle Harry at Spurs go from coronation to two straight thrashings, with fourth place now looking like something other than a lock for Tottenham.  To use one of my favorite clichés—Oh, how the worm turns.  (Try using that one a few times, I bet you’ll like it).

2.     Oxlade-Chamberlain.  Despite illustrating the real problem that occurs from a hyphenated surname (for example, what does he name his kids then, especially if he marries someone named Higglestone or Wachingburgenstowe?), this 18 year old was the Man of the Match for Arsenal.  He injected speed and purpose to the Gunner's attack.  He caused the PK that Van Persie converted at one end, and was diving and crawling to stop a cross at the defensive end.  His performance on Tuesday was everything you could want from a footballer.

3.     PressureBill Parcells used to say that everyone reacts to pressure, it's just a matter of whether they get better or worse.  Robin Van Persie seemed to do a little of both.  Converting a high pressure penalty kick with a devastating shot to the upper right corner showed steeliness and resolve; but when he tried to baby a simple finish and it was saved, he seemed to show a fear of failure.  Worse was AC Milan, particularly in the second half when they tried to guide an easy cross into the back of the net only to nudge it right into Sczcesny.

4.     Playoffs.  The regular season in the EPL is very enjoyable, but games like the one on Tuesday night at Arsenal show how exciting a playoff structure could be.  In short, there would be no taking a point and moving on.  Too many of the top teams in the BPL play for draws when playing each other during the regular season.  Perhaps a playoff format for the top eight should be started.  I know, it’s never going to happen, but wouldn’t it be nice to see the top teams play each other with this kind of pressure on the line?

Friday, March 9, 2012

House of Horrors: Manchester United 2 - Athletic Bilbao 3

photo by divinemisscopavia PhotoRee

Manchester United's European House of Horrors continued last night, with the not-so-mighty Reds conceding three road goals while losing to a younger, faster, and dare I say better Athletic Bilbao squad, a side that currently sits fourth in La Liga.  If Bilbao is world famous for its modern art museum, many of United's players looked old enough to be exhibited in a similar environment on Thursday night. Losing a second straight home contest -- let me repeat that: Losing a second straight home contest -- in a cut-rate European competition can't feel very good for Sir Alex, and perhaps the only silver lining Red fans will come up with is that the team's focus must now be on Title number Twenty.

United will be fully up against it in the second leg of this tie, to be played in the Basque region of Spain in a week's time, needing at least a two goal win to advance. Based on last night's evidence, United has two shots at getting that result: slim and none. Herewith some brutal thoughts on an ugly evening in Manchester.

o Thank God for David De Gea, who was easily Man of the Match for the Reds -- and having surrendered three goals, that's saying quite a bit.  DDG is the man for all those doubters. Let me remind you of what we said on this site before.  Oh, and by the way: the guy is class.

o I hate to say this, because I love him, but Chicharito has been largely useless this season when not directly in front of goal. He's not big enough to play hold up man, a la Berbatov, and his touch is not good enough to dribble 20-30 yards with the ball, a la Rooney. When he's on his game, he's a definite fox in the box, one of the deadliest strikers in the world from six yards in or less, but if United don't get the ball in there he's basically just taking up space. On a positive note, the Mexican's timing seems to have returned, as he's not being flagged offside nearly as much as he was earlier in the season.

o We're grasping at straws here, but on the plus side of the strikers' ledger, Roo is hot right now, very hot, with seven goals in his last four games.  Despite his generally abject performance yesterday, he still managed to find the net twice.  He was at the right place at the right time last night for the first goal, but a betting man would have backed him to score regardless. His movement and instincts on the play were excellent, as he both started and finished the move, hanging just off the shoulder of the defense until they lost track of him, and onrushing the net like a bull in Pamplona to get to a spot where he could side foot it in.

o Against the run of play seems to be United's new motto. For the second straight game the Reds allowed the opposition to completely outplay them. United's new tactic appears to involve letting the other team play brilliantly for as long as they can, riding their luck the entire time, and then hit back just when the opposition is least expecting it. It worked for the first 44 minutes yesterday, but then we all witnessed what happens when your luck runs out.

o Give full credit to the visitors: Bilbao moved exactly like you would expect a youthful club to move. They showed tremendous fluency on the ball, were quicker to it in so many instances I lost count, displayed a nice variety of short, quick hitting passes and tons of pace -- oh, the pace. Those boys were fun to watch, and they completely and utterly outplayed our guys. There's no way to sugar coat it.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Cards Galore: Newcastle 1- Sunderland 1

photo by hlkljgkvia PhotoRee

Our 11 year old Columnist Connor returns, putting all our other writers to shame:

Inside Newcastle United

Established…………………….. 1892
Manager………………………... Alan Pardew
Nickname…..…………………... The Magpies
Stadium…….…………………... Sports Direct Arena
English Premier League Titles.. 0
Position…………………………. 6th

Wow! What a game! I don't know how many of you watched the Newcastle v. Sunderland match that aired on Fox Soccer this past weekend, but I did -- and what a game I saw. Right away, the game started off violently, as only 37 seconds into the match, Sunderland player Lee Cattermole got himself a yellow for a sharp tackle on Newcastle's Cheick Tiote. That would be one of 11 cards that were to be handed out at the Sports Direct Arena, on a crisp Sunday afternoon match chock full o' fouls.

In fact, five of the eleven Newcastle starters were handed a yellow. Those included Tiote, Demba Ba and the list goes on and on. Newcastle has had a card problem this year, and their agression really did show on Sunday. Actually, a yellow in the 24th minute by Mike Williamson happened in the box. And, as we all know when it happens in the box, the other team is awarded a Penalty Kick: even the fantastic Tim Krul could not stop Nicklas Bendtner and his powerful right foot!  

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Inter-Office Memos: Round 27 in the BPL

photo by Michael Coryvia PhotoRee

Memo to Kenny: Spot kicks are something that Liverpool should work on in practice. A 60% failure rate is nothing to write home about.

Memo to Luis Suarez: One thing Liverpool don't need to work on is diving  -- you've got that one down pat.  But when are Scousers fans worldwide going to wake up and realize the incredible damage you're doing to their reputation...?

Memo to Bolton:  Thanks for trying something new at The Etihad -- taking a first half shot on goal. As for City, they may as well have been sleepwalking through the match, which -- in fact -- several of their players did. Although they beat you easily in the end, and recorded their 19th straight home victory, Saturday was the third game in a row in which the Citizens were never really tested.  It kind of makes you wonder what might happen if the opposition ever manages to score first....

Memo to David Luiz: Your socks were hiked up so high this weekend that it appeared as if you were wearing a pair of tights against West Bromwich Albion.  With the hairdo, you're now only a plié away from the ballet.

Memo to AVB: It doesn't take a genius to see that the Chelsea players completely quit on you -- even Roman spotted this one.   There's very little to no effort coming from many of the men on your team. When the season began there were defensive lapses; now, an offensive malaise has set in, as well. All of this only goes to prove the famous Roman mathematical formula, named after a certain Russian mathematician: No offense + no defense + few wins = no job. It's that simple.

Memo to Fernando Torres:  I wonder what kind of odds you could have received at the beginning of the season on you lasting longer at Chelsea than AVB?

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Nursery Rhymes: Arsenal 2 - Liverpool 1

photo by crimfantsvia PhotoRee

Scott has some brilliant new songs to sing at Anfield:

(To the tune of “There once was a man from Nantucket”)
There once was a team that wore Red
Sight of goal made them soil their bed
If it wasn’t a post
There was always a host
Of other ways to miss it instead

(To the tune of “Georgie Porgie”)
Liverpool, Liverpool, fourth place try
Failed the fans and made them cry
When the Gunners came out to play
Liverpool’s scoring had run away

(To the tune of “Hickery Dickery Dock”)
Yesterday Liverpool lost
Kuyt’s miss from the spot will cost
He also hit post
Champions League toast
Yesterday Liverpool lost

(To the tune of “Ring Around the Rosy”)
Lots of us are doubting
A pocketful are shouting
"Robin, Robin"We all fall down!

(To the tune of “Pop Goes the Weasel”)
Move the ball and dominate play,
Up and down at Anfield.
That is, until Van Persie scores,
Poof! goes the season.

Wasted chances haunt them all day,
At least they’ll get a point,
That is until Van Persie scores,
Poof! goes the season.

Monday, March 5, 2012

The Sucker Punch: Manchester United 3 - Tottenham Hotspur 1

photo by greylochvia PhotoRee

Some brief thoughts on United's crucial victory at the Lane yesterday:

o No Parker, No Bale, No Van Der Vaart: Did United get lucky?  The answer is "I think so." United were a clear second best for a good portion of the match, and overrun in the midfield for the first 60 minutes or so. I don't know what the game may have looked like if those three had played, but I'm betting it would have been different.

o Have United found a replacement for Paul Scholes?  I believe they have: and his name is...Paul Scholes. The Ginger Ninja is just so damn impressive on the ball, a steady, calming influence in the middle of the park, and deadly vision and  passing combined on the ball. When a pass fromScholes appears to be hit to no one, you don't blame Scholes, you ask why the other player didn't make the proper run.  Scholesey also seems be making way fewer rash tackles than he made the past couple of seasons. Perhaps the secret is to give him half the season off, and then use him like hell in the run-in. It certainly appears to be working so far....

o United were wasteful in possession early on yesterday, and appeared more than a little lethargic during a very long first half. It seemed as if they were beaten time and again to most of the 50/50 balls in the game's first 20 minutes.  Im not sure the formation and/or personnel worked, either: Carrick and Scholes played under control, but they got little to no first half support from Nani and Ashley Young, who were complete non-factors in the opening 45.

o United were clearly missing Chris Smalling and Rafael at right back.  And despite his playing there today,  I'm fairly certain right back is not Phil Jones' best position. Sure, Jones is passable there, but you don't get the quality combination of defense and offense that you get from the other two.  Instead, what you get is a bit more muddled: mazy offensive runs that end up a bit long-legged, often with a turnover, and quick tracking back on defense that more than once or twice ended in fouls. After conceding a free kick in a dangerous spot that was ultimately squandered by Spurs, Jones went down away to easily when beaten by Lennon, and only Emanuel Adebayors's handball on the line spared United's blushes and a 1-nil deficit at the half.

o United's first half goal came from nothing, absolutely nothing, completely against the run of play. What a sucker punch, and what a huge haymaker from the Champions, a blow struck by none other than Wayne Rooney that will have definite implications on the title race.