Monday, April 30, 2012

The Zombie Hunters: Round 36 in the BPL

photo by Bahman.via PhotoRee

o It was a weekend of big scores and clarifying futures.  Newcastle, Fulham and QPR got crushed, and Blackburn basically threw in the towel on their relegation fight at the Lane, handing in a meekly comfortable 2-0 loss for their weekly effort.  QPR and Bolton fans are feeling the heat, and Aston Villa fans aren't feeling very comfortable, either.  But the big game of the weekend is being played today, and because of that we're going to delay handing out the Player of the Week award.  If one player comes up big on Monday, the title race could be over and done: more and more, it's looking like Winner Take All.

o Luis Suarez and Fernando Torres both turned in hat tricks, and Kevin Davies added a brace to his season total.  The Zombie hunters are on red alert with so many notorious strikers coming back from the dead and buried.

o What in the hell is going on in Wigan?  And where were these guys earlier in the season??  Wigan looked like the English Barcelona after shredding the Newcastle back line repeatedly in the Saturday contest on their way to a four goal victory.  Playing with only three defensive backs and two wing backs to bomb forward and flood midfield, the rugby townies taught the Toon Army a footballing lesson on Saturday.

o The importance of today's Manchester derby can't be understated. For all those United fans buoyed by the knowledge that City still has to travel to Newcastle next weekend, realize this: the Magpies will be playing their third game in eight days by the time that fixture is contested, and could be coming off two road losses in a row -- not exactly a huge confidence booster.

o Apparently you can handball it as much as you want if Mark Clattenburg is in charge of the game.  Denying West Brom a stone wall penalty and Villa more two other penalty shouts of their own, the man in the middle of Saturday's gamedid his fair share in contributing to yet another 0-0 draw for Villa. It's a point, but that still may not be enough for the Villans to escape the wicked grasp of relegation.

o By the way, if the final few minutes of the Villa - West Brom game were any indication of what were going to see these final few weeks as teams attempt to avoid being relegated, we're in for a real treat this season.

o Chant of the Weekend: "Let's All Do the Wenger," from the loud and rowdy Stoke City crowd located right behind the Arsenal Manager, as a highly agitated Professor was unsuccessful in his attempt to conjure up a winning goal from the sideline of Saturday's 1-1 draw at the Britannia.

o Gotta love the Chelsea fans: booing Anton Ferdinand for being a victim of racial abuse, before proudly applauding Ferdinand's abuser as he scored the game's second goal on Sunday. Pure class, all the way around.  Chelsea and Terry: They deserve each other.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Game Day Beer Review: Brouwerij Van Steenberge Piraat Belgian IPA

(10.50% ABV) Piraat pours a solid orange tan color -- almost peachy, if i had to put my finger on it -- this time with very little head. I've had this beer on many occasions with a much larger and livelier head, so I don't know if it was the age, the pour or the glassware that led to a head much smaller than remembered.  In truth, the bottle likely aged far too long -- close to a year or so.

That being said, the smell is still vibrant: all yeast and sweet and spicy fruits, with some dark fruits, maybe a little prune mixed in. There's also a distinct candy sweetness scent to the beer.

The taste is an explosion of flavor, yeast, malts, fruits and a rich sweetness.  Piraat starts out malty, but then moves right into spicy fruits: clove, banana, and orange among the flavors.  You can definitely taste the booze -- and at 10.5% this one packs quite a wallop.  The hops toward the end dry out what could be a very fruity affair. The finish tastes of apples,  almost cider-like.

It's likely an end of the evening sipper, but I love it. It's a beer that keeps me coming back time and again: A

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Crunch Time in the BPL

Crunch-a-tize Me, Cap'n!

Columnist Randy only gets going when the going gets tough:

With three weeks remaining, its crunch time in the BPL. With the Manchester derby coming Monday, the race for the Premiership, Champions and Europa League spots and relegation avoidance is full on. Every point is critical and no team can afford to drop any more, so we should expect some exciting football this weekend.

Clash for the Silverware

Manchester United had a great chance to put City away with a win against Everton at Old Trafford. Offensively the Red Devils had an excellent game, netting four goals. Unfortunately their defense was exposed again. Rafael of the Wonder Twins made an excellent spectator on two costly Everton goals, the last putting Everton level at four. Now only three points clear instead of five, the Monday clash with City is for all intents and purposes a winner take all championship game. The one thing in United’s favor going forward is they have an easier final two games, with fixtures against Swansea and Sunderland, both of whom have nothing to play for. City, meanwhile, have tough matches against Newcastle, who is trying to hold on the final Champions league spot, and QPR -- who are fighting, almost literally, to stave off relegation.

League Battles

With the top two spots locked up by United and City, the fight is on for the remaining two Champions League spots. Problem is, it seems like no one besides Newcastle wants them. Arsenal, after getting beaten by Wigan last week, came back with a very poor performance against Chelsea’s backups. The Gunners are only three points clear of Newcastle, who have a game in hand. Arsenal also gave away needless points with their bruising loss to QPR, a game they should have won.  Arsenal needs to solidify their defense and regain their form and close out the season strong, with Newcastle only three behind and Tottenham six behind. Losing Mikel Arteta and the injury to Theo Walcott will not help.

With three straight loses, the Tottenham Coldspurs are fading and barely hanging on the Europa League spot. They are still within striking distance of a weakened Arsenal with a game in hand. With games against relegation-fighting Bolton and Blackburn this week,  Spurs need to quickly regain their form if they wish to catch Newcastle or Arsenal. They also must be wary of a strong-closing Chelsea.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Shootout at the Bernabeu: Bayern Munich 2 (3) - Real Madrid 2 PK

photo by The U.S. Armyvia PhotoRee

Columnist Scott offers a final word or two on his second favorite team's late departure from the Champions League on Wednesday night:

As the goalies get better, advancing technology allows in-depth study of opposing players' tendencies, and rules have evolved allowing lateral ‘keeper movement prior to the kick, penalty kicks are far from the given goal we grew up believing.  Even more difficult is conversion when the pressurized glare of a Champions League semi-final is blinding your eyes and threatening tachycardia.

Admittedly, I did not get to see the majority of the Real Madrid - Bayern Munich second leg game. But I did catch the last 20 minutes of extra time, during which I saw Real Madrid pressing relentlessly and creating the better of the chances, with only Gonzalo Higuain's slightly ill-timed touch wasting a near sure goal created by Marcelo's sublime 3/4-field dribble then pass. It should be noted, however, that my observation is notwithstanding a clearly unbiased impression to the contrary, of all the action prior, by a certain burly Bayern Munich fan in my acquaintance.

As a result, I'll leave the regular and extra time commentary to others and, instead, focus briefly on one of the most thrilling, if disheartening, penalty shootouts I've ever witnessed.  All the elements were there: world class field players, world class goalies, Champions League Final on the line, dramatic saves, all hope lost, hope restored, crushing miss and, finally, emphatic closure.

Just before the expiration of extra time, Ronaldo is seen to confidently motion to himself, clearly an indication that he will take the first kick. So, after David Alaba scores first for Bayern, I watch with anticipation as one of the best players in the world, indeed the 2008 FIFA World Player of the Year, will surely put Los Blancos on level terms.  But Manuel Neuer is of another mind, getting down quickly to his right to block the Portuguese’s hard-hit but too-centered shot.  Ronaldo had made 26 of 27 penalty kicks for Real Madrid before this effort.  Confidence erodes to mere hope.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Postcards from the Edge: Chelsea 2 - Barcelona 2

Postcard wall

I somehow contrived to get on the plane with the slowest Internet connection speed possible  -- Thanks, Virgin America! -- which made me miss the first half of the Chelsea vs Barcelona semi-final second leg. Not that I missed much, mind you: Gary Cahill and Gerard Piqué both being injured and subbed off early, John Terry being caught red handed (red kneed?) and shown a card of a similar color by the game's Turkish Referee, Barcelona hitting the back of the net twice and Chelsea scoring against the run of play in first half stoppage time.  No, it was just another run of the mill first half of football.

The second half I did manage to catch, and here's what I saw --  including some postcards I wrote to my friends:

Dear JT: WHAT IN THE WORLD were you thinking?  I called you out for your knee to the back of Alexis Sanchez in last week's game, but you couldn't help yourself again today.  You're like the scorpion in the story of the scorpion and the frog.....  You showed your true colors on Wednesday -- and there's no mincing words here: You're a cheat, on the pitch as well as off it.

PS| Nice try on the attempt to lie and deceive your way out of the situation -- but your usual tricks weren't working last night.  You would never deliberately knee a player?  That's an interesting statement.  What exactly did you do to the very same Alexis Sanchez last week at Stamford Bridge?

Dear Victor: I know goaltender is not the most exciting spot on the pitch at Barcelona, but have you ever heard of positioning...?  That word looked like Greek to you as you allowed Ramires to chip over your head for a stunning blow in first half stoppage time.

Dear Didier: Giving up a penalty to Barcelona less than a minute into the second half, right after RDM must surely have talked to you about keeping your discipline?  Really?

Dear Lio: Missing that very same penalty?  REALLY??  I guess even robots make mistakes every now and then.

Dear Cuneyt Cakir: A yellow card to Cech for delaying the game before it even hit the hour mark....  I don't recall that happening very often in other games -- UEFA must have issued you very strict instructions.

Dear Barcelona: Please stop feigning injuries and badgering Referees.  You may wonder why so few people like you -- Respect, yes, but like?  Not really -- but all you need to do to find the answer is look in the mirror.  You may be the reigning European champions, but your constant whining, faking and diving is an embarrassment to the game, and a serious tarnish to your crown.  There won't be many tears shed outside of Catalonia that you've failed to retain your crown

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Written In the Stars: Chelsea 2 - Barcelona 2

photo by jurvetsonvia PhotoRee

Columnist Ed -- his head in the stars, as usual:

Where to begin?

First, though, let's state the obvious:  the better side lost.  Chelsea was fortunate to get by with a 1-0 aggregate in game one despite being dominated throughout and despite a crossbar and a few posts hit by Barcelona.  Game two was no different.  Chelsea could do little else other than park the bus in front of their goal.  Chelsea did that well -- perhaps better than game one -- yet they were still dominated throughout, and were fortunate that Messi -- MESSI!! -- missed his PK and that Cech was able to nudge another Messi shot onto the post. 

I couldn't be more happy that Chelsea pulled this out, but let's not for a second think that they were the better team.  They were gritty, determined, and above all else, fortunate.  But something else deserves noting: no one wants football games to look like that.  No one wants to see teams just surrender and play the way Chelsea did in this one.  Part of that was they were forced to by the Terry penalty, but they were doing that before that penalty as well.  So again, the better team -- maybe the best team ever -- lost.

As for Chelsea, the most enjoyable part of team sports is when an underdog wins through determination and passion, and Chelsea was able to do that last evening.  It's not merely the energy and running of the players, but it was their focus.  Ashly Cole, for example, is a player that is often a bit rash during the regular season, but he never lost control and played his position brilliantly.  So did Meireles, so did Drogba, so did Ivanovic.  Everyone on Chelsea played this match like it was a game of chess, and that's what got them through.

It was interesting, though, that Chelsea actually had a few excellent chances in the second half.  Barcelona has no aerial threat other than Pujols, and can really be pushed around on corners, long throws, and even goal kicks.  Ivanovic missing an open header was notable, though it should be pointed out that Pujols missed one as well.  He is probably the only guy that should be marked on a Barcelona corner, yet somehow he got away on one.

Speaking of Barcelona corners, it was interesting how they went short every time.  I get it -- no tall players to match up with Chelsea.  However, at a certain point there is no advantage to a corner if you never try to push one into the penalty area.

I can understand John Terry's frustration with Alexis Sanchez.  When he flipped out from virtually no contact and manufactured a yellow card in the first half, it was annoying.  Plus, Terry's knee kick was not really as vicious as Sanchez made it out to be.  That said, it was deserving of a red and Terry should know better.  I am not a Terry fan, but the flopping of teams like Barcelona is often extremely frustrating -- almost enough to make me the look the other way when players like Terry retailiate.  Almost.

Frank Lampard once again proved the best player on Chelsea at handling the Barcelona defensive rush.  Plus, it was his brilliant pass that set up the goal.  Notable is that as soon as he realizes he's won possession from Macherano, and even before he has the ball back at his feet, he takes a peek behind him, sees Ramires running and delivers a perfect pass.  That's how you play the game.

Ramires' goal was brilliant and shocking.  I'm reading into this, but sometimes I think Barcelona underestimates the skill of other players because they dominate possession to such an extent.  I think they were shocked that anyone but someone on their team could pull off a goal like that.  I'll leave it to you to decide if you were shocked also.  Magnificent.

Equally maginficent was the one-two, one-two, one-two between Messi and Sanchez early in the first half that almost ended with a goal.  It's amazing how good they are in tight spaces.

Peter Cech was amazing in goal yet again, the highlight being the shot from Messi that he nudged onto the bar.  Plus, his penalty kick work was fantastic.  Messi went slow and Cech's movement and ultimately correct guess got into Messi's head.  I think Messi knew when Cech went that way that he had to put it high, and he overcooked it.  I wonder if Messi is feeling the pressure of this "never scored against Chelsea" statistic.  I suspect that's not true, just the pressure of the game and largely bad luck -- it was still merely an inch or two from going in.

In contrast, I thought Victor Valdes was poor.  I don't watch enough Barcelona to make an informed judgment, but whenever I watch Valdes I am unimpressed.  Despite the acclaim he gets for his footwork, in at least every game I see he gives away a pass or two.  He's also poor in the air and subject to getting pushed around.  Perhaps this isn't important in the Spanish game, but it's notable regardless.  In this game, the first goal wasn't his fault.  But he made life far too easy for Torres at the end. 

Barcelona's defense remains perplexing to me.  The team has virtually no size, and they're fine with that.  Macherano was at best a substitute midfielder for Liverpool, now he's Barca's center back.  Both he an Pujols got shoved around by Chelsea, and in particular by Didier Drogba.  I realize that Gerard Pique was knocked out of this one, but one would think they'd have someone better than Macherano to pop in there.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Last Rites: Round 35 in the BPL

Of ducks and last rites

o Arsenal came out for the Cockney Derby looking more like the side that spent mid-week going toe-to-toe with the current European Champions rather than the side that spent Wednesday watching that game from their couch. Which only goes to prove that tired minds can be worse than tired legs.... The nil-nil draw likely suited both sides: Chelsea's hopes of finishing fourth are still alive, as is their momentum going into Tuesday's key clash with Barca, and Arsenal are still looking fairly comfortable in the race for a Champions League spot.

o Hatem Ben Arfa is a difference maker at this time of the season. The Frenchman made something from nothing, turning a routine out ball into a dangerous cross that ultimately led to Newcastle'a first goal against Stoke. Call me cazy, but between Ben Arfa, Yohan Cabaye and Papiss Cisse, I'm beginning to believe the Magpies may nip the final Champions League spot.

o Who would've thought in January I wouldn't be including Demba Ba in that prior sentence?  It's a funny old game....

o Stoke is mind numbingly poor on offense: 32 goals in 35 games, and not a one added to that total on Saturday. Personifiying the Potters' stupefyingly poor performance, Cameron Jerome came on as a mid-game substitute, and dribbled the ball into a complete dead end down the left side of the pitch no less than 3 or 4 times in his time on the pitch.

o Sunderland 0 - Aston Villa 0. Does this surprise anyone? Two poor teams with little to play for....

o Brad Freidel looked every one of his 40 years of age on Saturday when he was slow to react to a free kick that even our own Columnist Ed could have outrun. No doubt the shot was well placed by QPR's Adel Taraabt, but Friedel evidently must have been suffering from some severe arthritis as he creaked toward the ball.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Coming Unstuck: Manchester United 4 - Everton 4


Everton begin the game on the front foot, denying United easy possession in their own end, and pressing the ball as if they are impersonating a certain team from Catalonia. United respond with a catalog of errors and miscues, surrendering the ball time and again, which leads to a number of chances for the visitors in the contest's opening ten minutes.

Nani appears one of the few Reds awake for the early Sunday kick off, cutting in from his left hand position to test Everton 'keeper Tim Howard. Paul Scholes offers a long-range bomb that misses the mark as the home side finally engages the opposition after fifteen minutes has passed.

Half way to the interval and the statistics show United with 54 percent of the possession -- but statistics can lie. Everton have had the majority of the game's true opportunities and United have been wasteful with the ball. Danny Welbeck bears the brunt of much of the early frustration, dribbling into crowded situations and reliably popping up at the post opposite from the one at which crosses are being directed.

Nikica Jelavic opens the scoring for the visitors, directing his header off Tony Hibbert's cross well beyond David De Gea's grasp for a deserved opener for the visitors, and the flat home side have no one to blame but themselves.  Paul Scholes' impression of Darren Gibson nearly equalizes minutes later, tipped by three bodies during its trip through the box, but Tim Howard's extended foot keeps the ball from hitting the back of the net. It's none other than Wayne Rooney who does equalize five minutes before the break, nodding Nani's cross past Howard to haul the Champions back to level terms.

In truth, United are fortunate to head to the locker room tied at one, and the only person who's had as poor a half as the home team is the man in charge of the proceedings, Referee Mike Jones -- failing to recognize an ankle stamp on Evans, a clear foul on Rafael in the box and much more on his way to dishing out only a solitary yellow card.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Diving and Faking - The Bane of the Beautiful Game

photo by Christophe ALARYvia PhotoRee

Columnist Scott with a plea for help:

With a seemingly recent surge in diving, combined with comments thereabout from players, coaches and reporters alike, the time is ripe for a frank discussion about an essentially accepted practice that brings shame and ridicule to our beloved sport - Diving and Faking.

First, it would behoove our discussion to clearly define the aforementioned capitalized terms. Diving, as I see it, is the nefarious act of intentionally falling to the ground when there is no, OR VERY LITTLE, contact from the opposing team, in an effort to draw a free kick, penalty or red/yellow card for the opponent (e.g., Luis Suarez often, Craig Bellamy dramatically against Everton, Andy Carroll comically against Newcastle, two thirds of any top Spanish team  etc., etc., etc., ad nauseum).

Faking is the spineless act of pretending to have been hurt during a Dive in order to either waste time or bolster one's specious case for said free kick, penalty or red/yellow card (e.g., James Perch and the phantom Pepe Reina headbutt). I should note, before proceeding, that attempting to coax an unwarranted red or yellow card for an opposing player is the most insidious act in soccer.  Such chicanery not only is cheating in the instant situation, but also conspires to gain an unfair and undeserved advantage during the balance of the game through an ill-gotten numerical advantage. Even worse, while the numerical advantage does not carry over to the following game, the services of the aggrieved player are not available, often to the detriment of that team (e.g., Ashley Young/Shaun Derry).

I didn't see the Chelsea/Barcelona game but I read on these fine pages, in two exquisitely written and incisive pieces by each of Messieurs Ed and Farlie, that Didier Drogba was the Diving/Faking menace personified, through acrobatic self-flinging and Emmy award-winning (Oscar? Come on, he's a football player, not Meryl Streep) "pain-induced" grass-stained writhing. To those (hopefully few) who say such antics are part of the game I say "NO THEY ARE NOT"!

Just because something seems to be accepted at times does not make it right or "part of the game."  Just as the blatant pushing, pulling and holding that goes on in the box during corners and free kicks is not part of the game and should be stamped out, as Correspondent Ed has wisely pointed out on these pages previously, and on which I hope he will expound someday.

In competitive situations, human nature incrementally pushes the boundaries of what is acceptable - especially when failing to do so results in unfair advantages to the opposition. As such, the players themselves cannot be relied upon to "change their ways" any more than a child who has consistently gotten away with crying to get what he/she wants can be relied upon to alter that behavior without intervention.  Some may object to my childlike analogy but I think it especially apropos.  The deception involved in Diving is exactly the same behavior in a child still learning right from wrong.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

The Re-Tread: Chelsea 1 - Barcelona 0

photo by striaticvia PhotoRee

Correspondent Ed originally tacked this on as a comment to his piece on Chelsea vs. Barcelona earlier this week, but given the twin facts that: (a) the comments below are fairly well hidden; and (ii) we needed another piece for this week, I am re-utilizing Ed's diatribe to fill up the space below:

As an update to [my article from Wednesday], I should note that Chelsea was able to pull out a win despite being completely and totally dominated by Barcelona. I don't merely mean possession, I also mean chances at scoring. Barca hit the bar and the post, and there was a goal line save by Ashley Cole, who I thought played his best game of the year last night. I'm not even sure I heard the name Dani Alves last evening, as the attacking fullback added pretty much nothing to the game. In addition, Fabregas pretty much whiffed on another chance in front of the goal. Yes, Chelsea ultimately stopped Barca and Messi from scoring, but we have to admit that a lot of that was luck.

o Frank Lampard was also notable last evening. As in the England game against Spain, he was one of the few players that is able to handle the immediate rush of players that Barca puts on the ball after they lose it. His steal from Messi and cross field pass to Ramirez were also stunning.

o Speaking of the pass and the break and the goal, one suspects that Di Matteo practiced this break as on several occasions upon a change of possession the indefatigable Ramirez sprinted forward for a long ball. Plus, Lampard didn’t hesitate for a second on his cross field ball, and if he had he would have lost it to the charging Barca defense.

o Barca had the ball 78% of the time last evening. That’s stunning and once again should be embarrassing for the English powerhouse. It once again calls into question the system of Chelsea (and Real and Bayern). The announcers wrongfully noted that others may try the system but it simply is impossible without the Barca talent level. Clearly they haven’t watched Swansea this year.

o Did anyone notice the staggering size differential between Drogba and Messi as they walked out of the tunnel? Is there any better illustration of the two different systems in soccer than these two guys?

o Drogba’s antics were probably somewhat shameful, but I suspect this too was part of Di Matteo’s plan. When you never have the ball you need rest. You can actually see the Barca players step it down a gear and rest once they regain possession. Drogba was clearly working to give Chelsea’s team lots of short breaks to break Barca’s rhythm and allow time to physically recover.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Tweets I Didn't Send: Chelsea 1 - Barcelona 0

photo by ivanpwvia PhotoRee

o Five minutes in and 83% of the possession to Barca. Surely this has got to be some sort of a new record low for the home team keeping the ball.

o Barca's back four look a bit nervy. They've managed a big mistake each time Chelsea has touched the ball.

o John Terry with a rugby tackle, followed by a sharp knee to the back.  Welcome to Stamford Bridge, Alexis Sanchez.

o So far Chelsea have kicked Barcelona's shin pads more often than they've kicked the ball.

o Drogba down and rolling around in agony?  Someone please tell him he's playing for the home side, not the Spanish diving team.

o 20 Minutes In:
Should be: Barca 2-0 Chelsea
Actual Score: Barca 0-0 Chelsea

o Roman Abramovitch daydreaming, wondering how much of his money it will take to buy Barcelona. The city, not the team.

o How in the world do Chelsea expect to score if they never possess the ball outside of their own half....?

o Didier Drogba just hurt himself without being touched. Time wasting has to be a big part of the Blues' game plan tonight.

o Branislav Ivanovic: the rich man's Rory DeLap.

o Seriously, Drogba must think he's auditioning for Pep tonight. I can't recall another game in which he's hit the turf so many times.

o Lio Messi turns the ball over, followed by a Drogba goal on Chelsea's first shot on target.  You couldn't make this stuff up.

o Half Time
Should be: Barca 3-1 Chelsea
Actual Score: Barca 0-1 Chelsea

Thursday, April 19, 2012

The Final Four

Final Four in Houston

Columnist Ed, with some thoughts on the Champions League Final Four:

The best league in Europe -- the one that doesn't feature either Manchester A or Manchester B -- is down to the final four.  And as all readers of this site know, Bayern took down Real Madrid in the first leg of their series last night in Munich by the score of 2 to 1.  Here are my thoughts.

-- Gomez is much better than I realized.  I never thought much of him, as I beleived it was Ribery and Robben that do most of the work for Bayern's offense.  While it is true that they do all of the delivery work, Gomez played with tons of energy Tuesday night, challenging defenders with the ball and bullying his way forward.  He is not necessarily quick, but he is certainly fast.  Plus, he anticipates the hard snap crosses they put into him remarkably well.  He had one goal but could have had three.  I can see now why he has 40 goals.  This was the type of player that Liverpool foolishly believed they were getting when they signed Andy Carroll.  There is still room for the big holder and finisher in modern football.  There aren't too many better than Gomez.

-- Ribery is a fantastic player who gives all he has on the field, but the flopping he did the other night was shameful.  He certainly fooled Howard Webb on a more than one occassion, and his flop in the penalty area should have been carded.  Ribery's behavior screams for post game yellow cards or fines.  When will this happen?  Some day please?

--  Ronaldo was also no stranger to the flop.  Ronaldo, I think, is used to being the Michael Jordan of his league, and getting the call any time anyone touches him.  Last night he was treated by Webb in the same way as a reserve teamer on Wolves.  Shoving is a part of the game also, Ronaldo.  Remember the BPL?  While Barcelona brings an elegance to the game that is unparalleled, there is also a diva quality to their game and it's found, as well, in Ronaldo -- something that is tough to swallow for an American like me.

-- The Bayern v. Real game was interesting on a tactical front as both teams have very similar styles of play.  Their formations, their conservatism upon scoring, their personnel -- all strikingly similar.  Neither of these teams are like Barca.  This was a battle of traditional tactics between old rivals.  Are these teams the last of this era, and will the possesion game eventually take over? 

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

¡Viva Liverpool!

photo by deanwissingvia PhotoRee

The dream is still alive for Columnist Scott:

The length and complete silence of the tribute paid to the victims of the 1989 Hillsborough disaster, prior to Saturday's FA Cup Semi-Final game between Liverpool and Everton, was poignant and admirably respected by every single one of the over 87,000 fans in attendance. My condolences to the families of the victims and my respect to the fans.

The game itself, however, was far from silent, which is not surprising given the rivalry of these two Liverpool teams.  This was the 5th Merseyside derby at Wembley Stadium and proved to be a thriller, with the Reds coming out on top with a bit of luck.

That bit of luck was needed after the previous fortnight of Liverpool goalkeeping problems.  First, there was Pepe Reina being dismissed from the Newcastle game for a forehead brush deemed a headbutt.  Then there was his replacement, Alexander Doni, being dismissed from the Blackburn game after being forced, compliments of John Flanagan's horrendous back pass, into a lunging effort that floored Junior Hoillet.  His replacement in that game, Brad Jones, for whom the erring Flanagan was sacrificed, then proceeded to see a yellow card that could have been red when he tumbled Yakubu Aiyegbeni while attempting to recover his bumbled catch.  Andy Carroll scored the winner at Ewood Park that day to foreshadow the events that would unfold at Wembley.

Back to the game at hand - a curious starting lineup was put forth by the under-fire Kenny Dalglish.  Jose Enrique was absent ,as were Dirk Kuyt and scoring-machine Maxi Rodriguez.  At the back, Daniel Agger was out wide on the left with Glen Johnson on the right to bookend Jamie Carragher and Martin Skrtl.  Andy Carroll got the starting nod along with Luis Suarez up front, while they were supported in midfield by Jordan Henderson, Stuart Downing, Jay Spearing and Steven Gerrard.  Brad Jones, by default and only after Alexander Doni's red card appeal failed, manned the goal.

The game turned out to be a tale of two halves - the first half with more back and forth but with Everton looking the more dangerous and the second half in which Liverpool dominated from start to finish.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Coming Up Trumps: Round 34 in the BPL

Donald Trump

o Paul Lambert may be having a Manger Of the Season type year, but his Norwich City troops displayed a tactical naïveté when they came out playing way too open a game in their Saturday contest against Manchester City. It was just what the doctor ordered for the Sky Blues, as evidenced by Kun Aguero even managing to find the net --  for the very first time on the road this season outside of Manchester or London.

o Chant of the Week (sung by City fans -- note the irony): "He wants to go home, He wants to go home, Carlos Tevez, He wants to go home." And with his hat trick on England's east coast, the Argentine sausage-like wantaway is our Player of the Week.

o It's all coming up trumps for Andy Carroll as the season begins to wind down. Two late winners inside of a week's time.... I wonder if he'll choose to go out to and celebrate with Roger Johnson and Anderson, or just spend a quiet night taking in a Boyzone concert with the King.  My guess is that wherever he goes, Carroll won't be celebrating with a Kaliber.

o Gylfi Sigurdsson has turned into a helluva mid-season loan for Swansea City. Just when I had begun to write-off the Swans as undergoing a late-season wobble, up stepped the Icelandic midfielder to grab a goal and an assist to help steady the ship. I don't know what the terms of Sigurdsson's loan deal are, but I would suggest in the strongest terms possible that Swansea lock him up for next season -- although my sense is that a few other teams may also be interested in doing the same.

o Wolves and what appeared to be their seven traveling fans -- wait, does it really matter how I finish that sentence...?  Think about it -- seven people traveled from Wolverhampton to see Wolves take on Sunderland. That's preposterous, as were the three virtually empty sections of seats behind the Visitors' goal at the Stadium of Light on Saturday.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Nine None-Too-Insightful Thoughts on United's 2-0 Win Over Aston Villa

photo by cartersevia PhotoRee

o Ashley Young with his second dive in the box inside of a week's time?  It's starting to get a bit old, Ash.  You're going to begin drawing yellows for your antics rather than penalties -- or worse, not have a penalty called when it's truly deserved.  I'll take the lead but could do without the theatrics.

o Michael Carrick and Paul Scholes playing together in midfield make me think about how thin United is in the middle. Driving the point home yesterday were Carrick's early card and the subsequent first half knock that Scholes took: what would happen if either man was to get two cards in a game, or -- even worse -- injured?  While the Red Devils have an embarrassment of riches at both wings, they're a bit barren in the middle at the moment. Sure, Giggs, Cleverley or Jones could cover, but would you really look forward to seeing any of them playing a full 90 in central midfield in one of the Reds' upcoming fixtures?

o Very telling: If you don't think even the veteran players are nervous at this point of the season, think again. Rio Ferdinand couldn't bear to watch Wazza'a first half penalty that handed United a 1-nil lead, preferring instead to keep his back toward the goal, eyes on the Stretford End, and ears open to the sounds of the crowd.

o Despite the four goals yesterday, United's offense is all looking a bit labored right now.  It's not that it's too slow, or too through the middle, it's that they are trying to make it all too intricate -- in essence, they're working too hard. There are too many passes, too much looking for the perfect ball, and it's all a bit nervy -- we're slowly turning into Arsenal.

o Danny Welbeck is not playing with a ton of confidence at the moment -- he passed up a bundle of opportunities to pull the trigger yesterday, and when he did look to shoot he often wanted one too many touches.  Perhaps his late first half tap in of Patrice Evra's seeing eye assist will help to get Welbz back in gear.

o I've been saying this for weeks now -- longer than most -- but Wayne Rooney is not on song, and -- as we all know -- as goes Rooney, so goes United. The Englishman's formerly deft passing and touch seem to have deserted him of late, and he's beginning to get a bit frustrated. To Roo's credit, he hasn't been lashing out -- either at his teammates or the opposition -- but if United is going to seal the title, their talisman needs to seriously step it up over the next two to three weeks.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Game Day Beer Review: Green Flash Brewing Palate Wrecker Imperial IPA

photo by mikebairdvia PhotoRee

Style: American Double / Imperial IPA

Brewery: Green Flash Brewing, San Diego, CA

ABV: 9.50%

Reviewer: James

Look 4.0   Smell 4.5   Taste 4.0   Feel 4.5   Overall 4.5

Fabulous monster of a double imperial, Green Flash has this one spot on.  Palate Wrecker pours a solid orange, with resilient head and lacing.  

The smell is floral, with the expected hint of pine balance with something sweet.  Highly complex with the piney hops one would expect, but with plenty of malt, orange and even some honey, all balanced out with some nice carbonation which make this one a relatively light feeling double.

At 9.5% ABV, this one sends you well down the road to happiness.  Palate Wrecker is a beer drinker's beer.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Lots of Questions, Very Few Answers

photo by Brianfitvia PhotoRee

1. Why is everyone seeming to blame Mario Balotelli for City's recent dip in form?  He may be a convenient scapegoat, but the Italian is also the Sky Blues' leading scorer since the New Year began.  There's plenty of blame to go around on the other side of Manchester, starting at the top, but it seems so easy just to point to Mario. The truth, unfortunately, is not nearly so neat.

2. Forget Dimitar Berbatov, what in the world has happened to Park Ji-Sung?  The South Korean used to be one of Fergie's favorites, and one would assume that Parks's terrier-like tenaciousness would suit United's need-for-speed lineup well (as much as it pains me to make dog analogies about South Korea's greatest footballing export).  Have we seen the last of Parky in a United kit?

3. Why hasn't King Kenny played Maxi Rodriguez and Craig Bellamy more often this season?  Reduced to bit players before midweek, the duo appear far more capable than many others that a mediocre Liverpool side has routinely trotted out onto the pitch.

4. And speaking of Liverpool, could their season get any more comedic?  I can't decide if their red kit was designed to symbolize the supporters' embarrasment, or the color of the cards collected by their goalkeepers.  One red card on Tuesday for Doni was hilarious; a yellow that should have been red for Brad Jones was beyond hysterical.  King Kenny can retire, his mission now complete: we're not laughing with you, Kenny, we're laughing at you.

5. Does the FA utilize any employees to make decisions, or do they just shake a Magic 8 Ball? I've written ad nauseum about the corruption and ineptitude that permeate this decrepit organization, but the Magic 8 ball is the only explanation that makes sense regarding the FA's simultaneous and mind-numbing decisions to uphold Shaun Derry's red card while not charging Mario Balotelli for a much more dangerous offense.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Fast and Furious: Round 33 in the BPL

photo by cauchisavonavia PhotoRee

The games are coming fast and furious now, no rest for the weary, even of the fantasy football variety. I had to wake up at midnight on Easter Sunday evening to change my fantasy squad, as I'd forgotten to do so earlier in the day.  Nevertheless, the show must go on:

o As it did for Newcastle United, although their snoozer of a game versus Bolton never really sprang to life until Player of the Week Hatem Ben Arfa slalomed through the Trotters on his way to a fabulous second half goal. Many of the players on the pitch for Bolton looked as if they had to wake up at midnight Sunday night, as well -- and never went back to sleep.  

o Papiss Cisse may be lighting up hearts and minds in Toonside, but his arrival seems to have coincided with Demba Ba's fall from form. Could it just be a coincidence?  Or more likely, is the first-to-arrive Senegalese striker beginning to get a bit frustrated at his lack of playing time and opportunities -- as he looked when he was substituted after an hour on Monday.  The situation bears watching, because Ba may be eligible to go elsewhere next season....

o All this talk about how Chelsea has turned its season around strikes me as far fetched. Finishing fourth in the League and winning the FA Cup -- which the Blues seem to have a lock on, of late -- will hardly qualify as a major success. That is, unless you believe I've written them off too early against Barcelona....

o Liverpool's situation becomes more comedic by the day. The fact that the dismissal of their first string goalkeeper was followed in the very next game by  walking papers being issued to their second string goalkeeper (and very nearly their third, as well) is topped only by an even more statistically improbable feat: Andy Carroll scoring a late, game-winning goal. I mean, what are the odds?!

o Manchester City's game versus West Bromwich Albion could be the first time I've ever seen a in-depth highlights package of a Premier League game that didn't include any evidence of one the teams possesing the ball outside of their defensive end.  As Ricky Ricardo would have said, Baggies Manager Uncle Woy has "some 'splaining to do" for the lineup he trotted out like lambs to the slaughter -- omitting his two leading strikers for the trip to Manchester.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Hanging Uncomfortably: Manchester United 0 - Wigan Athletic 1

photo by stopherjonesvia PhotoRee

Wigan begin by far the brighter of the two sides, and if one didn't know better the men in blue would appear to be the team taking control of the League, with the ones in red buried deep in a relegation dogfight.  Finding ample room down the left hand side of the pitch, Wigan's Jean Beausejour, Shaun Maloney, Victor Moses, and James McCarthy pile pressure on the visitors, raining early corners and shots down on United 'keeper David De Gea.

It's almost the 20 minute mark before United carve out their first real opportunity of the evening, Carrick to Giggs, before the Welshman's shot is deflected out of bounds to snuff out the threat. Moses continues to cause problems for the Reds' defense, escaping the clutches of both Rio Ferdinand and Jonny Evans on multiple occasions, and despite occupying the same pitch as Wayne Rooney and Javier Hernandez, easily appears the most dangerous striker on either side.

Rooney is pulled back by Sir Alex to a deeper lying position, to counter the home side's significant edge in possession -- a common problem for United when Paul Scholes isn't in the lineup. Wigan's fans go wild after half an hour, as Victor Moses outjumps Patrice Evra to head the ball and ruffle the back of the net, but the Assistant Referee is quick to signal a blocking foul on Gary Caldwell that negates the home side's presumptive advantage.

United's normally vibrant wing play is strangely muted on the evening, as both Ashley Young and Ex-Latic Antonio Valencia barely feature, primarily due to United's inability to string more than two passes together at a time.  The Reds finally begin to impose themselves on the visitors as the game nears the interval, and a question leads us into the second half: which was the greater aberration -- the first forty minutes or the last five?

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Holy Newcastle!

Why Can't We All Just Get Along?:
Columnist Ed Watching Footie with Two of His Closest Friends

Columnist Ed on all the latest happenings in the BPL:

o Well, not exactly holy, but just when you’re ready to anoint Harry Redknapp as the manager of the English team and Brendan Rodgers of Swansea as the EPL coach of the year, you get Newcastle on the cusp of Champions League qualification with Alan Pardew.  There have been times when the Magpies have looked like absolute junk – the 5-0 beating they took at Spurs comes to mind – but they’ve just won five in a row during this key time in the season.  Can they pull it off?

o Well, it really depends more on whether Spurs are truly imploding or whether they can get it together against the bottom of the League in the last five weeks.   By my count, Spurs have to win at least three and tie one of their last five.  Theoretically . . . . I think that’s worth saying again for emphasis . . . . theoretically this shouldn’t be that tough, in light of the fact that they have to play QPR, Blackburn, Bolton, Villa, and then Fulham.  In their current form with no central defenders and Gareth Bale currently abdicating his position in favor of a crowded central attacking midfielder role, this doesn’t seem easy.  But if there’s one thing that’s a certainty in the BPL, it’s that no one can predict what will happen next.  I recall United being dead and buried after being blown out by City; I also recall people wondering if Wenger had a future at Arsenal.  In short, who knows really?  Certainly not the experts.

o But tracking back to Newcastle – what impresses me most is Pardew’s ability to simply insert any striker he finds fit and for that person to become a star.  Think about it, a year and a half ago it was Carroll, then it was Ba this year, and now it’s Cisse.  I think even the withered old bossman might be able to put a few in if he played the position at . . . . wait, sorry about that, I took it too far.  But I think you know my point.

o But here’s what I wish for most:  In this year of the unknown, it would be nice to see a second-tier team like Spurs or a third-tier team like Newcastle [Ed. Note: Columnist Ed's term, not mine -- let the abuse begin below] make the top four instead of the big money teams that everyone knows are going to be in the top four.  In other words, as much as Chelsea represents England well in Europe, I’d prefer they get bumped this year for a change and someone else given a chance.  I mean, wouldn’t that be fun?

o Speaking of teams that have been kind enough to give the rest of the table a chance, how about that eighth place Liverpool squad?  I was desperate enough to watch a bit of their game against Blackburn (painful), and wow, they put in their entire second team.  So in case you were still wondering, and you shouldn’t be, Liverpool has abandoned League play and doesn’t care at all where they end up in the BPL this year.  One wonders about their future.  Is Liverpool a place where talented players come to die, or is it that the players that Dalglish brought in are simply awful?  Hard to say, but I would suggest that IF there is a team more in need of that arrogant, petulant, childish, master named Jose Mourinho, I can't think of it. 

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Crystal Clear: Round 32 in the BPL

photo by annia316via PhotoRee

o Papiss Cisse grows more impressive by the week.  Audacious is the only word I can think of to describe the Senegalese striker's second goal on Friday, the one that sealed the points in the Magpies' comprehensive 2-nil victory over Swansea -- a result very few teams have achieved in Wales this season. The only person in a Newcastle uniform that wasn't clearly overjoyed when Cisse struck was his fellow countryman, who used to be a pretty key player for the Toon Army.

o Spurs and the early Saturday game just don't seem to mix, as Tottenham played its part in a dour nil-nil draw for the second time in three weeks.  Granted, Stamford Bridge and the Stadium of Light are difficult places to emerge from with points, but Spurs lacked any sense of a cutting edge this weekend, and it's becoming clear that Tottenham's away form -- unsuccessful in their last six in the road -- could cost them a Champions League berth.

o Mike Jones may as well have worn blue, so many questionable decisions did the Referee make in favor of the home side on Saturday.  Every single member of Wigan -- as well as all of the watching public, I suspect -- seemed to know that Branislav Ivanovic was offside for Chelsea's first goal on Saturday. Too bad neither Linesman Dave Bryan nor his boss Jones saw the play, although the correct call should have been clear as day.  The upshot was that Chelsea got another woefully offside goal at home -- the type of call the Blues always seem to get.

o Mind you, the team that Chelsea undeservedly beat is the same Wigan side that the Blues destroyed 8-0 at home on the last game of the 2010 season -- a result that shows you clearly just how far this Chelsea side has fallen.  And this team is in the semi-finals of the Champions League...?  I can't wait to see Barca play these guys....

o I've got to hand it to Referee Michael Oliver -- again. The youngest Ref in the Big Leagues had a clear view when he booked renowned Liverpool cheat Luis Suarez for simulation on Saturday. The yellow card was further proof that the League has had enough of the Uruguayan's diving antics, and I wouldn't be surprised to find out at the end of the season that New England Sports Ventures -- the owners of Liverpool -- have, as well -- this, despite Suarez's late goal which handed the home side (another) home draw against a team from the bottom half of the table.

o If you don't believe Manchester United get all the calls, all you needed to do was see Mario Balotelli's studs up challenge on Alex Song's knee that didn't even draw a yellow card -- let alone the red it so clearly deserved. Oh, wait -- Balotelli plays for the other team from Manchester, the one that never gets any calls in their favor.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Done and Dusted: Manchester United 2 - QPR 0

photo by Perfecto Insectovia PhotoRee

It's a strong side picked by Sir Alex to face QPR at home, in a game that Manchester City Manager Roberto Mancini predicted would hand the Reds the title if they were successful in vanquishing the visitors. The lineup offered only two small changes from the squad that faced Blackburn six days earlier, with Paul Scholes in for Phil Jones and Danny Welbeck preferred to Chicharito. It's Easter Sunday in Manchester, and off to Old Trafford we go:

QPR are under the kosh right from the game's opening whistle, pinned back by relentless pressure of the home side as the game is compressed almost exclusively into the half United are attacking.  Although punishment for QPR's negative setup is certainly in the offing, when it's granted it's a bit unfair, indeed: the visitors are reduced to ten men when Ashley Young is hauled down in the box by Rangers' Captain Shaun Derry. Never mind that Young is a yard offside, or that his theatrics could less generously be called simulation. Nevertheless, it's Wayne Rooney to the spot, and a 1-nil lead is in the books before the visitors can even protest the harshness of the decision.

It's as if the the air has been taken out the stadium by the Referee's decision, a good game spoiled, as the (in)action drifts along somewhat aimlessly afterward.  Goal now scored, United take their foot off the pedal, and QPR continue their quixotic gameplan, ceding nearly 80% of the possession to the home side.

Rooney comes close to grabbing a brace after some fine give and go in the box, before the Englishman's pass into the net is blocked by a desperate QPR defender. Although they don't see much of the ball, the visitors offer a good account of themselves, keeping their shape defensively, and walking the very fine line between being physical and overly aggressive.  When Referee Lee Mason blows his whistle to indicate the interval, neither Manager is particularly happy, although for different reasons: Mark Hughes likely feeling hard done by the linesman's decision, and Fergie for having seen his team transform temporarily into Arsenal: thirty passes with no end product.

Danny Welbeck's early second half tally is correctly denied, and United appear betwixt and between as the home crowd grows a bit restless -- yearning for a second goal that would undoubtedly seal the day's points. The Reds are more than willing to let fly in the second 45, likely an area of focus during the Manager's half time talk. Rafael is denied by a combination of Paddy Kenny's leg and the crossbar on the closest call since the earlier offside tap in, but when Welbeck is denied a short while later by the QPR 'keeper, the belief builds inside Old Trafford that a second goal is near -- and this time they're correct.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Game Day Beer Review: Samuel Smith's Organic Cider

Let me begin by making an admission: I really like ciders, especially on a hot day -- of which we get quite a few in Florida.  Or after a hard day's drinking, for a change of pace. Or both.  You show me a cider, I'll show you what I'm going to be drinking some day soon. 

And it's a good time to be liking ciders -- it seems as if everyone and their brother is getting into the cider business these days.  Miller Coors' recent purchase of the maker of Crispin Cider hints at that trend, as will Boston Beer's and Michelob Ultra's new offerings. 

I've heard from my brewer friends that ciders are much easier to make than beers -- it's almost like cheating, they've said to me. Well, a lot of breweries are going to begin cheating, then, because the US's thirst for cider is just starting to take off. Or should I say "return," for alcoholic cider featured prominently in our revolutionary history...? 

Samuel Smith's Organic Cider poured a paler yellow than I expected -- a "straw yellow," if I had happened to read the bottle, which I didn't until after I completed my review.  And even though it's not a beer, it looked a lot like your typical "yellow fizzy stuff" beer, with a pearly white head that disappeared before I could really capture it.

The cider's smell was faint, bready apples, and maybe a funky sourness, almost hitting some vinegary notes.  The apples were definitely there in the taste, and they were delicious, and fairly well balanced. The cider wasn't too sweet, in fact, it was a bit tart.  It has a very nice, lively mouthfeel -- pleasantly bubbly on the tongue.

I didn't love it -- a bit too much sourness for my taste -- but I wouldn't turn it down if offered: B

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Game Day Beer Review: North Coast Brewing Pranqster Belgian Strong Pale Ale

(7.7% ABV)  Poured from the bottle into a chalice, Pranqster was a thick orange color, with some suspended particles visible. There was a slight head noticeable, although it didn't stick around very long.

The smell was sweet oranges, clove, and a certain Belgian spiciness.  I got yeast upfront upon tasting, followed by a zesty citrus.  This beer has a great, bubbly mouthfeel, and is perfectly balanced. The flavors seem to blend from one right into the next.

I love this beer. It's easy to look past North Coast on the shelf because I see it so often, but I never regret my decision to buy their beers. They are ultra-dependable, and always delicious. If you're trying to introduce a friend or family member to craft beer, there aren't many better breweries to expose them to than this Northern California gem. A

Friday, April 6, 2012

Andy Carroll’s Self-Immolation and the Phantom Headbutt

Columnist Scott and His Fellow Reds
photo by Wonderlanevia PhotoRee

If Liverpool's exploits get any more embarrassing this season, Colunist Scott may have to move to Tibet....

Put aside the blatant handball by a Newcastle defender that cleared a ball off the goal line; put aside yet another strong start by the Reds; and put aside more near misses and sublime through balls (think Gerrard near the 56 minute mark).  What you are left with is a talented yet overwhelmingly underperforming Liverpool side which, with one nod of an alopecic head, has now jeopardized an FA Cup title which was to be, along with the Carling Cup victory, this season’s redeeming accomplishment.

What happened at St. James’ Park, nay, Sports Direct Arena, last weekend was a complete meltdown by Andy Carroll on par with Tibetan-protestor-style self-immolation.  Despite his modest upturn in effectiveness recently, the pony-tailed white elephant turned in an astonishingly embarrassing performance by missing chances and flinging himself to the ground at nearly every opportunity. But none was more blatant than near the nine minute mark when, after first very cleverly working his way to a one-on-one with Tim Krul, he tipped the ball just out of reach of the lunging Newcastle number one and....dove to the ground despite no contact and an empty net waiting!!??


That last acronym being exactly what I blurted out (in its less abbreviated form, of course) and, after settling down (a bit), managed to thumb into my iPhone notes. The moment seemed to encapsulate Carroll’s year - there for the taking but squandered, his yellow card justly deserved.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Inside Newcastle United: Crazy Cisse

photo by Darin Barryvia PhotoRee

Our famous 11 year old columnist, Connor, returns to these pages after a brief absence, with his thoughts and observations on Newcastle's 2-nil humiliation of Liverpool from last Sunday:

Newcastle came into the game off a two game winning streak. Papiss Cisse was at his best, scoring twice, once before the break and once after, bringing the Magpies to a two-nil victory over the Reds.

Both of Cisse's goals required top-notch athleticism. The goal in the 19th minute was a beautiful cross by Hatem Ben Arfa, but even a better header by the Senegalese forward to put them up before the break. Cisse did not stop putting pressure on the Red’s defense; not even five minutes into the second half he barely missed the right post.

After an hour played, Cisse found the net again. Hatem Ben Arfa assisted on the score again with a picture perfect pass to Cisse, who put away the close range shot. The goal made Alan Pardew do some thinking and finally he put in some more defenders to secure the lead.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

The Week In Football

photo by eliazarvia PhotoRee

Columnist Ed with some thoughts on the week that was:

1.  Champions League – Barcelona v. AC Milan:  AC had a chance in this one, just not a good one.  Barcelona’s players are so quick they simply make good teams like AC look incredibly average.  In fact, many of the teams they play seem to panic under the Barcelona defensive pressure.  At some point in the game, AC Milan gained some confidence and started to move it more effectively; however, they still looked a bit clumsy compared to their counterparts.  As for the “talking point” that was the second penalty kick, I think Fox Sports commentator Warren Barton had it at least partly right:  it was a penalty and should be called.  That said, it rarely is so I can sympathize with Milan’s angst.  With respect to all the holding that occurs in the penalty area, it just doesn’t make sense to me how a league that wants more goals doesn’t enforce it more.  A simple tug of the shirt easily keeps someone from getting that step or jumping into the air.  If you enforce it a few times at the beginning of the year, people will get it quick, and conceding corners will be far more dangerous than they are now.  A good thing, I think.

2.     Champions League – Bayern Munich v. Marseille:  Bayern is a considerably better team than Marseille, and showed it in both legs of the tournament.  All the talk this year has been about the two Spanish powers, Real Madrid and Barcelona.  But Bayern is a force, and I think they may be the most likely team to win the Champions League.  Ribery is a force down the wing, and Robben on the other side makes an extremely dangerous pairing.  I would love to see a Barca/Bayern final.  I think only another astonishing performance by Messi – certainly not out of the question – would be enough for Barca to come out on top. 

3.     BPL -- Liverpool:  What’s wrong with Liverpool?  These days, everything.  Though I think my opinion is slightly different than others.  That is, I don’t think it’s all about a lack of talent.  This week’s game is a good example, as are the games they’ve played against top teams.  Liverpool doesn’t get run out of matches, or cede control in matches to the other team.  Instead, it would seem that Liverpool plays most teams at least evenly, and sometimes as in this past weekend’s game, better than the opposition.  That said, they aren’t good at scoring, and they give up more goals then they score pretty routinely.  I think the problem they have was described well in the Guardian Weekly Monday podcast:  they don’t seem to have a plan as a team.  I think you see this especially in midfield, where Charlie Adam seems to have no idea where to go with the ball, and on the wings, where Stuart Downing and Henderson or sometimes Bellamy, seem to be without a thought as to the offensive strategy.  Now this could be the players, but I have this suspicion that if Downing and Adam and Carroll were still on the teams that they came from, they’d be playing much better than they are at Liverpool.  I think no player typifies the team performance more than Luis Suarez.  Lots of good stuff, but seemingly little plan and surprisingly few goals.  King Kenny does, I think, have to answer for this.