Friday, November 30, 2012

Three Questions

photo by Mzelle Biscottevia PhotoRee

Columnist Scott only has three questions:

1. Does anyone think Rafa Benitz will last through January at Chelsea? With an uninspired start replete with 180 minutes without a goal and disparaging chants from the supporters whom he once disparaged himself, they might rename Boxing Day to Sacking Day in his honor.

2. How do you handle a prodigy coming of age? Brendan Rodgers is confident he will sign the blazingly-in-form and ridiculously fast Raheem Sterling to a long-term deal when he turns 18 on 12/8. Reports are that his managers want wages on par with the grossly overpaid Stewart Downing at $50,000 per week. Given the youngster's current $300 per week salary, simply splitting the difference would result in an astronomical pay raise for the lad and a smashing deal for Liverpool. Brendan is convinced staying at the Merseyside club will be best for Raheem's development. Let's hope the Northern Irishman can convince the Jamaican-born sensation and his parents/managers. Even with the January transfer window looming, I can't imagine this Liverpool team without Sterling's dynamic play right now.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Grinding it Out: Manchester United 1 - West Ham United 0

photo by jasleen_kaurvia PhotoRee

Q. Any notable changes to the Manchester United starting lineup to face West Ham on Wednesday?

A. Well, Sir Alex said Anderson had basically picked himself due to his performance on the weekend, and he wasn't lying. Chicharito also received a recall, joining Roo and RVP in attack. Chris Smalling partnered Jonny Evans at the back, with the two youngsters given the task of reining in West Ham's Andy Carroll.

Q. Did the home side fall behind early again?

A. Not yesterday. In fact, the two sides were only level for the first 31 seconds of the game before RVP separated them with a wonderful spin move, fancy footwork, and a fortunate deflection which looped the ball over Hammers' goalkeeper Jussi Jaaskelainen and into the net for a very quick 1-0 lead.

Q. Did the goals come flying in after the quick start?

A. Not quite. Instead, the game settled into what you might have reasonably expected at the outset: United with much of the ball and West Ham playing on the counter attack for long stretches, using their flanks to loft in crosses from the wings.

Q. Beside United lacking width to their attack, what else did you notice about the action?

A. In a week in which Anders Lidegaard said that the game needed more homosexual heroes, the multiple Movember mustaches appearing on both players and coaches lent a bit of the air of a gay porn convention to the evening's festivities.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Game Day Beer Review: Bayou Teche Brewery LA-31 Bière Pâle American Pale Ale

Drunk on a gloriously beautiful Thanksgiving Day in Northwest Florida. Sunny skies, a cool breeze and 70 degree sunshine deserve a national holiday in their own right, so it made the day doubly special.

There is little to report on the sight or smell of the beer as it was drunk directly from the bottle with the intriguing Louisiana logo. LA-31 Bière Pâle displayed an aggressive bitterness upfront, followed by a malty, bready finish. It was cool, crisp and refreshing, and a perfect match for the weather. The beer had a thinnish mouthfeel, and a steady hoppiness that lingered from first impression to the final exhale. The only down note was a slightly metallic aftertaste. B

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Wearing a Yankees Cap: Week 13 in the BPL

photo by J Fortune Photographyvia PhotoRee

o The West Brom run continues: Steve Clarke's boys comfortably dispatched Sunderland at the Stadium of Shite on Saturday, and after winning four in a row the question needs to be asked: is this a team that can challenge for a European spot this season?  Devoid of any true "big name" stars, the Baggies are succeeding by being a team in the truest sense of the word.

o One of the secrets to success in English football commentary appears to be screaming a player's surname every time he's about to shoot, hoping that you'll look like a genius for predicting a goal before the ball even ruffles the back of the net.  Although you'd think another lesson they'd teach at Announcing School these days would be that shouting "Torres!" when 'Nando's got the ball in the box is an utter waste of breath.

o It's a good thing Spanish is Rafa Benitez' first language, as Roman Abramovitch may now have a far easier time convincing the Blues' new boss that the Booing sounds which reverberated around Stamford Bridge as he walked onto the pitch are actually a particularly English form of affection.

o Chelsea and City played one of the more uninspired games of the recent Premier League era in their nil-nil draw on Sunday, a disjointed affair that featured zero goals and just about the same number of chances.  If we didn't know better we could easily have been convinced that this was a battle between two relegated teams marking time until the season's end -- there was little sign of passion or even the barest hint of a rivalry between the two clubs.  If this is the dawn of the Rafa era at Chelsea, Roman had better equip the seats at Stamford bridge with sleeping bags.

o Sighting of the week: The Drog.  At the Bridge.  In the rain.  With a Yankees Cap on, sitting in the stands.  What a difference a year makes....

Monday, November 26, 2012

Bern-ed: Liverpool 2 - Young Boys Bern 2

photo by lizbadleyvia PhotoRee
Correspondent Scott likes Young Boys -- Bern, that is:
Not being that familiar with Swiss football, I found myself Googling Liverpool’s opponents for their Thanksgiving Day Europa League game. And while I can’t remember everything I read about BSC Young Boys, I do have a lingering uneasiness about that worrisome entry in my internet browser history.
But my uneasiness pales in comparison to that which must be festering in Brendan Rodgers, whose team twice blew leads at Anfield to manage only a tie against their Alpine visitors. After Anji’s defeat of Udinese earlier in the day, Liverpool could have qualified for the next round of the Europa League with a game to spare by simply holding serve at home. Instead, despite throwing a kitchen sink of second half substitutes on the pitch, the Reds will have to continue to split their focus between Premier League and Europa League for one more match day, at least.
Liverpool’s first goal was a long time coming as, aside from a few sections of time, they controlled the game from the start. So it was no surprise to see that Jonjo Shelvey, continuing to enjoy his Europa Leage groove, was in the right place at the right time to nod home in the 33rd minute for his fourth goal of this campaign. What was surprising, stunningly so, was to see Raul Bobadilla’s sublime control and left-footed volley in the 52nd minute that leveled the score and muted the Kop. The Argentine displayed incredible skill in bringing the long pass down on his thigh, after twisting around to meet the ball while sprinting from Jordan Henderson, and then firing past the lunging Pepe Reina from an acute angle into the upper netting.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Eight Minutes of Heaven: Manchester United 3 - QPR 1

photo by jpockelevia PhotoRee

o So let us get this one straight: Harry Redknapp was able to attend the game, but not able to manage the team on the pitch. Does anyone doubt Harry would have taken charge yesterday if the game hadn't been away at Old Trafford?

o Shaun Derry had to be thanking his lucky stars that Referee Lee Probert was in a giving mood on Saturday. Having been sent off the pitch on his last visit to Old Trafford, Derry was fortunate not to have given away a penalty after bundling over Paul Scholes in the box near the 15 minute mark.

o By the half hour mark, United fans were beginning to ask questions -- like not only where all the goals had gone lately, but where the chances has gone, as well. Thirty minutes in, and Julio Cesar with very little work to do.

o Although Wayne Rooney attempted to turn up the offensive heat, it was QPR who were first to put the ball into the net. Fortunately for United Jamie Mackie, the Rangers' would be scorer, was correctly adjudged to be offside.

o 45 minutes gone and United were scoreless -- again. When was the last time the Red Devils failed to score in five consecutive halves...?

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Game Day Beer Review: Aviator Brewing Hog Wild India Pale Ale

Ed likes beer -- at least some of the time:

I'm chillin' in chilly Chapel Hill North Carolina right now and gearing up for a festive holiday with some great friends. It's 1974 all over again at the house I'm staying in the wooded 'burbs - vintage floor plan, vintage floor to ceiling windows, and vintage kitchen cabinets. Just put your keys in the bowl when you enter baby and let's do the hustle.

But one thing that's not so vintage is the Aviator Brewing Co Hogwild IPA (6.7% ABV) I'm drinking as I grill up some steaks on the pinewood patio sprinkled with fallen leaves. Brewed in Fuquay Varina, North Carolina, The beer is relentless in its hoppy bitter flavor, and just when you think it's ready to give in to something smooth and malty it punches you with some more.

This may be your groovin' daddy's dream house screaming for a bitchin' Camaro, polyester pant suits and long mutton chops, but this ain't your daddy's beer I'm drinking.

Hogwild IPA - the style of the '70s but the aggressive flavor of today. A-

Friday, November 23, 2012

Oh, Fernando!

photo by fhisavia PhotoRee
Ed's had it up to HERE with 'nando:
On Tuesday's Champion's League came against Juventus, Chelsea decided to leave Fernando on the bench even after they went down by two at the 65th minute. I can't say I"m surprised.

I remember when Fernando Torres was a dominant player -- someone that I made sure I watched. The Gerrard to Torres connection was lethal for Liverpool and put them near the top of the League. It's frankly shocking how mediocre he's become.

And mediocre is the right word. He went from the top in the League to someone who would have a hard time starting for anyone on the top of the table. Seriously, Michu or Fernando? How about Fletcher or Fernando?

Watching Fernando is a bit painful right now. Upon getting the ball, he usually clumsily tries to beat someone with the ball, only to find himself on his back and without the ball, complaining to the ref about some fictional foul. He's also good at the aimless pass, or the Gareth Barry Square Pass. Finally, he can't seem to race past anyone any more, with or without the ball. In short, Fernando would be on the bench if he had been purchased for only £10MM instead of the outrageous £50MM that was paid.

What's particularly shocking is that Chelsea began the season with Fernando as their only option up top other than, I suppose, Daniel Sturridge. To be honest, Sturridge is a better player right now, and I'm not sure why he doesn't find more time up top. That said, Didier Drogba literally carried this team to the finals of the Champions League last year -- he was their best player. Yet they decided inexplicably to drop him. Now he's in oblivion, at least in terms of soccer publicity, and Chelsea is still without a striker.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Happy Thanksgiving

photo by purpleslogvia PhotoRee

On this day of the year in which we Americans pause to reflect the many blessings and bounties we have received throughout the course of our lifetimes, let us be thankful for the things that matter most in our lives: family and friends. 

This is farlieonfootie wishing a Happy Thanksgiving to all our readers.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Like a Drought: Galatasaray 1 - Manchester United 0

photo by beleobusvia PhotoRee

The starting eleven named by Sir Alex yesterday didn't exactly ooze respect for the home side, especially as the visitors from England were entering a self-proclaimed Turkish "Hell" for opposing teams. The approach was unorthodox to say the least -- as if Sir Alex surmised that the Reds were actually visiting "Heck" instead -- and a direct result of the visitors having already qualified as top side in the group for the next round of the tournament.

"Phil Jones and Michael Carrick at Center Back," you ask? "Have the two ever played together?," you reasonably question. "Alexander Buttner and Nick Powell both starting?," you query. Yes, yes, and yes. We'll go out on a limb and suggest this wouldn't have happened in the Premier League, even against Southampton. Nevertheless, it's the team which the Gaffer sent out to get the job done.

So did it work?

Largely yes once again, especially for the first 45 minutes of action. Sir Alex was easily the happier of the two managers heading into the interval after a decidedly scrappy first half. The Red Devils came closest to scoring, with only the post denying Nick Powell his just reward for a fine header in a match that marked the young midfielder's Champions League debut. For their part, Galatasaray was limited to a couple of semi-decent chances spread evenly throughout the half, as the makeshift United back line did its job by and large.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Give That Man a Hand: Week 12 in the BPL

photo by miss pupikvia PhotoRee

o Spurs fans: after watching the Gunners smash five past your team on Saturday, we have a suggestion for your Manager's new theme song.... Let us know your thoughts:

o Sign o' the Times: Juan Mata created more real chances in his first five minutes on the pitch than Fernando Torres created in over an hour.

o Chelsea with Juan Mata, Oscar and Eden Hazard are lacking only one thing: a real live striker who can put the ball in the net. If the Blues can persuade Radamel Falcao to sign on the dotted line, watch out.

o Carlos Tevez and Player of the Week Sergio Aguero manhandled an Aston Villa club that had given the Citizens' cross-twin rivals all they could handle the week prior. And ominously for future opponents, David Silva looked fairly good, as well.... But City's best player by far was wearing black: Linesman Adrian Holmes saw hand balls the way some actors see dead people -- imagining things that don't exist. With one fail swoop City were literally handed a game that not only gave them first place, but the resulting five goals they put past the hapless Villans also allowed the Sky Blues to take the lead on goal differential for the first time all season.

o And speaking of handing a result to the other side, Referee Martin Atkinson somehow managed to fluff yet another in a long career of missed penalties and imagined infractions. Atkinson's generous interpretation of Sean Morrison's arm save overlooked the act that the Reading player who stopped Nikica Jelavic's goal bound shot was not their 'keeper, and gave the Royals their very first win of the season.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Q&A With a Liverpool Fan

photo by DerrickTvia PhotoRee
An inteview with Correspondent Scott on the subject of Liverpool:
Q. What do you think of Liverpool's season so far?
A. Well, I’d have to say that their standing in the league table is not reflective of the quality of the side. And it seems that every week the team becomes a bit more like the one it will eventually be – competing for trophies. Too many draws at home have put them so far down the table that fourth place seems remote.
Q. So you have given up on a Top Four finish?
A. No way! With 2/3 of the season to go, so much can still happen. Last year, City were way behind United going into the final stretch but Darth Ferguson’s boys stumbled big time and gave the Scot a goal-differential complex. Lots can happen and we still have the January transfer window ahead of us.
Q. Do you think Brendan Rodgers has done a good job?
A. I do. I like the style of play he is trying to instill and I appreciate that he doesn't have the personnel to execute yet. Being: Liverpool has provided an interesting glimpse into how he manages and coaches and I like what I have seen so far. Of course, he knows the camera is there so maybe he acts differently otherwise but, still, he seems engaged, competent and caring.
Q. What changes do you think still need to be made?
A. Well the obvious answer is to bring in another striker with experience. Luis Suarez, polemic as he may be, has been on fire lately but can’t shoulder the burden all by himself. Even if he were to score a goal in every game, you can’t win every game 1-0. It seems, not surprisingly, that Stewart Downing will be sold off (probably for half-off the acquisition price of $20M) to generate funds for January spending. It’s a shame things didn’t work out better for Downing at Liverpool after such a promising stint at Aston Villa.
Q. Who do you think they will bring in?

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Flaccid: Norwich City 1 - Manchester United 0

photo by picciarvia PhotoRee

o United lack a cutting edge whenever Paul Scholes is not in the lineup. Sad to say that the club appears overly reliant on a 38 year old, but -- although they can knock it around with the best of them -- the incisive pass goes MIA when Scholesy is absent.

o Excrutiatingly boring doesn't begin to describe the Reds' first half performance yesterday. Perhaps boring is good -- no soft goals conceded is a plus -- but the attack was absolutely flaccid for the first 45 -- despite the apparent embarrassment of offensive riches on the pitch.

o The game was there for the taking, waiting for a moment of individual brilliance to heat up a collective effort that had been ice cold until the hour mark. Unfortunately, it arrived in the form of a perfect cross from Javier Garrido, and a header to match from Anthony Pilkington.

o Javier Hernandez being replaced with 20 minutes left? I'm sorry, but I don't agree, and I'm certain the Norwich City players must have breathed a big sigh of relief to see the backside of the Little Pea, especially given the Mexican's scoring record of late.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Mind Dump

photo by Michel Filionvia PhotoRee

o Santi Cazorla flying 10,000 miles round trip to warm up a seat on the Spanish bench.... The USMNT playing in Russia.... What is the purpose of these mid-week friendly internationals, and who exactly are they benefitting? Designed primarily to line the pockets of their respective football federations, the games are useless and should be banned.

o What's up with Joe Hart? The World's Best Goalkeeper™ has had some real clankers lately and surrendered some very soft goals. It can't be inspiring much confidence among his teammates, who have to be hoping that the patchy spell passes soon.

o And does Hart get a free pass from the English press just because he's English? While we won't comment on that directly, let's ask a clarifying question: Imagine the reaction if that had been David De Gea?!

o Christian Benteke may be decent with the ball at his feet, but the guy is clearly not the brightest star in the firmament. After admitting he thought Villa was a London-based club, the Belgian international must have been somewhat surprised when he stepped off the tarmac in Birmingham ("Hey, where'a Big Ben?").

o Compounding his ignorance, Benteke was recently quoted speaking longingly about his love for the Arsenal.... Luckily for him, the Villans are on the road this week -- we can't wait to hear the warm welcome he receives next time he steps onto the pitch at Villa Park.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Continued Thoughts on Manchester United's Season to Date

photo by 99 James Kieran Nguyenvia PhotoRee

Picking up where we left off yesterday, we'll now take a look at the midfielders and strikers of Manchester United, and rate their performance in the season to date:

Antonio Valencia: When he's "on," he's capable of terrorizing the opposition, but every now and then he seems to disappear. Still, few work harder, and in conjunction with Rafael, the right hand side of attack is dangerous: 8

Paul Scholes: Being utilized just the right amount seems to be paying dividends with SatNav. He's as good as ever, and still capable of controlling a game. 8

Ryan Giggs: Even Welsh Wizards age, and Giggsy is no exception.  Limited to cameos this season, he showed against Braga he can still play a part. 6

Tom Cleverley: In and out of games, but the Red Devil attack never looks more dangerous than when he's hitting on all cycles. Need to see more: 6

Michael Carrick: Steady as a rock, solid if unspectacular. His influence often flies well below the radar: 7

Darren Fletcher: We like what we see so far, but too early to tell: Incomplete

Anderson: We thought he was headed out the door, but the League Cup performance against Chelsea may have breathed new life into the Brazilian's career: Incomplete

Ashley Young: The very definition of erratic; some games are better than others. Need to see more: Incomplete

Nani: Blows more cold than hot lately, and has fallen considerably down the pecking order. What a shame: 5

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Thought on Manchester United's Season to Date

photo by ansikvia PhotoRee

With the Red Devils in their customary perch at the top of the table looking down upon the rest of the League, we've decided it's time to take stock of the Manchester United season to date and rate the players' performances.  Today we'll look at the goalkeepers and defenders, and tomorrow we'll take a gander at the midfielders and strikers:

Anders Lindegaard: Provided stiff competition for De Gea, and filled in capably when requested. Very few teams in the league have a backup this dependable. 7

David De Gea: He's been bad and he's been very, very good. He doesn't always choose the orthodox route to a save, but he will keep on getting better, especially if he plays regularly. He is the future. 8

Rafael: A huge weapon going forward, and his defense is not bad, either -- except when he shuts off mentally, which still happens on occasion. 7

Rio Ferdinand: He's lost a step, but still gets by most games with his guile and positioning. And he seems to have managed the back injuries which have limited his participation in recent years. 7

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Seeing Those Not Believing

photo by SteveR-via PhotoRee

Ed on Spurs:

The press can beat up on Andre Villas-Boas all it likes for his errors in formation: the high line providing chances for the opposition; his inability to adopt to Roberto Mancini's back three and the flooding of the midfield; his removal of Emmanuel Adebayor for Jermaine Defoe instead of Clint Dempsey for Defoe. Unfortunately, the reality was in the personnel.

Tom Huddlestone is a decent holding midfielder. He's big and tough and not a bad tackler, but he has nowhere near the ball control skills of Scott Parker or the midfield of City. Sandro is another good holding defensive midfielder; not very creative and somewhat lacking in ball control skills. In short, the Huddlestone/Sandro midfield is all they have right now, but it's far from top of the table. Spurs are simply not good enough to be down two starting midfielders in Moussa Dembele and Scott Parker and still compete with the best teams. Could any team?

Well, yes. United and City are so chock full of expensive top class strikers that they can pull it off. United pretty much did so last year amid talk of Wesley Sneider and the unretirement of Paul Scholes. To be honest, I still don't understand why someone with his ability retired to begin with. I've said this before and I'll say it again – play until you can't play any longer. It's a game. It's fun. I still play and all I get out of it is the occasional fist bump.
The Brits like to speak about the economic disparity in the league – class warfare being a (detrimental) staple of English (and current American) politics and thinking. But in the case of the BPL and pretty much all the leagues in Europe, there are a few billionaire teams and everyone else. Occassionally a team like Spurs can sneak into the top four – very occassionally – but they begin each season with zero chance of winning the title. Or do they?

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

And Speaking Of: Week 11 in the BPL

photo by Medmoiselle Tvia PhotoRee

o Could it be that Olivier Giroud is finally coming good?  We're happy to recognize when we need to eat our words, and we didn't think we would ever need to type the following, but the Frenchman has scored a bunch lately, both for club and country. Aberration, or a preview of things to come?

o 4 points for QPR after 11 games?  We've heard of patience, but the Rangers current situation is being ably assisted by borderline irresponsibility from owner Tony Fernandes.

o And speaking of QPR, how excited is everyone for Rangers vs Southampton next week?  We've got some laundry to do, so let us know how it turns out.

o Memo to AVB: The game is 90 minutes long. Not 75. Not 80. Not 85. 90. Please tell your team.

o Super Subs: The City of Manchester is holding a competition to determine the best substitute in world football -- Edin Dzeko or Player of the Week Javier Hernandez.  No matter who wins, their respective teams would be in a world of hurt without them.

o We've said this before on this page, but Ramires is an out and out thug with few redeeming qualities. King of the cheap shot, Chelsea fans need look no further than the Brazilian to figure out that the John Terry blow came from friendly fire, after Ramires intentionally pushed Luis Suarez in the back and straight into Terry's knee.

o Did Chelsea flatter to deceive early in the season, or are they just hitting a bad patch of form?  We think its the former, and the early schedule may have helped the Blues rack up more early points than they deserved.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Game Day Beer Review: Perennial Artisan Ales Peach Berliner Weissbeer

Perennial Peach Berliner Weissbier was a clear golden color, with a fizzy, pure white head.  The beer was served on draft and poured into a goblet at The Ginger Man in New York City.

The smell is faint peaches with some unidentified funk.

This one tastes a bit more like a dry cider to me than a beer, and the peaches are only apparent in the aftertaste. Relatively disappointing. B

Sunday, November 11, 2012

One Word Speed Round on Manchester United 3 - Aston Villa 2

photo by Velo Stevevia PhotoRee

Downer: It's a trusim that you generally play to the level of your competition. And when you play Aston Villa, that's not very high.

Slowpoke: It's hard to break down a team that plays 11 behind the ball, especially when they defend as well as Villa did on the outside wings, denying cross after cross and largely negating an ineffective Ashley Young and a double teamed Antonio Valencia throughout the first half.

Determination: Christian Benteke steamrolled Chris Smalling for the first Villa goal, and Andreas Weiman smashed two past David De Gea to let the Reds know they were in for something serious at Villa Park on Saturday.  Paul Lambet had his young team well motivated and determined.

Awry: Paul Scholes offered up several dramatic give aways, the second of which indirectly led to the Villans' second goal of the afternoon? What are the odds on that?

Lifeline: Chicharito's third of the season offered the Reds a way back into the match. The Little Pea is coming up big this season, and his speed has the ability to completely unnerve opposition defenses.

Lifeline, Part II: Chicharito redux. He's not bad with his feet, either.

Spaniard: Big Dave's point reflexive denial of Weimann's hat trick was a turning point in the contest. Ten minutes afterward, and Weimann was still seen rubbing his hands through his hair wondering what happened....

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Thoughts on the Champions League, in No Particular Order

photo by The 5th Apevia PhotoRee
If you're looking this morning for four thoughts on the Champions League, does Columnist Ed ever have something for you...:
1. BoringAm I the only one who finds most of these Champions League group stage games painfully boring? Manchester United's own players seem to be feeling the same thing. They were barely moving and trying against Braga, a team I think might get relegated if it was in the BPL. 
Don't get me wrong, I understand why they're bored. They had to fly a long way to play in a stadium with poor turf and lights that don't always work. And they get to play a team that no one knows about or cares much about. Ugh.
I have two easy sugggestions on how to energize the CL:  First, do some March madness brackets -- rank the teams that are eligible and set up the competition just like the college hoops tournament. And make it one and done.  It's not as fair, but it certainly will keep sides like United from using their B team.
2. ImpressiveTwo teams have impressed me so far in the Champions League. First is Borussia Dortmund. They played a counter -attack game against Real Madrid and almost pulled it off for the victory. They're defensively well-organized and on offense move it around a lot. The other impressive team is FC Shakhtar Donetsk. They moved the ball very well against Chelsea and never looked intimdated. Especially the Brazilian Willian, who scored two and was extremely comfortable in possession. I've heard Spurs wanted him; too bad they couldn't get it done.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Another Day, Another Draw: Liverpool 1 - Newcastle 1

photo by kevinzimvia PhotoRee

Correspondent Scott is even-keeled, and so is Liverpool:

Liverpool was back to their usual, brilliant underachieving ways last Sunday at Anfield.  After a lackluster performance the previous week against Everton, during which they ceded their possession crown and yielded to the false charms of the long ball, this week the Reds came out with an intensity and determination that immediately had Newcastle against the ropes.  If only they could throw a knockout punch.  Instead they seem content to throw artful jabs that demonstrate skill and the ability to win, without actually connecting solidly and putting the fight away.

The first quarter hour was a show of the best football by any team I've seen this season.  Raheem Sterling was brilliant, having secured the respect of the league's defenders who are now all wary of immediately stepping up to pressure the teenager for fear of being beaten by the faux-hawked phenom.  The team was pressing hard and winning the ball back quickly; the players were confident on the ball and moving it well; and the work rate was consistently high across the pitch.  Unfortunately, as the clock crept toward 20 minutes, the goal that seemed so inevitable did not come, perhaps not surprisingly given the goal tally this year.

So, while Luis Suarez once again amazed and entertained (and angered some), the exhibition so far lacked the substance of a finishing touch. Instead, it was the away side who netted the lead just before halftime through the efforts of their enterprising Frenchman, Yohan Cabaye, who combined substance AND form with his blistering half-volley.  Fortunately, Suarez is not one to be outdone.  As if to show his versatility, it was not clever dribbling or passing that led to his equalize goal.

Rather, ironically, it came from a Jose Enrique long, long ball in the 67th minute which the Uruguayan shouldered down in the box under pressure, touched to the side past a lunging Tim Krul and then tapped into the empty net.  So sublime was the skill and touch displayed by the toothy lightening rod of controversy that I watched it three times over and marveled each time.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Turn the Lights Out, the Party's Over: Manchester United 3 - FC Braga 1

photo by Steve Puntervia PhotoRee

Q. Did Sir Alex rotate his line up for the Braga match?

A. And how: he sent out a team that included Antonio Valencia at right back, featured a return for long-term absentee Chris Smalling in central defense, and used Jonny Evans and Patrice Evra to round out David De Gea's defense. The midfield was a crazy quilt of several underutilized players: Nani, Anderson, Giggs, with Wazza thrown in for good measure, while upfront it was Manchester homeboy Danny Welbeck combining with the Red Devils' Player of the Month, Javier Hernandez.

Q. What did you notice about the game's first ten minutes?

A. That Wayne Rooney was playing deeper than Anderson. It was very strange....

Q. Was that the strangest thing you saw?

A. No. That would have been Ryan Giggs playing central defense while the physios were attending to a dizzy Chris Smalling.

Q. Anything else stand out in your mind during the first 45?

A. Not really. It was a fairly typical European night: cautious, cagey, real chances at a minimum and not much true goalmouth action at either end. Not vintage stuff from either side, by any means.

Q. Quiet start to the second half, as well?

A. Not after Braga buried a dubious penalty less than five minutes after the re-start.

Q. And then the lights went out for the home side?

A. Yes. Literally.

Q. Seriously?

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Hanging by a Thread: Manchester City 2 - Ajax 2

photo by chefrandenvia PhotoRee
o The hot seat beginning to warm up, Roberto Mancini left little to chance, playing an attacking triangle that included Carlos Tevez, Sergio Aguero and Yaya Toure up front against the men from Amsterdam. Bearing in mind that his City side will play Spurs at home this weekend, the Italian likely gambled -- correctly or not, still to be determined -- that five days rest would be enough when playing their next game at home.
o Coming as it did against the run of play, the double deflection for the Ajax opener was likely not what Mancini envisioned in his pre-game planning. Nor was De Jong’s uncontested header that made the scorline 2-nil a short six minutes later. On defense City look disorganized, demoralized and generally out of sorts – the same way they’ve appeared for much of the Champions League this season.
o Yaya Toure’s fantastic takedown and sidewinding goal which cut the deficit to one showcased the Ivorian’s game in one flowing move: the brute strength of an NBA power forward, combined with the finesse and footwork of a petite midfielder.
o Mancini doubled down at halftime, replacing Javi Garica with Mario Balotelli. While the move paid off with initial pressure, the ultimate dividend Mancini was hoping for was not immediately apparent.
o Kun Aguero reminded us a bit of Evan Lysacek. Playing as if he had ice skates on, the Argentine hit the deck and slid repeatedly…. Just askin’, but shouldn’t a player know which boots to wear on his home pitch…?
o Not content to use only three of his strikers, Mancini took one last chance at the 65 minute mark to throw in a fourth with the addition of Edin Dzeko – although he took off Tevez in order to do so. But it wasn’t super sub Dzeko who evened the scoreline – as was often the case last year, it was none other than El Kun who pulled the Citizens back to level terms with just over 25 minutes to play.
o Even when moving forward, City looked less like a team than a collection of individual superstars. Each offensive move was less a flow from one player to another than it was a piece of individual brilliance.
o When the winner came, it came from an offside position – and was rightly denied. The resulting 2-2 draw succinctly summed up Manchester City’s season to date – there is no “I” in team -- and left the Citizens and their Manager right where they were when the game kicked off: hanging by a thread.
This is farlieonfootie for November 7.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Goose Eggs: Week 10 in the BPL

photo by Vagabond Shutterbugvia PhotoRee

o Could someone please tell us why Theo Walcott is sitting on the Arsenal bench, especially with the Ox out injured...? Wethinks Arsense Wenger knows more than he is saying about the Englishman's long-term future....

o After re-watching the highlights of United's 2-1 victory over Arsenal on Saturday, we're still scratching our heads at how the Reds failed to match last year's 8-2 victory -- certainly the scoring chances were there for the taking.

o Only time will tell if the Citizens nil-nil draw with West Ham United was two points dropped or a point gained. Both sides passed up multiple chances to win in a scoreline that was unlucky to finish knotted at goose eggs.

o Spare a thought for poor old Chelsea. As if a trip to Wales to play the Swans at the Liberty wasn't hard enough after the week they'd endured, Chelsea's slim 1-nil lead was greeted with...hailstones. Are you kidding us?!

o Andre Villas-Boas has gone for a much simpler look this season: gone is the multi-pocketed Inspector Gadget trench coat, replaced by a cleaner-looking simple rain coat. Although if we were being unkind we might say he looked a bit as if he mistakenly borrowed his much smaller brother's coat this weekend.... And the collar on the Potuguese bossman's shirt may be getting a bit tighter, too, after his curious decision to remove Jermaine Defoe from the field of action with his team down a second half goal at home. Can anyone see Sir Alex or Roberto Mancini making a move like that...?

Monday, November 5, 2012

Game Day Beer Review: Oskar Blues Grill & Brewery Deviant Dales Imperial IPA

(8.00% ABV) Deviant Dale's pours a deep orange-y reddish color with a fluffy head that leaves behind some lacing etched to the glass. The beer is murky, with no way to see through it. This beer was drunk at the home office on a beautiful South Florida fall evening:

Smells grapefruit and pine-ish hops with a whiff of bread.

Light mouthfeel and medium carbonation. The first taste is all hops, and then the beer's malt body kicks in. The finishing bitterness lingers nicely, with the memory of a not-too-distant grapefruit at its core.

Like most of Oskar Blues' beers, this one is rock solid. B+

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Five Brief Thoughts on Manchester United 2 - Arsenal 1

photo by topher76via PhotoRee

Letdown: After the highs of the last two Chelsea games, the first half yesterday was a huge letdown, to the players as well as the fans. Besmirched by mixups, misplayed passes and a mishit penalty, neither side acquitted itself very well, despite the early United goal. The fact that both sides played so poorly should not be entirely unexpected after the emotional highs and lows reached by the two teams in the last couple of days.

RVP: The only thing more certain than the former Arsenal man scoring against his old teammates was the low key celebration which followed. And after managing to find the net yet again this season, it's not only the Manchester United fans who love RVP: Arsenal left back Andre Santos was so smitten that he asked for the Dutchman's kit at halftime rather than risk being shutout at the end of the game.

Horrible: One of our younger corporate employees has a favorite saying: "When Patrice Evra scores against you, you know you're bad." Based on the ninety minute shift that Arsenal put in yesterday, he's a hundred percent correct. Arsenal looked sluggish, careless, listless and any other adjective that you'd care to throw at a team that played as if they were entirely devoid of all passion, urgency and focus.

Beware: People keep saying that Manchester City has been poor to date, but is still within striking distance of the League lead. But so has United, and today was yet another sub-vintage performance from the once and future champions. Playing just well enough to win got them three more points, and United has now come through a brutal stretch of matches that included Spurs, Arsenal, Liverpool and Chelsea with only one casualty to their name -- depsite failing to put together a full 90 minutes of dominating football. Although there's no such thing as an easy game in the Prem, it's fair to say the next several games should be easier than the last few.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Derby Day

Correspondent Scott likes his hats on Derby Day
photo by Corey Annvia PhotoRee

Scott checks in with the lowdown on Liverpool:

Some jobs are easy – like being a night guard at a museum - simply watching the security monitors for anything moving, especially things wearing a mask. Or being a babysitter for kids who are already asleep for the night when you arrive. Now, being a linesman (sorry, assistant referee) in soccer isn't quite as easy as either of those jobs but, in the case of certain situations, such as a free kick, it is really quite simple - practically speaking, your only task at that point is to just make sure that when the ball is played forward by the attacking team no red jerseys are beyond the blue jerseys (assuming the goalie has not gone rogue). So how is it that these calls are consistently blown? In the case of Liverpool's game, the wrong call robbed them of two points (and me of fantasy points!). In the case of Manchester United, the wrong call gifted Darth Ferguson and the evil empire those two points.

Of course, if truth be told, I begrudge the United call less than the Liverpool call because I would rather err on the side of offense. Unless you are really sure, you don't disallow a winning goal in extra time and later proclaim something along the lines of "I think so" when asked if you are certain. Nor was that missed call the only of the game. Immediately after kickoff, a blatantly missed offside call nearly led to something very dangerous for Everton. Time to watch some televison monitors or sleeping kids, Mr. “Assistant Referee.”

Of course, as with any game, not all the blame can be put on a single call since, invariably, the players have made numerous miscues along the way. For example, in merely the second minute of the game, if the newly-shorn Jose Enrique had possessed anything remotely resembling a right foot, he could have played the breaking Raheem Sterling through on goal. And while the Spaniard acquitted himself nicely in the runup to Liverpool’s first goal by virtue of a nice touch back and then cross, his ball-watching and lax defending in the 35th minute allowed the men in blue to equalize.

I suppose it seems apropos that a Liverpool derby should reek of highs and lows, for there were plenty of both. Brad Jones seemed to be grabbing Pepe Reina’s crown when he fingertipped away a dangerous cross and lunged to boot away a corner-bound backpass. But his poor punch clearance in the 22nd minute went straight to Leon Osman in a wide-open position at the top of the box and directly led to Everton getting back in the game, seriously jeopardized his bid to dethrone the Spaniard. Then there was Sterling who was running dangerously at Everton, winning free kicks and manufacturing a 1v1 situation with his speed, before absolutely muffing said 1v1 and making yet another forced, bad pass.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Game Day Beer Review: Green Flash Brewing Rayon Vert Belgian Pale Ale

(7.00% ABV) Poured from the bottle into a tulip glass in Sin City, Las Vegas, Nevada. Rayon Vert is a murky dark-ish gold color with an absolutely massive white head that won't go away. It looks as if someone sprayed shaving cream into the glass.

The smell is sour; brett-like. Lemon and pepper also make themselves apparent on the nose.

This beer starts out as a slightly funky but straightforward pale ale, but ends with a very bitter finish. It's less sour on the taste than you might expect, although it has some lingering funk. It's very highly carbonated.

Don't know if I love it. B

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Men Versus Boys: Chelsea 5 - Manchester United 4

photo by woodleywonderworksvia PhotoRee

Q. Ch-ch-ch-changes...?

A. Yes.  Four days on from their latest classic, it was changes galore as Chelsea faced Manchester United in the Capital One Cup at Stamford Bridge on Wednesday evening. Gone were Wayne Rooney and Robin Van Persie, replaced by Javier Hernandez and Danny Welbeck. Ryan Giggs made a return to the lineup, joining Darren Fletcher, Anderson and Nani in midfield. Rafael was the sole survivor from the weekend, and he was joined on defense by several other youngsters: Scott Wooton, Alexander Buttner and Michael Keane. Anders Lindeaard took the place of David De Gea in goal. Chelsea's lineup was slightly less changed, with Petr Cech, Jon Obi Mikel, Juan Mata and David Luiz reprising their starting roles from Sunday.

Q. Did the game have the same tense atmosphere as Sunday's affair...?

A. Not quite, although it was serious, at least initially. Until Daniel Sturridge tripped over the ball after he broke clear through on goal. And the United away fans unveiled a banner which read "Chelsea: Standing Up To Racism Since Last Sunday." Those two occurrences brought some much needed levity to the early proceedings.

Q. Who stood out most for you in the first half?

A. Chelsea'a Victor Moses played as if he had a point to prove...which in a way, he did. But it was Ryan Giggs who hit the blow that mattered most early on. Ando robbed Romeu of an ill-conceived Petr Cech kick out, and when the Brazilian poked the ball free to Giggsy it was never going to end any other way but 1-0.

Q. 1-nil into halftime?

A. Not after Victor Moses abused Buttner in the box, the Dutchman scything down the Chelsea player and giving Referee Lee Mason no option but to point to the spot. Sideshow Bob powered the ball past a diving Lindegaard and we were back to level.

Q. So, 1-1 at the half?

A. Not quite yet. Sideshow Bob was once again involved in a score, as he was robbed of the ball after yet another foolish midfield jaunt. When Ando put Chicharito through, 2-1 was all but nailed on; Cech must see Chicharito in his nightmares these days.

Q. With these two teams that lead didn't hold up, did it....?