Monday, December 30, 2013

2-1 Times 2: Thoughts on Liverpool's Shaky Run of Form

photo by [3/4 of zer0]via PhotoRee
Scott has some excuses thoughts on Liverpool's last two horrific losses games:
Top of the league at Christmas and now 5th and 6 points from the top before New Year’s Eve.  How could this have happened?  Well, like most things in life, it is no single thing but rather a combination of factors:
1)      Liverpool squandered chances.  In the first game against Manchester City, Liverpool played at least as well as the home team and likely deserved a point for their pressing, creativity and determination.  But too many chances went begging and such opportunities must be seized when playing against the likes of Manchester City or Chelsea.  While there were not as many chances against Chelsea, failing to convert certainly played a role.
2)      Mignolet had a bad day against Manchester City.  I think on almost any other day, Simon does not let Negredo’s weak shot dribble in.  But dribble in it did.
3)      The competition was excellent.  To be fair, it wasn’t all down to Liverpool not executing.  Manchester City created scores of opportunities also, while Chelsea were relentless in their high pressing and quick strikes.  Plus, the darker blues were aggressively defensive (overly so at times) when they needed to be.
4)      The referees were bad in the Manchester City game.  I’m not saying Liverpool lost both games because of poor decisions, but nobody would win the argument that those decisions did not have an enormous impact on the game.  In the first game, the standout error was the blatant miscue that saw the assistant referee flag Raheem Sterling offside when he was several feet onside.  Despite Brendan Rodgers’ comments regarding Lee Mason’s proximity to Manchester (with which I disagree), the fault is clearly the assistant referee’s.  And this is not one of those “could go either way” things.  He was way onside and was through on goal with acres of space and only Joe Hart ahead.

5)      The referees were bad in the Chelsea game.  Jose Mourinho can throw all the tantrums he likes and accuse Liverpool of all manner of theatrics, but the simple fact is that Samuel Eto’o’s (hmmm, the possessive looks a little redundant there) challenge on Jordan Henderson likely would have drawn a red if it were later in the game.  It’s pretty amazing it didn’t even get a yellow.  A game against a 10-man Chelsea squad would have been a very different game indeed.  Especially given that Eto’o scored later.  And, if he had at least gotten a yellow, when he did deliberately trip Suarez later, he should have gotten a second yellow and been out.  Instead, no foul was called there either.  To be fair, that was a tough call because Suarez didn’t have the ball and Howard Webb would have had to give a penalty if he called it.  But, from the replays, there was no doubt it was a foul and that it was deliberate.  And the fact that Suarez was mugged by John Terry in the six-yard box with no call was also nearly criminal.  And all this against a Chelsea team that was the beneficiary of a phantom penalty call against West Brom.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Just Enough: Manchester United 1 - Norwich City 0 -- Game Recap and Player Ratings

photo by ximenatapiavia PhotoRee

Playing bland, uninspired football, Manchester United did just enough to outlast a determined Norwich City side at Carrow Road on Saturday.  The second half introduction of Danny Welbeck changed the fortunes of the Red Devils, enlivening a sluggish attack and creating the lone goal the visitors needed to notch their fifth consecutive win.  Despite having the ball for large portions of the contest, the Red Devils conceded eight corners to the one they gained, as the play from Chris Hughton's team belied their cellar dwelling position, with the home side forcing much of the action and piling repeated pressure on David De Gea's goal.  

The importance of the result showed in the contest's nervy ending, with United seeking to dribble the game out in the Norwich corner, but forced into some last gasp defending to preserve their shutout.  Herewith, the individual player ratings on a key victory for the visitors:

De Gea: Under a ton of first half pressure but up to the task. 7.0

Smalling: Acquitted himself well at right back.  Displayed good quickness for a big man. 6.5

Vidic (c): An absolute warrior in the air. 7.0

Evans: Key first half block on a Wes Hoolahan shot. 6.5

Evra: Beaten like a drum repeatedly but bailed out by De Gea in the first half. More disciplined effort after the interval. 5.0

Young: Ineffective on the left. The move to the right side brought some life to his game, but the winger went listless again after moving back to left to accommodate Januzaj. 4.5

Cleverley: Seems mentally and physically incapable of doing more than laying the ball off. Soft challenges in midfield led to opportunities for the home side. 4.0

Carrick: Directed traffic in the middle and brought back the one touch pass to the United attack. 5.5

Giggs: A virtual spectator. 4.0

Friday, December 27, 2013

Christmas Cracker: Manchester United 3 - Hull City 2 -- Game Recap and Player Ratings

photo by Lauren Closevia PhotoRee

Manchester United scored as many goals as all of the KC Stadium's visitors combined this season, spotting the home side an early two goal lead before storming back to claim a much needed 3-2 victory over the Hull City Tigers on Boxing Day.  Wayne Rooney added yet another assist in a season full of them and a stunning goal from free play to his stellar campaign, while Chris Smalling and an own goal gift from the home side proved just enough to overcome a wobbly start by the Reds.   

An early injury to Rafael necessitated that David Moyes show his hand early on in the action, and the United Manager's attacking intent became crystal clear as Adnan Januzaj entered the contest from the bench in the 18th minute.  Despite being down a pair of goals due to hesitant defensive work, the team's faith in the ultimate outcome was never in doubt, as Rooney put on a virtual one man show to haul his side back level less than 14 minutes after conceding the Tiger's second goal.  Although the offense was not quite as free-flowing after the break, there was always the sense that a late winner would claim the vital victory for the visitors, and the team's industrious effort was rewarded when James Chester's own goal completed the Red Devils' fightback.  

There was still  bit of work to be done to preserve the victory, though, as a late Antonio Valencia red card required United goalkeeper David De Gea to come up big in stoppage time to claim the three points.  Herewith, the individual player ratings on a victory that saw the visitors move up another notch in the table, and within 8 points of the top spot:

De Gea: Little to do in the first 45 other than pick the ball out of his net twice. Alert when required after the break, denying Hull in stoppage time to hang onto the victory. 7.0

Rafael: Hooked early due to a groin strain. 5.0

Smalling: Made no mistake with a free header for his side's first goal of the afternoon. 7.0

Evans: An own goal wasn't quite the gift he had in mind for Boxing Day. 6.0

Evra (c): Relatively quiet day at the office. 6.0

Valencia: Lost his marker on Hull's corner kick goal in the first five minutes. Filled in admirably at right back -- right until an unnecessary red card almost cost his side two points. 5.5

Cleverley: Still lacks a cutting edge. 6.0

Thursday, December 26, 2013

An Early Christmas for Liverpool Fans

All Scott wants for Christmas is a title:

Against Cardiff City this past weekend, two more glorious goals and one assist are further evidence of Luis Suarez’ unmatched form in the league.  His first goal was an incredible volley while his second was an amazing, curling shot from outside the 18.  Jordan Henderson was the provider for both, with the second coming via a cheeky back heel.  For me, however, the most telling moment of the night, and cause for ongoing optimism, was the unselfish squared ball Suarez made to Raheem Sterling when he only had the ‘keeper to beat.  Sterling had only to side foot into the net but a player in form like Suarez would be expected to, and excused for, taking the shot himself.  That he chose to supply his teammate with an easier shot speaks volumes.

An otherwise dominant performance was Mutch marred by incredibly poor marking from another set-piece.  I’m no tactician but one defender marking two forwards doesn’t seem like a good strategy, and Jordan Mutch was obliged.  Yet another game without a cleansheet.  One has to wonder if those mental mistakes might come back to haunt in a tighter game.  Like, say, against Manchester City on Boxing Day or against Chelsea soon after.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Merry Christmas

photo by *clairity*via PhotoRee

And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.

And lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.

And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.

For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.

And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying,
Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.

Luke 2: 8-14

Merry Christmas from your friends at

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Yawner: Manchester United 3 - West Ham United 1 -- Game Recap and Player Ratings

Photo by Tambako the Jaguar on Flickr

Manchester United gained the first of twelve much needed points over the Christmas festive period, dispatching a listless West Ham United squad 3-1 at Old Trafford on Saturday.  So complete was the Reds' latest win that even Sir Alex Ferguson was yawning from his seat in the stands, as the game felt comfortably in hand from the 20 minute mark.  Danny Welbeck, Wayne Rooney and Adnan Januzaj proved more than the West Ham defense were capable of handling on offense, while the defense handed David De Gea a virtual vacation day bar a late mental lapse that prevented a fourth consecutive clean sheet in the League.

Herewith, the individual player ratings on a game that saw the team improve their home goals record by more than 30%:  

De Gea: Won't need his uniform laundered after the game, so little did he move. Shutout spoiled late on by poor positioning from substitute Alexander Büttner.  7.0

Rafael: Beautiful understanding and interplay with Valencia. 7.0

Evra (c): Stuck mainly to defending, ceding the left side attack on the day to Januzaj.  7.0

Evans: Sacrificed the body to protect his goal on numerous occasions and was denied at the other end by Mark Noble. 7.5

Smalling: Rock solid at the back. 7.5

Januzaj: His first half penalty shout may have been denied, but there was no stopping the Belgian starlet just a minute later for the home side's second goal of the afternoon. 8.0

Valencia: Upside: another industrious effort on the right flank. Downside: consistently inconsistent with his crossing. 7.0

Jones: Not afraid to drive forward when in possession and broke up play well. 7.0

Cleverley: Was nearly in the net after only a minute and kept the ball on the move all afternoon long. 7.0

Friday, December 20, 2013

Coming of Age: Some Thoughts on Luis Suarez

"Coming of Age"
Photo by National Library of Ireland on Flickr

Thoughts from our Liverpool-loving Correspondent Scott, so naturally just a bit biased:

Has Luis Suarez’ behavior turned a corner? Maybe. He has certainly dialed down the antics and I have not seen him dive for quite some time (while others in the league continue to flop). Sure, he’s not afraid to sully his uniform if slightly tripped in a favorable position. But that will always be a part of the game – and one could argue that the slight trip was the result of the skill and dexterity that caused the defender to slightly blunder. In the end, maybe Mrs. Suarez’ reported strong input with her husband has come to good effect. As a Liverpool fan and a more-than-occasional defender of our beloved sport, I certainly hope so.

Still, the skeptic in me looks at the success the Uruguayan has been having in terms of goals and wins. It’s always easier to be a good sport when things are going your way. After all, he didn’t chomp on Branislov Ivanovic after netting a hat-trick. The true test of Suarez’ “new” character will be when he is, eventually and inevitably, stifled and frustrated by successive defenses.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Comments on a Complete Performance: Liverpool 5 - Tottenham Hotspur 0

Photo by Tim Geers on Flickr

Scott is enraptured:

A "complete performance" is how Brendan Rodgers described Liverpool's effort away at Tottenham last Sunday; and I couldn't agree more.  It wasn't just the 5-0 scoreline, even if a first clean sheet in five games weren't reason enough to cheer.   It was the tenacious and unrelenting pressing of the ball.  It was the pugnacious tackling and swarming defending.  It was the creative passing and running that sliced and diced.  It was the stunningly stubborn will to play the ball out of the back.  And, it was a certain Uruguayan with the captain's armband who contributed a mere 2 goals and 3 assists.

To say Luis Suarez is on fire of late is to describe Sofia Vergara as merely pretty.  He ignites the players around him, and will continue to earn the respect of more and more players, fans and coaches as he continues to mind his manners and not dive.  I'm not even convinced he embellished Paulinho's cleat to the chest, which clearly deserved a red card because you could see that the Brazilian purposely contorted his leg to impede Suarez who was on his way past.  Only 11 games removed from his suspension for preschool antics and there he is sporting the captain's arm-band, playing with integrity and having only accumulated 1 yellow card so far in the season. Rodgers has managed him brilliantly and I may exhale yet.  By the way, 2 goals and 3 assists go a long way toward helping people forget a wide open net you missed.

But while Suarez was clearly the leading man, the supporting cast was a veritable Reservoir Dogs of character actors.  Young John Flanagan (because that's what the commentators are required to call him, it seems) has been a revelation both defensively and going forward.  And how about a first Premier League goal for the young lad?  It was taken brilliantly on the half-volley before it careened in off the cross bar for the third, and traditionally decisive, goal.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

All Hail the Capital One Cup: Manchester United 2 - Stoke City 0

Manchester United rode an improved second half performance to a 2-0 victory over Stoke City Wednesday night at a cold and wet Britannia Stadium.  As it has on so many occasions, the introduction of Javier Hernandez changed the outcome of the contest, with the Mexican's movement and speed bringing a much-needed spark of electricity and pace to the United attack near the hour mark.  While the first half was an all too typical encounter with the disciplined hosts, it was during the latter half of football that the visitors finally gained the upper hand in a down-and-dirty struggle to advance to the Capital One Cup semi-finals.

If the first half was notable for anything other than the complete lack of opportunities for either side, it was the fierce weather which bore down on players and spectators alike, with heavy gusts, lashing rain and even hail bringing the proceedings to a temporary halt.  The conditions improved markedly after the interval, as did United's performance: Antonio Valencia and Ashley Young in particular seemed to enjoy a second shot on the notoriously tough Stoke-on-Trent proving ground.  Herewith, the individual player ratings on a cold and wet, but ultimately satisfying night for the Red Devils:

De Gea: A surprise starter, whose inclusion showed just how important this Cup means to his Manager. Little do do but try to stay warm on a miserable evening. 7.0

Rafael: Rarely ventured forward before the interval, but looked rejuvenated after the break. 6.5

Smalling: Stuck to Crouch like a hobo on a ham sandwich. Solid effort. 7.0

Evans: Kept things well under control on defense, but missed the only half-opportunity that fell United's way in the first half. Still, partnered well with Smalling to form a fortress in front of his 'keeper. 7.0

Evra: Another inconsistent effort on defense, but picked out a beauty on the attacking end for the visitors' second tally of the evening. 7.0

Valencia: The Ecuadorian found it difficult to get untracked before the break, but became much more influential as the game wore on. 7.0

Cleverley: Appointed as field general today, but turned the ball over too often for our liking. It still seems as if his most basic instinct is to slow down the game. 6.0

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Spy vs. Spy: Intercepted Spurs' Correspondence

Spy vs. Spy
Photo by Terry Robinson on Flickr
Despite numerous assurances to the contrary, it appears the National Security Agency is still spying on ordinary Americans -- and ordinary is exactly the way that we would describe the level of insight in this recently intercepted dispatch between Correspondents Ed and James:
[James]: For the record, I think Daniel Levy is a freaking moron and AVB is not far behind.
[Ed]: It's really hard to know.  If AVB was the personnel guy, then he couldn't get it done with his own players and it's hard to judge Levy other than for bringing him in only to relieve him so quickly.  Only the players know who is truly to blame -- maybe both of them....
[James]: AVB got his tactics colossaly wrong on too many occasions.  You can't play the likes of Dawson and Kaboul in a high line and insist on playing guys like Soldado and Defoe as lone strikers.  On the other hand, they spend £100 million to bring in essentially six versions of the same player over two years, while still thin at center half and full back.
[Ed]: And only one striker.  And no top tier guy. 
[James]: But hey, they still netted £10 million after Gareth Bale and wage savings...!  They can't get anyone good mid-season.

[Ed]: You can't question Levy's negotiating skills....  It will be interesting to see what a new coach does. I hope they get someone good.... I imagine Uncle 'arry is wondering what he could've done with £100 million.
[James]: It'll be Tim Sherwood as season-long Interim Manager in my opinion.  There was a really good article in the Telegraph about how Levy f-ed up the Moutinho deal at the last minute over £1/2 million.  Negotiation Skills: you get what you pay for....  Most of the guys they got are young with "sell-on" value.  So who gives a s-t if they all play the same position?  Make it work, Mr. Manager, and get us the Top Four and win the Europa league.....  And, oh, play exciting, attacking football.
[Ed]: Hah!  We saw from the beginning that they needed more creative they're more fun to watch.  Arsenal just spent £40 million for one guy and now look amazing.  World class talent is where it's at.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Rebound: Manchester United 3 - Aston Villa 0 -- Game Recap and Player Ratings

Photo by Sancho McCann on Flickr

Manchester United rebounded from a four game winless streak in the League on Sunday afternoon, emerging from Villa Park with a comfortable 3-0 victory over the home side, the Red Devils first domestic win since November 10th against Arsenal.  Coming on a weekend in which the League leaders Arsenal dropped points against a rampant Manchester City side, the three points will go a long way toward putting some salve on a number of the self-inflicted wounds the side has suffered in recent weeks.  Danny Welbeck, Antonio Valencia and Wayne Rooney competed for Man of the Match honors, with the homegrown Mancunian forward just nipping his fellow stars to the favored status, the reward for two early first half goals which made the game look comfortably in the bag before the interval.
Although United looked more free-flowing at times today, the perfunctory performance will do little to strike fear in the hearts of the teams' competitors, and much more of the same will be required before the team can put its rocky recent past behind it.  Herewith, the individual payer ratings in a game that must have calmed some jumpy nerves for the visitors:  
De Gea: Was tested early by the home side but proved more than up to the task. Finally, a clean sheet. 7.5

Rafael: The Brazilian is capable of crossing the ball as well as anyone on the team.  His best effort in quite some time. 8.0

Evans: Pumped some long balls forward and looked comfortable at the back. 7.5

Jones: Stalwart in the middle of defense. 7.5

Evra: Still looks a bit suspect. 6.0

Valencia: Clearly an important part of the afternoon's game plan and was on target with a cross that led to the away side's second goal of the afternoon. Had a stormer from the right. 8.5

Giggs: Creative force in the middle of the park, waned as the game drew on. 6.5

Cleverley: Key interception began the counterattack that led to a two goal lead. And finally a goal for the Red Devils' third of the afternoon. Much better effort than "average" on both sides of the ball. 7.5

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Game Day Beer Review: Goose Island Bourbon County Brand Barleywine Ale

The Location: The farlieonfootie corporate office, Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

The Date: Sunday, December 8th

The Time: 5:01pm, Eastern Daylight Time

The Weather: 75 degrees, air conditioned environment.

The Scene: Arsenal vs Everton on a televised replay. Co-workers off doing whatever it is co-workers do, while the boss catches a late afternoon recap of the day's action, feet on desk.

The Music: Whatever She's Got, David Nail

The Beer: Bourbon County Brand Barleywine Ale, Goose Island (12.10% ABV)

The Taste: The booze is eminently smellable, indeed almost all-enveloping, as soon as the beer is poured. The nose also mixes the scents of vanilla and bourbon into the action. BCB Barleywine has an oily mouthfeel due to its high ABV, but it offers decent carbonation. We tasted dark chocolate, butterscotch and bourbon, with some sweet malt and toffee also present asnd accounted for. Make no mistake about it: this is a big beer, and it warms your insides as it goes down.

The Feel: A great game deserves a great beer.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Where's the Plan? Some Brief Thoughts on the Premier League Season

Reading Glasses
Photo by Martin on Flickr

Ed has been reading up on all the action:
The BPL seems tumultuous this year, but is it?  The top four are Arsenal, Chelsea, City, Liverpool – not exactly an impoverished bunch.  Behind them is Everton, a dark horse but certainly one that’s inhabited this position before, and then Spurs.  Thus the only real surprise is United way down in 9th behind Newcastle, who just beat them, and Southampton, who have been playing very will this year but are still only a point up on the Red Devils.
Which makes me wonder what is worse for Moyes: All the losses at United, or is it Martinez making his Everton team look as good as or better than the league leading Gunners?  Everton definitely has more talent than Moyes had – Barkley is a year wiser and seems one of the best midfielders in the BPL at times – and Lukaku is a fairly recent addition.  But still, the style of Everton even without Leighton Baines makes United look lost in the early 1990s.  Plus Martinez’s additions such as McCarthy and Deulofeu, seem far better than the $28MM Felaini that can barely get time in a weak United midfield.  So query, did Sir Alex fail his club in his last act?  Was he blinded by a Scottish bias?  Only time will tell, but right now it would be hard to believe the United board might not be thinking they just made a terrible mistake.
Meanwhile, over in Spurs-land, AVB has guided the Spurs to two somewhat rocky wins over Fulham and then Sunderland, two basement dwellers.  At least these were wins, as there should be no shame in beating the teams you are supposed to beat.  However, the service to the center remains poor, and AVB seems to still be trying to figure out his best center and wing combinations.  Personally, I would try Paulinho and Sandro behind Dembele, but it turns out AVB doesn’t care what I think.  Regardless, Spurs seem miles apart from the Everton and Arsenal teams that battled it out last weekend.  They have difficulty connecting passes and have no rhythm to their attack.  Not sure what the plans is yet, and less sure it will work.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Relief: Manchester United 1 - Shakhtar Donetsk 0 -- Game Recap and Player Ratings

Relief from the palace of King Sargon II
Photo by Charlie Phillips on Flickr

The relief was palpable at Old Trafford when Phil Jones volleyed the ball into the net, the act breaking not only a more than five hour scoreless streak but sending Manchester United into the Champions League knockout stage as the top seed from Group A.  Jones' goal was a standout moment in a game that featured little to be happy about for the home side, as poor ball control and numerous defensive mistakes clouded much of the Red Devils' gameplan; but for the shooting inaccuracy of the visitors from Ukraine, the result could have easily gone the other way. 

Although Manager David Moyes will undoubtedly be buoyed by the victory, the display prompted as many questions as it did answers, and will leave the Red Devils with numerous problems to sort out in order to get their season back on track.  Herewith, the frank and honest individual player ratings from a much needed home win:
De Gea: Was aided by the visitors' less-than-accurate shooting. 6.0

Rafael: Decent night defensively. 5.5

Ferdinand: Nearly cost his teammates dearly when he was beaten badly by Alex Teixeira. Bailed out more than once by Jonny Evans. Is this the end? 3.5

Evans: Covered for Rio Ferdinand on numerous occasions. Looked solid defensively, but appears increasingly uncomfortable in possession.  5.0
Büttner: Unable to deliver an accurate cross and too easily dispossessed of the ball. 3.5
Young: Failed on delivery from the corner and managed to miss both an open net and a wide open Rooney when the goal was begging before the interval. Roy Keane's 'Just not good enough' comment summed it up nicely. 3.5

Giggs: Completely overrun in midfield, left acres of open space in front and behind him. Not his night. 4.0

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Theatre of Nightmares: Newcastle United 1 - Manchester United 0 -- Game Recap and Player Ratings

Killapalooza 2: Nightmare on Elm Street
Photo by Double Feature on Flickr

Wilt Chamberlin scored his 30,000th point in the NBA, Jack Nicklaus passed Gary Player as golf's all-time money leader, and and Hank Aaron signed a contract for $200,000 per season, becoming MLB's highest paid player in the process.  To put it in context, these were the sports headlines the last time Newcastle United traveled to Old Trafford and emerged victorious over 41 years ago.  So while David Moyes continued to make history on Saturday, it was history of the wrong type, as Manchester United fell at home to yet another long deprived side, Newcastle United this time the beneficiaries of the Red Devils' generosity, with the home side looking exceptionally ordinary and slow throughout the entire contest. Seemingly devoid of ideas, pace and passion, United suffered another inevitable defeat at the hands of a lone second half goal, with Yohan Cabaye's tally being all the visitors needed to emerge with three points.

Once again it was the middle of the park that looked confused and muddled, as the home side had plenty of possession but played with little incisiveness.  Attempting to redress the problem, Moyes called Wilfried Zaha, Anderson and Antonio Valencia off the bench to replace starters, but the situation failed to improve as the clock ticked toward full time.  It's unclear as to whether or not the latest dispiriting defeat meant Moyes has lost some of the dressing room, but clearly he has lost some of the sides' many fans, as a large number of the  attendees at Old Trafford streamed out of the stadium to an early exit: the late game magic seemingly gone for the moment at least, as is the level of fear opponents feel when coming to Old Trafford -- a theatre of Red nightmares this week.  

Herewith the individual player ratings after a game in which a discouraging sense of  defeatism seeped into the team's performance:

De Gea: Snoozefest until just prior to half, but was alert and equal to the danger. This is getting repetitive, but there was little he could have done on Cabaye's winner. 6.0

Rafael: Quiet game for the second time in a row. Never a threat going forward. 5.0

Evans: Little to do. 5.5

Vidic (C): The lack of cover in midfield left his lack of pace exposed. 5.0

Evra: Stormed forward on numerous occasions but also fell asleep and was beaten more than once. Again denied on a set piece, this time by the post and a Newcastle hand. Should have done much better against Sissoko on the play leading up to the winning goal. 4.5

Nani: Frustratingly inconsistent, and unwilling to dive into any challenges. The only thing consistent about his performance today was making the wrong decision -- every time. 4.5

Jones: Punishing performance in midfield.  The only player who seemed to care. 6.5

Cleverley: Was clearly challenged by the Manager to play more forward passes, yet faded in the second half and failed to establish any influence on the contest before being given an early hook. 5.0

Januzaj: Lively early, but all sizzle and no steak today. 5.5

Simply Sublime: Liverpool 5 - Norwich City 1

Photo by Rebecca Dubell on Flickr

Scott's been in 7th Heaven since Wednesday:

Sipping a pricey (for me anyway) Pinot Noir that was purchased for Thanksgiving dinner but, ultimately, deemed above the collective appreciation level of the quaffing family and friends in attendance (snobbery, I know), I settled down for a comfortable viewing of the Liverpool v Norwich match. And despite the final result, the first 10 minutes were anything but comfortable as the visitors had the more and better chances with both teams surrendering sloppily.  Fear of a Hull City hangover gripped as tightly as I my glass of oenophile pleasure.

Fortunately, the stemware was given a reprieve as Liverpool began to work more into the game around the 15th minute and then Luis Suarez started his nearly-one-man show in the 16th minute with a déjà vu shot from just inside midfield that caught poor Ruddy out yet again.

Despite Norwich working around as if they were the home team near the 20th minute, Liverpool stepped up the pressure with Philippe Coutinho harassing incessantly.  This led to Suarez' second of the game, this time from a deftly finished shot off a corner.  Might this be a third hat-trick against poor Norwich who have been made the Uruguayan's collective bitch?  That question is answered a mere 6 minutes later when an effort of sheer brilliance completes said hat-trick.  The scoop around the defender was sublime, as was the patience to wait the half-second longer needed for the next defender to think he was going to cut back, before he half-volleyed a rocket into the side netting.  The announcer was absolutely gushing about Suarez' brilliance, and deservedly so.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Game Day Beer Review: Brouwerij Huyghe Delirium Nöel Belgian Strong Dark Ale

The Location: A private home in Fort Lauderdale, Florida

The Date: Saturday, November 30, 2013

The Time: 5:15pm, Eastern Standard Time

The Weather: 75 degrees in the air-conditioned indoors

The Scene: The loud sounds of children, excited to be hanging ornaments on a Christmas  tree, the room a veritable beehive of activity. Holiday music plays in the background. 

The Music: Silver Bells, Colbie Caillat

The BeerDelirium Noël, Brouwerij Huyghe (10.00% ABV)

The Taste: Poured from the bottle into a goblet.  Appears an always-lighter-than-expected reddish-brown color with a thin head that rapidly dissolves. The beer offers notes of Belgian yeast, honey, apples and sweet malt on the nose. Delirium Noël has the definite tartness of a fermented apple juice, mixed with malty sweetness and a ton of grape esters. It's nicely boozy, but not thick in its mouthfeel. It's a wonderfully complex beer, one that surprises us by its depth every time we try it. Noël is a genuine holiday treat. 

The Feel: As close as we get to winter in South Florida. 

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Cut Adrift: Manchester United 0 - Everton 1 -- Game Recap and Player Ratings

Manchester United concede late to lose 0-1 to Everton - @757LiveSports
Photo by Madhu Babu Pandi on Flickr

Everton finally overcame Manchester United at Old Trafford and David Moyes was around to see it; unfortunately for the Scot, he viewed it from the home team's bench, as the Toffees out hustled, outplayed, and most importantly outscored the Red Devils in a midweek Barclay's Premier League match on Wednesday night. The result left United 12 points adrift of Arsenal at the top of the table and virtually out of contention for the title after only 14 games -- this occurring in the season immediately after they galloped over the rest of the field and coasted to the wire 11 points ahead of their closest rival.

Marouane Fellaini once again drew the ire of  the home fans, although truth be told the blame could easily have been spread much further -- from the players on the pitch right on down to the entirety of the United coaching staff. Once again, the home side played an especially narrow brand of football, and missing their talisman Robin Van Persie, turned in another listless performance that left the home supporters fit to be tied. 

Herewith, the individual player ratings for what can best be described as a disastrous result for the Red Devils:

De Gea: Denied Kevin Mirallas before the break and creatively used his knees to stop another Everton shot.  Came up big to blank Gerard Deulofeu from point blank range in the second half. Finally beaten with five minutes to go -- not a fair result for the Spaniard, who deserved a better fate. 6.0

Rafael: Appeared more than a bit rusty after his lengthy time off. Failed to impact the game in any material way. 5.0

Smalling: Pulled off a crucial block on a Lukaku cross and denied another shot by the Belgian with his head. Will not be happy with Valencia for putting him under pressure on the late concession. 4.5

Vidic (C): His typical commanding self in the air but was outmuscled on the ground by Lukaku on several occasions before the break. 5.0

Evra: Energetic presence and strong defending on the left. Required a great Howard save to keep him off the scoresheet. 5.5

Valencia: Appeared more reluctant to take on Everton when he had the ball, perhaps because of increased defensive responsibilities. Rash challenge on Seamus Coleman almost led to an Everton goal, and then totally switched off while at right back for Coleman's winning tally. 4.0

Fellaini: On the plus side, he moved the ball quicker and helped out defensively on a number of occasions. On the minus side,  remind us why United paid £27 million for him? The Belgian ould easily have been red carded for his late game challenge on James McCarthy.. 4.5

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Unsatisfactory: Manchester United 2 - Tottenham Hotspur 2 -- Game Recap and Player Ratings

Fientes sur une voiture
Photo by Frederic BISSON on Flickr

The result was a draw when a win was needed: Manchester United dropped points yet again, this time against a gritty Tottenham Hotspur side at White Hart Lane on Sunday, drawing 2-2 in a tense, nervy contest. Although enticing viewing for the neutrals, both sets of supporters likely watched the contest through their fingers, hoping for the best but fearing the worst. As per custom this season, Wayne Rooney was the Red Devils' best player by a country mile, twice pulling his team level through sheer force and determination after Spurs had taken the lead.

The absence of Michael Carrick and Robin Van Persie continued to plague the visitors, who were outplayed in middle of the park by the home side and consequently unable to create much in the way of offense. Although United held more of the ball, it was Spurs who looked the likelier of the two sides to win the game in its waning moments, as United repeatedly gave away free kicks in dangerous areas.   Herewith the individual player ratings in a result that will be deeply unsatisfactory to both sides:

De Gea: A couple of strong saves in his 100th outing, but was unable to spot Walker's free kick until it was desperately late.  A mere spectator for Sandro's missile. 6.5

Smalling: Same old story: comfortable on defense but didn't contribute much on the other side of the ball. 6.5

Evans: His rash decision (and a great acting job) led to the free kick which put the Reds in an early hole. 6.0

Vidic: The Serb's 50/50 tackle began the play that led to Welbeck's penalty.  7.0

Evra (C): Attempted to play tight on Lennon but was burned on numerous occasions. 5.5

Jones: One of the wall jumpers: enough said on that front. Brilliant cross partially redeemed his day. 6.5

Cleverley: Wasteful in possession and seemingly unable to pass the ball forward more than once or twice per game. Couldn't keep up with  Sandro as Spurs pulled ahead. 4.5