Thursday, February 28, 2013

Game Day Beer Review: Rogue Brewery Yellow Snow IPA

Before winter turns fully to spring, we needed to try this humorously named beer from Rogue, a favorite craft brewery based in Newport, Oregon, on America's west coast.

Yellow Snow poured a murky orange color with a massive head -- who poured this thing?!  The beer was poured from the bottle into a specially designed Spieglau IPA glass.

We found Yellow Snow to be on the mild end of the spectrum for an IPA. The beer exhibited some notes of sweetish malt and pine needles, but that was about it.

It was on tasting the beer that we got a better sense for it: it was bitter -- boy, was it bitter; like a wake up smack in the face. There was the taste of pine needles and grapefruit upfront, but the overwhelming impression was left by the bitter hops. The beer is lively and tingly on the tongue, so give it a whirl -- especially if you like west coast style IPAs.   B

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

On Gareth Bale's Current Purple Patch and More

photo by GriZ ♥♥via PhotoRee

Jonathan Wilson's article in The Guardian yesterday touched off a spot of debate around the office water cooler.  In the article, Wilson credits Gareth Bale's rampaging "purple patch" of form to Spurs' more compact shape, a development the author attributes to -- of all things -- the fact that Tottenham no longer employs a "reactive style" US goalkeeper. 
Some of us beg to differ, as shown in the following exchange.  It was ultimately a debate that raged to oblivion and back -- and like all good debates, ended with the enticing prospect of a cold beer:
[Correspondent James]: That Jonathan Wilson article from this morning was interesting....
[farlieonfootie]:  Yeah.  I was with him until he credited Bale's recent form to the fact that Brad Friedel wasn't playing anymore, i.e., Bale is a better player because of Hugo Lloris.  So let me get this: Spurs' poor form to begin the season was because they had an American in goal.  That's a bunch of plonk, as they say over there....
[Correspondent James]: Well, his logic is sound anyway.  Although the more compact style of play could be equally attributable to Spurs' loss of Luka Modric.  I mean, if there's no one on the team capable of completing longer passes then you've got to be more compact, right?
[Correspondent Ed]: It’s a stretch to credit Lloris for anything other than great goalkeeping. 

Ultimately, Bale is being given tremendous freedom to roam central, right, left, back, wherever.  This is allowing him to find pockets and make runs from deep in the backfield. 

That said, just as it’s hard to give Sir Alex much credit for RVP's play, when he was was pretty much the same amazing player at Arsenal, it’s similarly difficult to give AVB too much credit for b=Bale's form.  Sometimes with talent like that the best thing you can do is not interfere -- which, fortunately, AVB has not done. 

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Perched in Third: Tottenham Hotspur 3 - West Ham United 2

photo by ~fb~via PhotoRee

Correspondent James' current form on the keyboard is almost as good as Gareth Bale's current form on the pitch:

There was a ton of tension and drama last night as Spurs took on West Ham at Upton Park. Of course, West Ham's home is one of those wonderful old English football stadiums like White Hart Lane.  And there was a nice pre-game tribute to England hero and former Hammer Sir Bobby Moore.  And there was Spurs desperately needing three points to maintain their four point gap on Arsenal, and West Ham needing the three points to help stay up.

Of course, in the midst of all of that, it may be unnecessary but nevertheless important to note, the fans of the respective clubs hate each other.  The Hammers, in the panoply of Spurs' bitterest rivals, are somewhere just behind Arsenal and juggling with Chelsea for second place, depending upon which of the two clubs’ retrograde Neanderthal groups of fans has lodged the most recent round of gas chamber hissing, Nazi salutes or other assorted anti-Semitic abuses at Spurs fans.

Yes - we do hate the Spammers.  And with a North London derby approaching in only six days’ time, the aforementioned perilous four point gap over Arsenal, the fortuitous opportunity to hop Chelsea into third with three points, the ESPN commentary of the inane Steve McManaman and the incredibly pedestrian play of Spurs' midfield (and by "pedestrian" I mean literally walking - Spurs midfield has been walking) yesterday's match shaped up to be an all-around rant inducing stress-fest for this correspondent.

It did not disappoint. For Spurs fortunes were once again saved by the Greatest Player In The World™ with two more simply ridiculous long range strikes balanced between a garbage goal picked up by someone not named Bale:  the seemingly resurgent Gylfi Sigurdsson.  The Hammers' goals came in ways that were almost as maddening as the horrific play in Spurs' midfield in the first half.  The recently lambasted Scott Parker stupidly slid into Andy Carrol in the box and the same obligingly slotted the ball into the top left corner of the goal on the ensuing free kick.  And, mid-way through the 2nd half, West Ham burned Spurs' high line in a shambolic display not seen since late summer with Joe Cole of all people punching an angled shot past Hugo Lloris into the far corner.  This put West Ham up 2-1, and with Jussi Jasskelainen making incredible saves under waves of pressure from Spurs, this correspondent was left thinking of other recent and painful Spurs’ February collapses.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Hamlet Answered: Liverpool 3 - Zenit St Petersburg 1

photo by h.koppdelaneyvia PhotoRee
From a despondent Correspondent Scott:

There were Slings and Arrows aplenty but the Sea of troubles ultimately proved too much. It was not to be.

The last ray of first-season hope for Brendan Rodgers was extinguished at Anfield on Thursday when, despite a thrilling and resounding win to bring the aggregate score level, a pesky Hulking away goal sealed their fate. That the 20th minute concession was the result of a Jamie Carragher under-hit back-pass, in his 150th European appearance for the club, only added to the misery.

Despite being on the wrong side of this one, this fan can admit a thrilling game, even in aggregate defeat.  Needing 3 goals to win and then 4 after Zenit St. Petersburg scored first, the persistent Reds fought on bravely and nearly pulled it off. This rollercoaster game can really only truly be appreciated from my real-time notes:

0 Need goals!

3 Zenit pressing very high and Liverpool has to work hard to get out of the back without booting it.

6 Liverpool moving the ball and controlling the game so far, stubbornly working out of the back.

11 Gerrard fires way over from free kick.

15 Through fifteen minutes, all Liverpool but no clear chances.

20 Carragher blows it. Horrible back-pass mistake. Game over. Need 4 goals now. Did it to Swansea. But Zenit is not Swansea.

24 Now just stupid mistakes all over the pitch as Liverpool reel from the blow.

28 After much ado about the spotting of the ball (yielding a Zenit Yellow Card) the Zenit wall fails and Suarez scores through a gap provided by Henderson and Enrique. 8 minutes lost but back where we started!

30 Gerrard goes down and he never dives so thankfully linesman sees it correctly.

32 Reina whiffs the clearance kick outside his area, after an ambitious Lucas back-pass, then recovers.

43 And another goal!  This time by Allen. I believe!

45 Half time comes with only 2 goals to go, which is where we would have liked to be from the start.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Sluggishly Effective: Manchester United 2 - QPR 0

photo by Ben Sutherlandvia PhotoRee

It's a sluggish start from the away side on their trip to QPR's Loftus Road home in London, with giveaways and sloppy ball handling the apparent early theme of the afternoon. The home side shows some ambition going forward -- despite their two month home scoring drought -- and their game plan seems to revolve around some muddled combination of midfield whiz Adel Taraabt playing the ball and the rest of the squad attempting to win free kicks at any cost.

Nevertheless, it's United with the first whiff of goal on the afternoon: an Ashley Young swerving free kick, which Nani -- rewarded with a rare start for his match winning performance against Reading last weekend -- fails to direct on target. Minutes later, Chicharito shows Nani how it's done, although his backward flick-on from Young's second cross is easily tipped over the bar by QPR's banana-kitted goalkeeper Julio Cesar.

In truth, it's ugly play from both sides that mark the opening 20 minutes -- until the disjointed stretch of play is wickedly shattered, along with the back of the net, by an absolute screamer of a goal from United's young right fullback, Rafael. A contender for goal of the season, the Brazilian returns Julio Cesar's deflection of Robin Van Persie's effort directly back from whence it came -- and then some -- to hand United a 1-nil lead shortly before the 25 minute mark.

Ten minutes later it's the one and same Rafael clearing a headed QPR corner kick off the line to preserve the lead, and -- after charging half the the length of the pitch with the ball -- steering an inch perfect cross onto the outstretched foot of Van Persie.  The resulting shot is kept out of goal only by a fine save from QPR's top banana.

The goal mouth action is the last of the day for Van Persie, subbed off before halftime for Danny Welbeck, the Dutchman having picked up a knock that will no doubt send the club's legions of fans worldwide into a state bordering on sheer panic. Although Nemanja Vidic nearly doubles the visitors' lead before the half, his headed effort is just wide and leaves the scoreboard reflecting only the sole goal as both teams revert to the warmth of the halftime dressing rooms.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Caipirinha, Anyone?: Liverpool 5 - Swansea City 0

photo by Charlie Phillipsvia PhotoRee

Finally, a game in which Columnist Scott can revel:
o A 5-0 home win against a depleted Swansea City side last Sunday?  Ho hum.  No point in getting too excited, because the pendulum will surely swing the other way within a game or two.  Liverpool this year are nothing if not consistently inconsistent.  That they thrashed a Michael Laudrup side conserving it's energy for this weekend's League Cup Final was notable in certain respects but nothing to write home about (maybe blog about, though).

o The first 15 minutes saw neither side with too many chances as the players got their legs under themselves and we all breathed a sigh of relief that Gus Johnson was not the game's commentator.  Despite some confusion at the back for Liverpool, after 30 minutes they began to assume control of the game and, by the 40th minute, it could only be described as utter domination by the Reds.  Of course the penalty on Luis Suarez in the 34th minute (converted unflappably by Steven Gerrard) really tipped the scales and from there it was a rout in every respect, with the 5-0 final score probably being kind to the Swansea players and staff.  Wouldn't it be great to score that many against Zenit St. Petersburg at Anfield?  We'll know if that happened before this is posted.

o Jamie Carragher gives me hope that, at almost 44, I can continue my Monday night soccer "playing" for years to come.  At 35 years of age, the geriatric defender was tracking back like a pro throughout the game and always seemed to be in the right place at the right time.  I agree with Kenny Dalglish's assessment that Carragher has a few more playing years in him if he wants.

o To say that I'm disappointed that Daniel Sturridge is cup-tied for the return leg against Zenit would be quite an understatement.  Although the in-form striker put over (from 6 yards) Stuart Downing's hard cross in the 23rd minute, and was unable to chip Michel Vorm in the 40th, he was dangerous throughout and was equally unflappable when Gerrard gifted the penalty to him later (what on earth was Wayne Routledge thinking when he raised his arm like that?).  He also showed skill in the 64th minute when he took down a long through-ball in the air on his chest and volleyed on target (although Vorm, once again, made the stop).

Friday, February 22, 2013

Missing Sandro: A Spurs' Diary

photo by Délirante bestiole [flying foxy]via PhotoRee

In which Spurs' fan Columnist James returns from exile in Siberia:

It is tough to articulate just how abysmal Spurs' midfield performance has been since the injury to Sandro.  I know, I know -- last sixteen of the Europa League, mouth watering tie with Inter coming up, Top 4 in the Prem, The Greatest Player In The World™ ("TGPIW"), etc. etc.  But a series of singularly marvelous one-off goals by TGPIW (for the last four weeks running) and Moussa Dembele today (in Spurs' 1-1 second leg to advance in the Europa League against Lyon) have only served to paper over serious cracks in this squad since the Sandro injury.

And the most glaring of these cracks lies at the feet of (sadly, because he is one of my favorite players) one Scotty Parker.  To think that the RAF Captain was once captain of England and was voted Spurs' most valuable player last year is astounding.  His performance today was just terrible.  And while Dembele was not much better prior to his wonder goal that saved Spurs, it has been the switch from Sandro to Parker that seems to have seriously disrupted Spurs' transition and flow while in possession. 

It has been posited quite convincingly that Parker's core skill set is just not a good match both for AVB's system and the pairing with Dembele, but that fails to explain Parker's abject failure to adjust his game and just get rid of the ball.  Or of AVB's failure to clearly instruct him to simply fulfill the Sandro enforcer role and free Dembele for the charging runs.  It is true that Dembele and Parker are similar in that they like to hold and not look for (or are incapable of finding) the quick pass / through ball.  But that was the case with Dembele before the Sandro injury and Spurs' were not nearly this bad.  Recently, Spurs' offense has been just about non-existent save for TGPIW's wonder strikes and this is simply not sustainable. 

Neither can Dembele's decline -- traced back to the very same Sandro injury -- be regarded as a coincidence.  With Sandro so effectively protecting the back line, sweeping back and forth and springing Dembele up the field, Spurs were not exactly the fluid tiki-taka countering team they were with Modric, but their speed in transition enabled them to at least play the counter at times quite effectively.  Now, however, their transition and possession is like watching paint dry with Parker doing his pirouettes around the ball and Dembele dribbling all over the place with nary a decent pass between them. 

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Game Day Beer Review: Abita Brewing Purple Haze Fruit Beer

(4.20% ABV) Poured from the bottle into a modified pilsner glass.  Purple Haze pours a deep gold color, showing hints of reddish purple and only the slightest bit of head.

The smell of raspberries is definitely there in the glass, although it was likely muted by this reviewer's congested olfactory sense.

Sweet raspberries are the first thing one notices upon tasting the beer, although the finish is dry rather than sweet. It's highly carbonated and a nice beer with which to begin an evening. We found Purple Haze refreshing, and extremely solid for a fruit beer.  B

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Laughing Stock: Bayern Munich 3 - Arsenal 1

photo by pulguitavia PhotoRee

o Did Gus Johnson just say on FOX that the teams were "feeling each other up" at the outset of the match?  I thought this was supposed to be family friendly entertainment.

o Manuel Neuer was awarded a free kick for falling over on his own accord.

o Bayern: 1 shot, 1 goal. That didn't take long.

o Theo Walcott's pace is bothering Bayern; then again, Walcott's pace bothers most teams. He's significantly picked up his game this year.

o 20 minutes in, two goals down. Time to admit I was wrong about Arsenal pulling off a surprise result tonight....

o Arsenal couldn't defend a corner if Arsene Wenger's job depended on it. Wait -- it does depend on it...?!

o Gus Johnson just turned Phillip Lahm into a Frenchman. Phillipe, I believe he called him.  Someone please stop this broadcasting farce.

o Apparently, what attracted FOX to Johnson is that he excels at repeatedly saying players names and stating the obvious. Except when he mispronounces names as in Lahm's case; in that event, he only excels at pointing out the obvious.

o Serious question: Which is funnier tonight?  FOX's announcing or Arsenal's defending?

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Twitter Feed: Manchester United 2 - Reading 1

Noel Hunt after his collision with Nemanja Vidic
photo by Robbie Howellvia PhotoRee

o It's only a minute in and Reading already look in trouble. Have a feeling this is going to be a very different game from the last time these two teams met....

o Alexander Büttner's got some himself some serious tats

o That's better by Reading. They don't really look a side in the relegation zone

o Vida has a small cut on his eyebrow; Noel Hunt looks as if he was in a car crash.

o Welbeck works incredibly hard around the box; that was great work by Danny to win the ball back

o How in the world did Ashley Young not score there?!

o Speaking of tattoos, Hunt's back is veritable sea of ink

o We've gone off the boil since the early pressure. Still unlucky not to have the lead, though

o Phil Jones limping off is a big loss. Hope he's not hurt too badly

o United are basically down to nine men with Jones exiting, because Ando hasn't run anywhere in about 15 minutes

Monday, February 18, 2013

Game Day Beer Review: Abita Brewing Turbodog English Brown Ale

(5.60% ABV) Turbodog was poured from the bottle at Emeril's in Orlando on Shrove Tuesday -- better known in certain parts of the world as Mardi Gras. The beer was a rich, dark brown color and displayed a thinnish tan head when poured.

Turbodog offered only the very mildest smell of roasted malt. We also got a slight whiff of chocolate and caramel.

The beer was highly carbonated,certainly more so than we expected. The roasted toffee taste was buttressed by a certain chocolate undertone, but the beer was hoppy enough to finish on a dry note. Overall, it was a very mild beer -- and certainly sessionable. B

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Beer Soaked Notes on Real vs. United, The First Leg

photo by photosteve101via PhotoRee

Crumpled in a beer-soaked ball on the floor near the trashcan lay Correspondent Ed's notes from the first leg of Manchester United vs. Real Champions League match.  Luckily for you, we found them:

o That's a ridiculous call on RVP. Ramos should get a post-match yellow for acting.

o United not ready to play yet; lucky not a goal.

o Great save by De Gea

o Rafael horrific so far.

o Fergie started Evans because he can run better than Vidic, who's a few paced too slow right now

o The first half was a half without any center midfielders

o Gus Johnson on FOX did a lot of homework but doesn't know the game. There are lots of words that could be used to describe Real Madrids first half, but "patient" isn't one if them.

o Yes RVP does cross with the left foot. This shouldn't be surprising, Gus

o Gus has now described Danny Welbeck as a very patient player. I think he just likes that word. It's "soccery."

o Ref also terrible.   Patrice Evra deserved a free kick and the defender an orange card, it was so close to red

o De Gea has played his best game as a pro

o Welbeck was terrific

o RVP missed one.  He waited until the Champions League to do that

o Giggs is back!

o The ref has been awful all day

o That wasn't a cross, that was a pass. Amazing save by De Gea again

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Curses and Grades (on Manchester United and Real Madrid)

photo by dingler1109via PhotoRee

Correpsondent Scott's fandom can be described in the same manner as his taste in beer: bitter.

So, there I was watching Real Madrid host Manchester United on Wednesday. Being a Real fan (and FOF being a United fan), I was looking forward to Los Blancos taking a couple goal advantage to Old Trafford for the second leg. Unfortunately, a funny little thing happened at the Bernabeu, kind of a Freaky Friday thing. You see, for 90 minutes it seemed that Real Madrid had morphed into Liverpool.  
They they were dominating possession, winning the ball back quickly (and high up the pitch), creating twice as many dangerous chances and, in every way, bossing the game and dictating the flow of play against an uncharacteristically ineffective United side which seemed content to pack it in and play counter attack. Then, just like the Liverpool Reds, with various opportunities gone begging, the Whites conceded on a set piece (corner) via a defensive lapse (the post was left unguarded). They did manage to draw after a Cristiano Ronaldo equalizer but this was one of those times when a tie was the same as a loss, especially given that the (Red) Devils now have an away goal. Images of Liverpool vs. Arsenal and Liverpool vs. Manchester City have plagued me ever since the final whistle, after which I pouted through a wife-forced watching of American Idol. I’m beginning to develop a complex – it seems my fandom is turning into the soccer equivalent of the Madden Curse or the Gillette Curse. I’m just crazy enough to not watch a couple of games to see if that helps. With my luck I’ll end up being the poster child for confirmation bias.  

But enough about my mental (in)stability - I can really relate to those Bud Light "It’s-only-weird-if-it-doesn’t-work" commercials (even if I loathe the beer involved). After all, it’s so much more fun to criticize others. Herewith, some grades:  

Real Madrid – B

They would have received an "A" if they had just managed another goal and won the game. They were brilliant from start to finish, apart from finishing (semantically ironic, I know) -- and the aforementioned defensive lapse, of course. Absolutely dominating the inevitable Premier League Champions, Madrid moved the ball effortlessly around the chasing men in red. Really, their only flaw was defensive communication (and set pieces, of course). But boy do they counter fast and furious (yes, grammar geeks [of which I am one], I realize adverbs are appropriate there – I was going for the alliterative allusion)! But I digress.... Mesut Ozil was a maestro in the midfield, Ronaldo was scintillating, Xabi Alonso was indefatigable and Di Maria peppered the goal as if it were steak au poivre. The bottom line is that the much better team on the day did not win.  

Manchester United – C  

The next Premier League champions looked out of their league, and more like a relegation team against their Spanish opposition. A couple of corners and counters are what passed for their offense as they chose to dig in deep in their own half for large stretches of the game. Running around chasing the white ghosts who seemed to vanish the ball just prior to each tackle, it was actually unsettling to see them so unsettled.  

Yes, there were a few dodgy moments for the home side when the Manchester Keystone cops managed to pick up their trousers, thanks to a certain Dutchman, long enough to actually stumble into the forward third with the ball, most notably during a period when more Real defensive miscommunication led to a series of dangerous United crosses. But those efforts ultimately came to naught and the last 10 minutes saw the visitors batten down the hatches for, and ultimately survive, an all-out onslaught by Madrid.

Friday, February 15, 2013

I'm Just Not That Into You

photo by caseywestvia PhotoRee
Correspondent Ed's not into you, either:

You ever get the impression that Emmanuel Adebayor just doesn't care? Like when his team sends a private jet to retrieve him from the African Cup of Nations and yet he still doesn't make it to training on time. Or is it when he pretty much loafs around during games conserving his energy for . . . what? I'm not sure. Adebayor has a total of three goals this year for comp to date of about $4 million dollars -- a cost per goal of over $1 million. He was outstanding during a year when he was looking for a new team and a new contract. However, as has happened in the past, once the pay is settled and coming in the door, he seems to take minimal pride in his sport. This is sad for Spurs fans, who need him to raise his game. But it's also short-sighted for Adebayor. Pretty much every old guy I play with on Monday nights gives it their all every week and they've got to go to work the next day to make a living. Enjoy and use your gift Ade, because before long you'll be barely a memory on the passing scene.

o It's amazing the difference Daniel Sturridge makes at Liverpool. While they still looked confident and strong for most of the game against West Brom, they were in many ways the pre-Sturridge version of the team. News flash to Chelsea: Sturridge is good. At times in the past few weeks he looked like the best guy on the field. If anyone recalls, he exhibited these same qualities at Bolton. Now in the right position at Liverpool -- and by that I mean not on the right but up top -- he has freed up Suarez and been a constant menace. Most surprisingly to me has been his footwork, where he's exhibited startling control in holding the ball up, weaving through defenders, and pushing it to oncoming attackers. I'm not sure Liverpool is playing anything even resembling Swansea under Rodgers, but with Sturridge they're not the mid-table team they were a month ago.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Fight Another Day: Manchester United 1 - Real Madrid 1

photo by Claudio Gennari ..."Cogli l'attimo ferma il tempo"via PhotoRee

Without much exaggeration it was called the tie of the season, as Manchester United entered the lion's den Wednesday to face Real Madrid at the Santiago Beenabeu in an epic first leg clash of the Champions League knockout round. The pre game storylines were enough to make one's head whip around on a swivel: Cristiano Ronaldo's return, Jose Mourinho vs Sir Alex, Madrid vs Manchester and many more in the days and weeks leading up to the contest. But at 8:45pm on a Wednesday night in Madrid all the old stories were laid to rest and a new one waited to be written as the game kicked off.

It was all Madrid in the early going: the home side with the first threats of the night, but both Sammy Khedira and Angel Di Maria fired significantly wide of the mark. Fabio Coentrao was much closer to target as he banged it off the post and was unlucky not to open his account near the five minute mark -- surely creating early cause for concern on the visitors' bench. Also creating concern were the acres of space United left open on the pitch for the Madrillenos to run into -- all the better from which to menace David De Gea's goal.

Cristiano Ronaldo absolutely terrorized his ex-teammates in the early going, all fancy stop and go, move and shake, hit and run, reminding them who currently holds the title of the world's second best player. United were unable to keep the ball for more than a couple of passes, and were hard pressed to get the ball out of their own end, so dominant was the home side in the game's early going.

But against all odds it was United who struck first on the evening: Danny Welbeck with a shock glancing header, entirely against the run of play, and on only the Reds' second shot of the evening. Flicking free of Sergio Ramos as Wayne Rooney swung the ball in from the corner, Welbeck rose higher than anyone else and handed the visitors a much hoped for road goal near the game's 20 minute mark. If the goal was expected to shift the course of the contest, it didn't: although rattled, Los Blancos picked right back up where they left off and set out again on the attack.

And again it was Ronaldo at his menacing best, who looked the most real (and Real) threat. When his free kick slammed into none other than Robin Van Persie near the half hour make, it told all those fortunate enough to be at the Bernabeu all they needed to know about the visitors' defensive commitment for the evening. Committed or not, though, by the half hour mark the game was back on level terms: Ronaldo switching sides, and nodding his team back into the contest as he hung high over Patrice Evra for the equalizer.

Welbeck almost doubled his side's joy on 35 minutes, with only a timely intervention from Madrid 'keeper Diego Lopez stopping the Englishman's attempted toe poke from putting the visitors back into the lead. A free kick given away by Rafael on the edge of the box created yet another concern for the visitors' defense, and only a good non-call on a Phil Jones shoulder barge on Di Maria sustained the scoreline as Madrid swaggered forward near the interval.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Positively Funereal: Round 26 in the BPL

photo by e³°°°via PhotoRee

The Round may not be complete but it's good enough for us.  Our thoughts on Round 26 in the BPL:

o The atmosphere at Stamford Bridge was positively funereal on Saturday, despite the home side's 4-1 victory win. Both managers dressed in black and the crowd showed its respect by dutifully observing more than 85 minutes of silence during the match. We guess three victories in nine home games will do that to you.

o Meanwhile, over in another erstwhile challenger's camp, Joe Hart's form continues to deteriorate. At the rate he's plummeting Roy Hodgson may be tempted to give Robert Green another shot at grabbing the England number one kit.

o Gareth Barry had a Man of the Match performance for the Southampton Saints with a fine assist and an exquisite, composed finish to put Manchester City's season in critical condition.  We didn't realize Barry had that type of finishing in his game -- as in putting a finish to City's title defense.

o Meanwhile, Yaya Toure showed he's no Joe Willie Namath with his bold prediction that the momentum in the title race would swing City's way upon his return. Looking a toothless version of the dominating midfielder who went off to the African Cup, Toure was three steps off the pace and played as if his plane still hadn't landed yet.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Game Day Beer Review: Sam Adams New Albion American Pale Ale

Sam Adams recently paid homage to the beginnings of the American craft beer industry with the release of its New Albion Pale Ale.  New Albion was a famed California brewery begun by Jack McAuliffe in 1976 -- the dawn of the modern day craft beer movement.  To celebrate where we came from, Boston Brewing returned to the very beginning -- borrowing even the original label art for its latest beer.

Poured into a tulip glass at the home office on a recent work night.   New Albion appeared a goldish-orange with a thick white head that dissipated fairly quickly.

The beer smelled of mild grains and yeast. It was mildly fruity on first taste, with a mellow, floral finish.   It was clean and fairly well carbonated. 

As the first craft beer, New Albion was a long way from the extreme beers that have dominated the headlines in the beer world recently. Drinking this beverage in a world filled with extreme beers was like being harkened back to older and gentler times, when all someone wanted was a good, clean-tasting, well-made beer that didn't get in the way of the moment. New Albion succeeded then, and it does now, as well. B

Monday, February 11, 2013

Workmanlike: Manchester United 2 - Everton 0

photo by Banalitiesvia PhotoRee

It's the home side with the early pressure, as Manchester United welcome a quality Everton side to Old Trafford. Sunday's contest was likely one Sir Alex circled on his personal calendar on the day the schedules were drawn after last year's disastrous 4-4 draw cost the Reds their 20th top flight title. United is energized in the game's early going, neatly personified by old boy Ryan Giggs sprinting down the touchline and young gun Phil Jones busily man-marking the ever dangerous Marouane Fellaini.

Unsurprisingly, it's the Reds with the game's first real opportunity: Robin Van Persie fluffs his opening lines, however, denting the post after faking Tim Howard out of his jock in a move that left the goalmouth begging. But the score does not remain level for more than a few more minutes: RVP makes up for his uncharacteristic miss by squaring the ball to a wide open Ryan Giggs, who batters the post himself but gets a kinder rebound than his Dutch teammate was treated to. The game's opener marks the Welshman's first goal of the Premier League campaign, a statistic that means Giggs has now scored in every single season of the Premier League's existence -- a record that can never be broken.

Although United look dangerous on almost every foray forward, Everton offer stubborn resistance, with midfielder Kevin Mirallas generating several early corner kicks through a show of sheer grit and determination. The Toffees seek to use their height and physicality as weapons to strike the Reds, but in particular Jones, Nemanja Vidic and Jonny Evans appear well up for the challenge.

The visitors seize the initiative after the home side's opener, and Leon Osman offers David De Gea his first real test of the afternoon.  The Spaniard's outstretched arms are equal to the test, however, and Vidic's sacrificial block puts an end to the threat. Everton amps up the pressure after the half hour mark, and it takes a timely intervention from right back Rafael to steer the ball away from the bruising Victor Anichebe and out of harm's way.

United change to more of a counter-attacking style to see out the first half, although RVP is repeatedly flagged for being offside -- until he no longer is. Philip Neville's deep lying position means the Flying Dutchman is onside near stoppage time, and despite valiant efforts by both Everton 'keeper Tim Howard and Center Back Johnny Heitinga, the League's leading scorer is not to be denied, and United's lead bulges along with the back of the net to two goals just before the half.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Some of the News That's Fit to Print

photo by berevia PhotoRee

Time for a check of the weekend's newspaper headlines:

o Fergie Fined $12,000 for His Rant Against Simon Beck:  This non-headline should have been replaced by the following: "FA Goes Light on Fergie As It's Obvious He's Correct".  Remember the good old days when the FA would banish a Manager to the stands?  So he could phone in his instructions to the Assistant Manager?  Apparently the FA didn't like that approach, either, so they've gone for the small fine -- roughly equivalent to one day's pay for the Manager.  We don't think Fergie's losing much sleep about that.

o Is He or Isn't He:  Is Super8Frank negotiating with Chelsea?  It depends on who you ask....  Although the word out of Cobham is that Roman has made the executive decision (are there any other kind of decisions made by Chelsea?) to bring Frank back, Super8's representatives say no such negotiations are happening....  We tend to believe management -- even THIS management team -- over agents any day of the week.  Wethinks its entirely possible that Chelsea leaked the information to tamp down the market for competing offers for the free-scoring midfielder.....

o World's Most Expensive Parking Ticket:  Peter Odemwingie's fine for parking his car in the QPR lot equaled £80,000.  That's more than even Mario Balotelli managed to rack up during his stint in Manchester.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

A Smattering of Thoughts

photo by autumn_blissvia PhotoRee

...from Correspondent Scott's Desk:

o Seriously?!  How many times will Liverpool dominate an opponent and not get all the points?  How many times will they switch off defensively and give away a lead or tie?  When will they finally play the complete game of which they are completely capable?  

o Via a horrendous Martin Skrtel back pass last August and a lobotomous (not a word, but I think it fits and will be contacting Webster) decision by Pepe Reina on Sunday, Liverpool managed to gift away four points and the respect they are beginning to earn. Forget about the tepid performance against Oldham Athletic and the occasional stumble against the likes of Aston Villa - in a "rebuilding year" fans can make peace with such disappointments. But to outplay all colors in Manchester more than once, and do the same to the Gunners for stretches at a time last time out, yet only have three points to show from those five outings, that is the stuff that drives fans to refill their glass more than they should.

o Daniel Sturridge was brilliant on Sunday against Manchester City and Henderson continues his recent run of good form.  Steven Gerrard's goal was simply sublime and Lucas Leiva was excellent at breaking up City's rhythm.  But poor marking and lobotomies continue to undo otherwise excellent work.  We fans know they will pull it together - we just hope they do so before there is absolutely no shot at 4th place.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Game Day Beer Review: Anderson Valley Brewing Barney Flats Oatmeal Stout

Barney Flats pours a deep, dark chocolate color with a massive head of mixed-size, mahogany-colored bubbles.

We found a pleasing combination of malt and hops on the nose. The beer smells like coffee.

The roasted malt flavor dominates the first sip -- it tastes a bit like coffee, too, or maybe a rich espresso. The beer has a medium mouthfeel, and a luxuriously silky, dry finish.

This beer is very approachable, and a great version of a style that most people don't drink very often. After having one of these from Anderson Valley Brewing, a favorite here at the corporate office, we ask "Why not?!" A-

Thursday, February 7, 2013

More on the Gus Johnson Debacle

Jello Vomit
Scott Felt Exactly the Same as this Viewer Upon Hearing the News

Scott has some thoughts regarding Gus Johnson's appointment as that network's lead announcer for the Champions League and the World Cup broadcasts in the US.  And they're not good ones....:

Oh my God!  Just when I thought the US was finally getting on the right foot with soccer, and defending the spread of the game in this country just the other day to an ignorant buffoon, it seems that FOX, and soon NBC, will conspire to provide more fodder to the soccer haters.  Of the billions of people on this planet who love and know the game and the millions in the US who know and love the game, they pick a freaking basketball guy??!!

The fact that they try to make hay of him playing pickup soccer at the park is belittling and pathetic (and probably untrue aside from the one time he did it so they could say it).  I still have PTSD flashes from Brent Musburger’s insulting commentary at the 1994 World Cup and now they have flared up again.

Did you watch the clip of Gus Johnson’s play calling that was shown on the blog yesterday?  Really bad....  Among other things that ruffled me during the 1 minute and 45 seconds: “Chips it forward” ( there was no chip) and “Near post cross past the keeper” (the error there is self-evident, I believe).

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

FOX Sports Screws it Up Again with Gus Johnson Appointment

Columnist Ed sounds off on Fox's incredulous decision to use college basketball announcer Gus Johnson as the network's lead announcer for the Champions League and World Cup:

Unless this guy has spent the last five years reading about and watching the game, he’s not ready -- he'd have to be an absolute genius.  This move is yet another attempt by FOX to “American-ize” a game that doesn’t need to be “American-ized.”  Part of the fun of watching the games is that you’re transported to a different place.  [Editor's Note: Is the voice of the ultra-knowledgeable Martin Tyler so offensive that American listeners won't tune in?]  Keep Johnson on MLS until he proves he’s the best there, and only then move him forward.  

Many Americans already think the sport is unsophisticated, and this move will only serve to reinforce their ignorance of the game.  Give us more detail, not less.  We can handle it.  Just knowing there's an understory -- tactics, positional awareness, halftime adjustments -- is often enough.  See e.g., The Lord of the Rings.

Instead, FOX wants to dumb it all down for us poor American viewers.  The move sounds like yet another step in the direction of making their announcing teams as poor, unknowledgeable and uninspiring as possible -- just look at the awful crew who do Goals on Sunday.  Maybe that’s somewhat unfair: Warren Barton is fine and so is that reddish-haired guy; plus Christopher Sullivan seems to be gone (thank God!).  However, Rob Stone is annoyingly bad, Eric Wynalda is not good at -- well, speaking or analyzing [Editor's Note: He's an insufferable horse's ass, according to long-lost Columnist James].  Either way, all in all, it's not a very good broadcast despite the fake pitch and graphics (which they use to illustrate NOTHING).  

On the plus side, I do think their news show is better than it used to be (at least the set is), but still not up to Sky Sports news, which is a much easier watch [Editor's Note: Columnist James generally agrees with this sentiment, adding that he "misses the Scottish dude" but enjoys the "chick with the tattoos."]  ESPN with Macca and Ian Darke is a much better model; FOX should’ve have done something like that.  Get Gary Neville!!  He’d be awesome.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Popping Off: Round 25 in the BPL

photo by jurvetsonvia PhotoRee

o We thoroughly enjoyed it, but we wonder how Chelsea and Newcastle felt when they saw referee Howard Webb wearing his red and black home kit to officiate their game on Saturday.

o And what a game it turned out to be. The match had it all: big goals, a dramatic finish, newcomers bursting onto the scene -- Bonjour, Player of the Week Moussa Sissoko -- and a very nasty edge to a contest played in front of a raucous Geordie crowd.

o After foolishly admitting to Magpie officials that he wanted to quit and to return home to Italy to continue his career, Newcastle Captain Fabricio Coloccini attempted to repair the damage on Saturday -- this time by inserting his foot in someone else's mouth. Namely Demba Ba's. With former teammates like that, the ex-Toon striker turned new Blue menace is probably wondering who needs enemies.

o Over at Anfield, the early uproar was all about a goal scored by Daniel Sturridge while Eden Dzeko lay flopped on the ground. Dzeko was obviously milking the situation  -- he was "absolutely motionless" in the words of the commentator, but popped right up after Liverpool scored.  Apparently, the Big Bosnian was upset by Referee Anthony Taylor's decision to let play continue while he lay prostrate on the pitch.  We, on the other hand, had no problem with Taylor's decision -- as no part of Dzeko's injury involved his head.  It was only the striker's pride that ended up being hurt.

o Meanwhile, the player who looked like he sustained a head injury -- and a traumatic one at that -- was Liverpool's Pepe Reina. The Scouse 'keeper lost his head, as well as his team's hard-earned lead at Eastlands on Sunday, when he chased down a ball which was clearly better suited for the team's left back. Only Sergio Aguero's cheeky finish saved Reina from bearing the brunt of media criticism he surely deserved. Anyone want to guess at the tabloid reaction if Reina was spelled "De Gea"...?

Monday, February 4, 2013

Growing Pains: Liverpool 2 - Arsenal 2

Day 56: Growing Pains aka Restless Leg Syndrome aka Stress
Photo by Bryan Gosline on Flickr

Correspondent Scott can't wait for the finished product:

I'll chime in on the Manchester City game later in the week as I'll need to fix the holes in my walls once I stop hyperventilating.  In the meantime, a tardy submission on a little game played at the Emirates last Wednesday.

If you had asked me before the game if I would take a draw away at Arsenal, I would have said yes without hesitating.  But if you asked me the same question in the 64th minute of Liverpool's game at the Emirates on Sunday, I would have sniffed disparagingly and waved you away.  Then again, in the 67th minute, I would have begged to have your generous offer reinstated.

In the end, a point on the road to a team that can beat anybody when they are in the groove, with a formidable Wilshire-Giroud-Podolski-Walcott combination, is a valuable one.  Liverpool started strong and fast, pressing high up the pitch, and found themselves ahead after only 5 minutes.  When they went up by 2 goals, via Jordan Henderson's perseverance and a fortuitous bounce, in the 60th minute it seemed a bit of the luck that had eluded them all season decided to pay a visit.  Unfortunately, the success seemed to stun the Liverpool players as they completely switched off for three minutes and allowed two goals in that span of time.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Darkness on the Edge of Town: Manchester United 1 - Fulham 0

Bruce Springsteen - Darkness on the Edge of Town
Photo by pcutler on Flickr

It may have been a stroll in the park at home versus Fulham in the FA Cup a week ago, but surely Sir Alex and his crew expected a more difficult encounter in Saturday's late fixture at Craven Cottage, if only due to the more intimate and louder atmosphere at Fulham's home ground. Despite these expectations, things began appealingly enough for the visitors, as Patrice Evra rocked the top of the Fulham goal bar amidst a flurry of United opportunities that ultimately went begging at the seven minute mark. But if the Red Devils looked threatening from the outset, Fulham were no slouch, either: John Arne Riise tested United 'keeper David De Gea from long range with a well struck, dipping shot, and Bryan Ruiz offered Evra the sincerest form of flattery by testing the goal post at the opposite end.

The opportunities for scoring continued fast and furiously throughout the opening twenty minutes, with both defenses appearing to take the first shift off.  While Wayne Rooney had to be disappointed not to have found the scoreboard, it was the newly mohawked Nani who carried much of the early play for the men in Red.

Rooney's poor luck continued as afternoon wore into evening, and England boss Roy Hodgson saw his top dog bang the post -- the third time the visitors had tested the Cottagers' woodwork rather than the strength of the net. If Robin Van Persie's threat to this point in time had been kept largely in the dark, so soon was everyone else -- the lights at Craven Cottage deciding to take some time off and channel their own inner Bruce Springsteen near the 42 minute mark, leaving a darkness on the edge of town, as well as at the stadium on the bank of the Thames.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Big Girls (and Barca) Are Best

photo by Tobyottervia PhotoRee

Ed checks in on Spain:

Whenever I watch Barcelona two thoughts come to mind:  (1) “Wow, that Danny Alves is a petulant and annoying dude,"; and (2) These guys are playing a game with which I’m completely unfamiliar.  Nothing needs to be said with regard to the first point: it is what it is.  If you don’t see it, well, there’s something wrong with you.

With regard to the second point, however, it’s difficult to understand exactly how much better Barcelona are than anyone else currently playing the game.  They can be beat, of course, but even in defeat or in a draw like the one this week against Real, they still show as the better team.

As usual, and as in virtually every game I see them play, in El Clasico this week there was a passing combination in tight space where, surrounded by opponents, they were able to play the ball out of pressure after about eight quick passes, many of which were back and forth between the same two players.  Madrid’s defenders got to a point where they could do nothing but wait, so confused were they as to the pinball wizardry that was occurring around them.  Again, this is a regular occurrence with Barca, not a one-off thing. 

Pep Guardiola, last seen in NYC by some friends of FOF, is now headed to Germany.  One suspects he will bring the Barca style with him, though it will be interesting to see if and how he works with the larger, more traditional personnel of the German team.  At Liverpool, Brendan Rodgers has yet to bring the possession game he had at Swansea, as his personnel just don’t seem to fit it.  Presumably, though, it will happen in time if there is time to give.