Sunday, March 31, 2013

The Avengers: Manchester United 1 - Sunderland 0

photo by oseillovia PhotoRee

Manchester United defeated a dour and dejected Sunderland side in Saturday's early kick off, 1-0, to maintain their 15 point advantage over second place City. Never really threatened, the Red Devils cantered to victory, with the final score belying the ease of the away side's win.  Riding a Sunderland own goal to an early lead, United tidily avenged  their perceived slight from the Sunderland fans in last season's finale.

If the crowd ended the game dejected, they had begun it in a considerably different mood, with bright sunshine greeting both teams as they walked onto the pitch at the aptly named Stadium of Light. Although United had the game's first efforts on target, it was the home side who carried a fair bit of the early pressure, in large part due to mental mistakes from the visitors. Both teams attacked in the early going, with Sunderland pressuring the ball high up the pitch -- a strategy that worked well when going forward but increasingly left the home side exposed at the back.

After their sloppy opening it was the Red Devils who looked the brighter of the two sides -- passing the ball with authority and creating multiple openings in the Black Cats' defense. It was just past the 25 minute mark when the continual pressure finally paid off -- in the form of a Robin Van Persie ball that ended up in the back of the net. Although claimed by the Dutchman, it's unlikely that the Dubious Goals Panel will fail to notice the double deflection that ended with Titus Bramble beating his own 'keeper for the game's opening score.

Jonny Evans replaced an injured Rafael at the game's half hour mark -- the Brazilian fullback having tweaked his groin -- as United's recent embarrassment of riches at the back were reduced by one. Fifteen minutes later, a quiet half ended with both sides marginally disappointed -- the home side for having failed to test United's goal, and the visitors for not having done more with the opportunities they were presented.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Better Lucky Than Good: USMNT 0 - Mexico 0

photo by Gilles Gonthiervia PhotoRee

Scott checks in with some thoughts on a valuable point at the Azteca for the Americans:

That's exactly how I would describe the USA's performance against Mexico last night - very lucky and not good offensively at all.  Despite seeing more possession than normal in the Azteca, which is a separate issue and very encouraging, the USA lacked any real threat on the attack, mustering only one shot all day - a feeble miskick well wide of the mark.  Luckily, the yeoman's work performed by Matt Besler and Omar Gonzalez in the central defense, augmented by the excellent pairing of Michael Bradley and Maurice Edu in the middle, was enough to deflect the multiple waves of Mexican attacks that powered down the flanks and flashed across the mouth of Brad Guzan's goal.  The 'keeper, too, must be credited for a few key saves and his brave work on crosses, corners and a particularly dangerous high through-ball.  Guzan continues the proud American tradition of world-class goalkeeping that stretches back through Tim Howard, Brad Friedel and Casey Keller.  By the way, what is it about American goalkeepers and hairless pates?

Despite the lack of offense, a point away to Mexico is as good as a win and all of US soccer fandom should rejoice, after recovering from the 4 minutes of agonizing stoppage time during which Mexico seemed to get 12 of their 15 corners of the game.  While needing desperate defending on several occasions, the US also saw prolonged periods of significant possession and, in the 39th minute, even managed a rare foray deep into Mexican territory where it took a late sliding tackle on Bradley to prevent an excellent scoring opportunity.  Sadly, that was not only the highlight of the US offense, it was nearly the only highlight.  Instead, Lady Luck and Tenacious Defense are what carried the day for the Americans.  Graham Zusi also impressed with his back tracking, getting a timely header on a cross that seemed to be goal-bound from the impending shot.

The match was not without controversy, most notably Edu's challenge from behind in the box in the 76th minute.  At full speed it looked like a clear penalty that was denied by the ref, despite much Mexican wailing and gnashing of teeth. In slow motion, the contact looked minimal but still enough for a foul that should have been called.  Lady Luck favored the Americans two other times also when Chicharito missed both tap-in opportunities at the goalmouth.  Difficult as the chances were, a striker of Little Pea's caliber would be expected to convert at least one of those.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Game Day Beer Review: New Belgium Fat Tire American Amber Ale

There were so many good beers tested at the Craft Brewers Conference that it's difficult for us to pick out any one in particular -- so for our first review we'll stick with one of the basics:
(5.20% ABV) Fat Tire Amber Ale is a great example of what's happening in the beer world. Long held up by visitors to Colorado as "the" beer to seek out when traveling to the western part of the country, it's lost a bit of its luster over the past couple of years as the craft beer business has exploded. It's not so much that Fat Tire has gotten worse, or even that the beer is much more broadly distributed now -- it's that so much of the rest of the brewing world has gotten better, and the measuring posts have moved as consumers' tastes have evolved. A lot. Given all that, we recently revisited the long time New Belgium standard bearer to see if it still measured up.

After being poured on draft at the Renaissance Hotel in Washington, DC, Fat Tire appeared a beautifully clear caramel color, with a thin head of white foam that left behind a surprising amount of lacing.

The beer smelled primarily of malt, but that was all; there was little else to notice about the beer's very mild nose.

When we drank it, we found the beer to be biscuity, alright, just like it states on the label.  But it was earthy, as well. This beer has a very particular taste that reminds us of no other amber ale we've ever encountered. It's highly carbonated, with a relatively thin mouthfeel for the style. We like it for its high sessionability, even if it does have some flaws.  But then again, don't we all?  B

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

SnowFest 2013

Scott Keeps a Watchful Eye on the USMNT, Even in the Snow
photo by abardwellvia PhotoRee

Before we move onto Mexico, Correspondent Scott had to go and revisit -- one last time -- SnowFest 2013:
I smiled with pride and called my family in to witness what was happening on TV. Sure, the US had won Snowfest 2013, but what I found much more important was the fact that, in the midst of first- round NCAA Tournament madness, the LEAD story on Sports Center was about soccer. Has the beautiful game finally arrived in the USA? Given that it took a blizzard, probably not completely yet, but it sure was nice to see anyway. My satisfaction was only slightly diminished by the sports anchor’s comparison of the snowy Denver environment to Minsk, Russia, apparently oblivious to 20-odd years of Belarusian independence.
And it didn’t stop there. After waxing geographically illiterate about USA v Costa Rica, they showed highlights of the Mexico v Honduras game! Bravo ESPN! Were it not for Florida Gulf Coast University’s beat down of Georgetown, we might have been treated to highlights from the other hexagonal game. As a side note, have you every phonetically read FGCU’s acronym? Tee hee.
By now, even non-soccerphiles know that Clint Dempsey tapped in a Jozy Altidore deflection in the 16th minute to give the Americans a lead to which they clung through the ensuing blizzard. And we also now know that Costa Rica’s protest to FIFA, in an attempt to nullify the result, has failed. Finally, we have FOF’s commentary of a few days ago to give us the highlights of the Whiteout. As such, herewith, find additional, incremental thoughts:
- How about somebody in the USA camp making a game-time audible on the sartorial situation. White uniforms in a snowstorm? Really?
- Damarcus Beasley at left back? Really?

Notes From the Road

Correspondent Ed Catching a Cat Nap
photo by maliasvia PhotoRee

o Brian McDermott out, Nidel Adkins in.  We think highly of the former Saints' Manager, but this move strikes us as just another shuffling of the deck chairs on the S.S. Reading....

o If Fergie is really hiring private jets to bring back his stars in order to keep them fresh for the weekend, we hope there's one being sent to Mexico City -- where Chelsea-killer Chicharito faced off in  an important hexagonal match against the U.S last night.

o We'll be in Washington, DC for the Craft Brewers Conference -- expect some amazing beer reviews over the next couple of days as our staff seeks out the very best the US beer world has to offer.

This is farlieonfootie for March 27.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Game Day Beer Review: Kona Brewing Longboard Island American Pale Lager

Poured from a bottle at the home office. Longboard Island Lager was a lemon-tinged, yellow color with a fluffy, two fingered head of pure white bubbles.

The beer' smell was rather vague. We detected some some slight breadiness in it, but that was about all.

On tasting, the beer didn't reveal much, either.  It was a relatively straight forward lager, with the only surprise being some slight citrus (lemon) that we picked up.  There was decent carbonation and while the beer was easy drinking, we didn't find much to write home about.   It's definitely a beginner's craft beer -- not our favorite, but better than a Bud. B-

Monday, March 25, 2013

Game Day Beer Review: Fuller's London Pride English Pale Ale

Although the irony of serving London's Pride in a Manchester United glass wasn't lost on us, we did it anyway. After all, we do what we want around here, much like the way they do  it at our favorite club.
Fuller's London Pride poured from the bottle a warm caramel-colored brown with a thin off-white head that stuck around longer than we thought it might. The beer smelled of sweet malt and brown sugar. There was a little bit of breadiness in there too, in keeping true to the style.

The beer's taste led with malt, but there was some nice floral hoppiness there in the middle, too. It was lightly carbonated to go down easily, which it did. We found the beer to be refreshingly simple and honest -- we consider it to be a great example of the style, and are happy to drink it almost any time: A-

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Whiteout! USMNT 1 - Costa Rica 0

Photo by mdornseif on Flickr

What a difference a day makes.  Fresh off one of the most memorable victories in US Soccer history, the Nats find themselves in 2nd place in the CONCACAF Hexagonal, thanks in no small part to their dramatic 1-0 victory on a day in which their main regional opponents for one of the three coveted World Cup spots all drew.   

Entering the game the team looked to be at a crossroads, with infighting distracting their focus and intrigue hanging over the head of US Manager, Jurgen Klinsmann.   An article which appeared in Sporting News earlier in the week portrayed a club in crisis: no sense of tactics or strategy, and anonymous sources claiming that the team was lost and the Manager culpable for the situation.  Heaping further fuel on the fire was the damaging 1-0 loss to Honduras the US endured in their first of 10 hexagonal matches.  Sitting in dead last place prior to Friday night's game, the US badly needed home field advantage and a win.

One out of two ain't bad.  Although the thin air and cool weather of Colorado was expected to give the national team a significant boost over their opponents, no one was counting on what happened next: blizzard-like conditions at Dick's Sporting Goods Park, outside of Denver.  The severity of Friday night's winter storm left the game in significant doubt -- would the players be able to play in conditions so difficult that it was nearly impossible to see the length of the pitch?

Saturday, March 23, 2013


photo by aloshbennettvia PhotoRee

News and Notes from Around the World of Football:

o Newcastle fans like to have their day out -- although their idea of a fun time might be slightly different from yours and mine.  Ripping up the pitch, stealing balls and dropping trousers pre-game...?  And we thought that only happened in Correpsondent Ed's Geriatric League....
o Sir Alex thinks the pitch at Old Trafford is "dead?"  You should see the conditions they played in back in the days when Correspondent Scott was active....
o We have a couple of quick words of advice for all those slating Rio Ferdinand over his decision not to risk injury and disrupt his specialized training regimen to play against European minnows San Marino, but we can't print them in this family-oriented publication.  Where were all of these know-it-alls when the very same Ferdinand was left out of the squad that faced Brazil for "footballing reasons?"

Friday, March 22, 2013

Dickens Was a Fan: Southampton 3 - Liverpool 1

photo by perpetualplumvia PhotoRee

We always knew that, underneath it all, Scott was a scholar -- despite an abundance of evidence to the contrary:

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of Andre Wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of drawing at the Stadium of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to the Champions League, we were all going direct the other way - in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.

How can you read the (somewhat altered) sentence/paragraph (gotta love Dickensian-length sentences) above and not conclude that not only was the father of Oliver Twist, David Copperfield and Nicholas Nickelby a Liverpool fan, but that he also foresaw the 2012/2013 season?  The pendulum that is my emotions this year has swung so wildly that father time is in danger of tipping over and squashing three visionless rodents, to mix my metaphors and literary genres all at the same time.

Liverpool's hopes of extending their League winning streak to 4 came to a calamitous crash last Sunday at St. Mary's in Southampton.  It seems the Saints could do no wrong and it was the Reds who performed like relics, never able to get a toehold in the fixture. Liverpool's malnourished, Oliver Twist form was no match for the Old Testament wrath wrought by Southampton before a zealous congregation unable to conceal their increasing delight during every cacophonous rendition of "O When the Saints Go Marching In."

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Strike Force!

photo by Axel Rouvinvia PhotoRee

In which Correspondent Ed drops in for a brief spell and imparts his pearls of wisdom on us:

Let me tell you something: it's not easy handing the boss-man a pricey beer at yet another staff party, thrown (as he would like us to believe) in his honor, when deep down your seething at his joy at watching yet another League title go to United, which in no small part was due to favorable refereeing like that we all saw this weekend against Reading.  Well, the rich get richer I suppose.  But other than two-handed shoves in the penalty area that are ignored, why exactly is United on top?

After seeing Spurs drop three in a row, the first against Liverpool after some ghastly mistakes, but this weekend against a pretty pathetic Fulham team, the answer seems pretty clear.  United is pretty much stacked with top class Strikers, to wit:  RVP, Rooney, Chicharito, Welbeck -- four players that could start on any team.  The rest of the squad is solid, but frankly lacking at some positions, particularly midfield and right back.  But United's strikers score like crazy, helping the team rack up 69 goals versus second best Chelsea at 58. 

In fact, if you look at the top of the table, it's almost a direct correlation between position and number of top strikers on the squad.  Man City has Aguero, Tevez, Dzeko and is in second.  Chelsea has Torres and now Ba, and has crawled back to third.  Spurs have Bale (he's the number 10 now, like it or not), a top European player, but that's it, so fourth.  Arsenal has Walcott (part time striker) and, maybe, Giroud, so fifth.  And Liverpool's resurgence -- the addition of Sturridge and a surging Suarez -- sixth.

Is it that simple in the EPL?  Is it just about assembling the best strikers to win?  Can you literally fill in the rest of the team with guys who are simply good enough?  Would Chelsea, for example, be in first place if you swapped Torres and Ba with United's four?  Well . . . . . what do you think?

#    #    #

On a similar note, we've seen Spurs drop three in a row, and even the amusing writers at have now jumped to the conclusion that the reason is Bale is not on the left where he should be, like Ronaldo.  This followed an article about Parker being incompatible with Dembele unlike Sandro, who was just perfect.  I will admit that Bale is neither a traditional number 10 nor a particularly effective number 10 because he is not a distributor but more a player that can run at defenders, beat them, and score.  I also think that part of the reason he is put up top is because Spurs play him where he wants to play in an effort to keep him.  That said, he may be better as a straight number 9 (which he's kind of playing by default), and it may not be a terrible idea to put him there with Gylfi or Holtby behind him and the other at left back. 

But these musings are beside the point.  The problem with Spurs is and has always been their paucity at Striker.  I am a big Defoe fan, but he's run a bit cold lately and has found himself making or getting chances but putting them right at the keeper.  Adebayor has been a complete waste of time up front, never finding himself in the right place and always appearing to loaf without care.  One wonders if he is only able to summon the will to try when he's in a contract year.  Regardless, Spurs strikers don't score enough, and Spurs are completely reliant on their new number 10 putting it in.  This can win you games, but it's not going to be easy holding on to a top four position.  Arsenal, despite all the wailings of its fan base, is only four points behind and has both scored more and conceded fewer than Spurs.  Hopefully this Spurs team can put these losses behind them and rally for the last eight games.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

The Walking Dead: Round 30 in the BPL

photo by vladebvia PhotoRee

o What is it with backup 'keepers?  Is it really so difficult to stay dressed on the sideline?  Case in point: Lee Camp, Norwich City's backup goalkeeper, pressed into action on account of Mark Bunn's mid-match dismissal against Sunderland.  Here's some quick career advice, Lee:  don't be see on live television with your shorts around your knees, tucking in your kit.  How about taking care of that pre-game on the off chance you might be used...?!

o We don't know where he came from -- in fact, we'd never seen him before a couple of weeks ago --  but the albino/Walking Dead version of Tim Howard -- aka Jan Mucha -- had a better than decent game against the former Champions on Sunday.  Maybe there is life after Howard in Liverpool....
o Roberto Mancini failed to show at his post-game interview on Sunday -- but don't get too upset. There will be 38 interviews next season he won't be giving for Manchester City, either. 

o The quality of his game against Spurs on Sunday made us finally focus on this, but has there ever been a more ridiculously named footballer than Ashkan Dejagah...?  Have you met his brother, Ashtray?  Or his Uncle, Trashcan?  We defy you to listen to his name again and not have a good chuckle....  Good game, bad name: We present to you Fulham's Ashkan Dejagah.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Game Day Beer Review: Sint-Sixtusabdij van Westvleteren Trappist Quad XII (2006)

It's rare to talk about vintages when you're reviewing beers, but it's also fairly rare to find yourself drinking the number one rated beer in the world, produced by a very small Trappist Abbey in Belgium.  We drank the 2006 vintage of Westvleteren XII at a soiree thrown by Correspondent Ed the other night -- hey, that's just how he rolls -- and it didn't disappoint:

Westvleteren XII (2006) was poured into a Chimay chalice, and appeared prune juice dark with massive amounts of loose sediment floating around.  There was no head whatsoever on the beer.

The smell was of prunes, figs, raisins and other dark fruits.  The nose was boozy, almost like an aged rum.

Upon tasting the beer was very complex: there was just a lot going on.  It was all dark fruits and extremely complex, but velvety smooth at the same time.   The taste was malty sweetness, but mellowed, fruits with brown sugar, like a Christmas rum cake come to life in liquid form.  World class: A

Monday, March 18, 2013

Game Day Beer Review: Unibroue Éphémère Fruit Ale

(5.50% ABV)  Poured from the bottle into a goblet at the home office to celebrate a birthday.  The beer poured a brilliant golden color with no head whatsoever -- perhaps as a result of our extra-gentle pour so as not to disturb the yeast on the bottom of the bottle.

Éphémère smelled of yeast and apples -- there was lots of ripe fruit waiting to be unleashed from that bottle. By there was also an underlying funkiness to the nose -- we've seen it referred to as a stinky cheese, and we'd have to agree.  The funkiness was typically Belgian -- even though this beer was produced by one of our favorite craft brewers in Canada.

The taste followed the fruit -- apples dominated, but they were dry rather than sweet, and there was a little bit of lactic sourness to keep things interesting.  The beer was yeasty, with just a bit of spiciness to it, as well.

It had a thinnish mouthfeel with decent carbonation. We love this brewery, and they didn;t disappoint. B

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Going Through the Motions: Manchester United 1 - Reading 0

photo by √oхέƒx™via PhotoRee

A strangely subdued Manchester United held off an outclassed Reading side, 1-0 at Old Traffford on Saturday, in a game that had far-reaching implications at both ends of the League table. Coming on the heels of Manchester City's 1-0 loss to Everton earlier in the afternoon, United's victory effectively ended any remaining suspense in the title race, while Reading's loss continued a dismal run of form for the visitors that has seen them dragged all the way down to 19th place. The game was noticeable for the lack of chances created by both sides, and if the sign of a Champion is winning despite suffering through an off-day, the men in Red played as if their 20th title was in the bag before the first ball was even kicked.

The visitors began the game brightly, appearing unfazed despite their dismal track record against the home side and the rocky week they had just come through, which culminated in the sacking of their Manager, Brian McDermott.  For their part, the home side played the part of affable host, looking either unable or unwilling to threaten the men in blue and white for the first 15 minutes of action. Ashley Young's narrow miss was the first sign the Red Devils were awakening from their somnambulant state, but the winger was unable to either curl the ball into the far corner or pick out the onrushing Robin Van Persie.

By the 20 minute mark the Reds were beginning to grind through the gears rather quickly, and few watching the match would have been surprised when Wayne Rooney opened the scoring on a deflected shot that eluded the grasp of Reading 'keeper Stuart Taylor. The game's only goal was set up by a brilliant run and pass from the unlikeliest of sources: central defender, and recent England Call up, Rio Ferdinand.

Reading's Taylor was an increasingly busy man as the half progressed, the 'keeper's abilities tested by Young, Van Persie, Ryan Giggs and Danny Welbeck, in addition to Rooney, as the United attack came from all sides and angles. Although Hal Robson-Kanu came close to leveling the score just after the half hour mark, the Reading winger's miss came against the run of play and during one of the visitor's few threats outside of the opening portion of the match. 

Both teams struggled to create openings as the half drew to a conclusion, a result of multiple turnovers and the downpouring rain that slickened the Old Trafford pitch.   The halftime whistle was heard clearly throughout the stadium, competing as it was only against the sounds of stifled yawns emanating from around the grounds. The home team may have been  in control, but it's fair to say they weren't exactly setting the world on fire in the game's first 45 minutes.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Hard To Be Happy: Internazionale Milan 4 - Tottenham Hotspur 1

Unhappy bicycle
Photo by Salim Virji on Flickr

If James Thought He Was Having a Bad Day, Just Wait
Until He Sees What Correspondent Ed Did to His Bike

James may be back, but he's not altogether happy:

Yes, Spurs are through to the last eight in the Europa League but, make no mistake, today was a train wreck at the San Siro from the manager on down. AVB has been sterling this year for the most part and, with this team missing both Bale and Lennon, it's likely not even the reincarnation of Bill Nicholson would have conjured a solid win out of this team.

While the team has lacked width and pace with Moussa Dembele playing on the right the last two games, he has been sorely missed centrally. Scott Parker and Jake Livermore do not exactly splash the canvas like Picasso. That combined with AVB's insistence to both play a high line with over an over-40 goal tender (Brad Friedel) and center half (William Gallas, in perhaps the worst game of his career) and play a 4-4-2 with Jermaine Defoe and Emanuel Adebayor up top against a team duty bound to attack on their home ground was pure folly. Lastly, the decision to loan out Andros Townshend, who has played superbly for QPR, and sacrifice the now necessary cover for Aaron Lennon has proved costly.

But AVB was probably over confident. Doubtless, the entire squad - save Jan Vertonghen, Dembele and Gylfi Sigurdsson - played that way. They were the clones of the Inter team that collapsed at The Lane last week with one vital exception: Spurs scored a goal. Beyond that, however, one was convinced that this would go down as the one of the worst examples of Spurs-cursed karma in their long history of cursed karma.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Game Day Beer Review: Dogfish Head Rhizing Bines Imperial IPA

(8.00% ABV) Rhizing Bines was poured into a Dogfish Head IPA glass and enjoyed on a recent Saturday night at the home office.  The beer poured a brassy gold color with a huge off white head. There was a massive amount of carbonation in this beer.

We smelled both hops and malt on the nose, as well as some slight notes of citrus.

The beer was thick, almost viscous at times, and not nearly as hoppy as we expected from the nose. It started off a bit sweetish at the outset, but finished hoppy and dry.  It's not our favorite from this great Delaware Brewery, but it's definitely an interesting take on the style and worth checking out: B

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Vindicated: Liverpool 3 - Tottenham Hotspur 2

We Have No Good reason To Put This Picture Here
photo by (matt)via PhotoRee

It's surprising, but this is the first Spurs' game in quite awhile that Columnist James has elected not to cover.  Fortunately, for some reason, Columnist Scott picked up the slack:

Well, Liverpool finally did it.  They beat a real team above them in the table.  Yes, they previously beat Swansea but, come on, no offense to our Welsh friends, that’s not really the same thing as defeating an in-form Tottenham.  With three league wins on the trot now, whispers of Champions League can be heard through the cacophony of cries for Europa at least.  We’ll see.  For now, perhaps owing to my previous, self-inflicted anguish, I am choosing to remain even-keeled and see how it plays out.

Of course, I was anything but even-keeled as I soaked up the game against Spurs last Sunday when the Reds hosted the Londoners at Anfield.  With Daniel Sturridge back in the lineup along with that breath of fresh Brazilian air known as Philippe Coutinho, not to mention Luis Suarez, Steven Gerrard, an increasingly healthy Lucas Leiva and the resurgent Stuart Downing, it was not surprising that Liverpool dominated play for the first 10 minutes.  Their aesthetically pleasing, high-tempo ball movement was visual candy that culminated with a tootsie roll finish of Coutinho to Jose Enrique to Suarez for the flick past Hugo Lloris at the near post.  The finish was brilliant but the vision, of first the Brazilian, then the Spaniard, was sweeter still.

Coutinho has been an excellent addition and, just like Sturridge, has immediately blended into and elevated the team.  Jose Enrique, especially, seems to be benefitting from the new number 10, linking up with him repeatedly on the way to a final pass into Suarez or Sturridge.  Gerrard also continues his climb to his former glory – his 27th minute, perfectly-weighted, one-touch through ball for Suarez was amazing and more evidence that the captain has more years of quality in the tank.

Around about the 36th minute, the commentators said something that agrees with what I have been saying for some time – that Suarez seems to have halted, or at least lessened, his diving tendencies.  I was thrilled that it was noticed and I sincerely hope it will continue.  He will probably always complain about calls, which I can accept if he at least doesn’t try to manufacture them.  After all, he has already been denied penalties in other games and it will continue, such as when Benoît Assou-Ekotto yanked him down in the 39th minute.

All this stands in stark contrast to the biggest diver/actor in the league – Gareth Bale.  He is truly an amazing player and will no doubt become legendary but, quite simply, he is a habitual diver.  When he was writhing on the ground in the 44th minute, I found myself comparing him to a certain feature of the female anatomy.  All the more so when he was perfectly fine less than a minute later and able to deliver a picture-perfect cross for Jan Vertonhen to head home.  His theatrics were on display again in the 52nd minute when he fooled the ref to get a BS free kick, then Jamie Carragher was pulled down (no call) and Vertonghen scored again to put the visitors ahead 2-1.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Game Day Beer Review: Jolly Pumpkin Calabaza Blanca Witbier

(4.80% ABV) Jolly Pumpkin Artisan Ales is a Michigan-based craft brewer that has carved out an admirable reputation for brewing incredible sour ales -- and the latest one we sampled proved no exception.  We drank Calabaza Blanca on a recent Saturday night at the home office, where the beer poured a crystal clear gold color with a pillowy white head.

The smell was yeasty, with notes of coriander and clove. The beer was rich and spicy smelling.

On the tongue this beer truly shone; it hit all the right notes.  It was tingly and refreshing.  Although the spices were more muted than the beer's aroma would lead you to believe, the sour notes were accentuated on the the finish, and kept you coming back for one more sip -- until there were none left!  B+

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Game Day Beer Review: Staatliches Hofbräuhaus Original Munich Helles Lager

(5.10% ABV) Hofbrau Original poured a deep straw color with a head that was as pure white as the driven snow.

The beer's smell was a mix of bread and crackers, with slight whiffs of citrus, hops and yeast thrown in for good measure. This is a seemingly simple beer, yet it has an amazingly complex smell.  It's almost as if these Germans have this brewing thing down to a science....

The beer was tingly on the tongue, and refreshingly bitter. There was a grassy hop taste that gradally faded into a off-dry finish. The beer was very German, and very good. We enjoyed it immensely: B+

Monday, March 11, 2013

U-Turn: Manchester United 2 - Chelsea 2

U-Turn Ahead
Photo by ibeeckmans on Flickr

Chelsea rode a second half comeback to draw level with Manchester United in a tightly contested Sixth Round FA Cup match on Sunday, with the 2-2 result guaranteeing a return affair to be played in London at the Blues' home, Stamford Bridge.  The game was a disappointing outcome for Sir Alex's men, especially as they were unlucky not to be three goals clear of the visitors at the break.  Once again, Luis Nani was an absentee protagonist in the affair, but this time the Portuguese wide man was not dismissed from the action by a referee; rather, it was an injury picked up near the interval that necessitated the winger's departure.  Replaced by an ineffective Antonio Valencia, the home side was no longer able to pin back Chelsea's attack, and their defense was overrun in the second half, in particular by substitute Eden Hazard, who entered the action after 50 minutes of play.  In the subsequent 40 minutes that the Belgian was on the pitch, the visitors dominated the action, and their advancement into the next round of the Cup was denied only by the narrow sole of United 'keeper David De Gea's outstretched boot in the game's dying moments.

The home fans were undoubtedly surprised to see the  match turn out the way it did, especially after the opening quarter hour.  After back and forth opening gambits, it was an exquisite pass from Michael Carrick that completely gutted the visitors' defense, an arcing ball that split the Chelsea back line wide open, and it  was none other than Javier Hernandez -- a Chelsea slayer if ever these was one -- who greeted the ball with a fine looping header over Petr Cech to give the Red Devils an early advantage. The goal appeared the perfect tonic for Tuesday's bitter loss to Real Madrid, the men in Red dismissing the Champions League game from their collective memories and proving to be focused on the task at hand.

Five minutes later and it was Wayne Rooney's turn to celebrate, the Englishman offering a perfect curler of a free kick, the ball heading across the face of goal untouched before settling into the far corner of the net and doubling the home side's lead. It was easily the sharpest 11 minutes in recent memory, and a benched John Terry could only sit and shrug his shoulders on the sideline, unaccustomed as he may have been to this area of Old Trafford.

When the situation was reversed at the 14 minute mark -- with Juan Mata looming over a dead ball -- Rio Ferdinand treated the crowd to a defending master class, and the two goal lead was preserved. The home side was playing outstanding defense once again, pressuring the ball and hunting in packs, and offering the Chelsea skill players precious little room in which to operate.  It was only Cech's quick reflexes that denied Rooney his second goal of the afternoon, the home side smelling blood and scalping Chelsea on the flanks, with Rafael, Nani, and Patrice Evra giving Chelsea fits down the sidelines.

It was half an hour before Chelsea discovered anything resembling their groove, but once again it was Ferdinand and central defensive partner Jonny Evans patrolling the back line with efficiency and snuffing out the threat when it emerged. The Reds gradually drifted toward complacency as the half dragged on, though, and their mental mistakes and poor passing threatened to let Chelsea back into the contest.  By the time the teams headed into the locker rooms there were sufficient talking points for both coaches to cover during the break, although Nani likely wouldn't have been paying as much attention as Antonio Valencia, the latter replacing the former just prior to the break.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Splitting Hairs: Final Thoughts on Manchester United vs Real Madrid

photo by miss pupikvia PhotoRee

It's rare that we find ourselves agreeing with Scott, but it does happen on occasion:

There were only two things worse than the horrendous red card call during the Real Madrid - Manchester United Champions League clash on Tuesday: Gus Johnson's commentary and United's defending after the red card call.  Yes, there is no doubt that the foul did not warrant a red card.  However, it did warrant a yellow card and I'm surprised that so many have questioned even that - it was the very definition of a dangerous play and deserved a warning, for which yellow cards are expressly manufactured, in Sri Lanka I believe.  That there was no intention is exactly the thing that makes it yellow instead of red.  That Nani did not even see Arbeloa does not remove it from the realm of a yellow card because, quite frankly, a player should know that flying through the air with studs up on a pitch with 21 other players just might result in spearing one of them.  Yellow card. 

A yellow card would not have altered the course of the game as the incorrect red card did and it is a real shame we couldn't see the game play out without referee interference.  But here is where I will veer from the opinions of many (all?) others.  I propose that the red card affected the final result not because of the numerical advantage given to Real Madrid but, rather, because United was so psychologically affected that they failed to continue to do what they had done so well up until that point - defend.  Sure, their ability to counter-attack was hamstrung by a missing player, but they were already a goal up.  All they had to do was keep the visitors from scoring for 35 minutes.

Before you scoff and sarcastically retort "oh, that's all?", consider how the game had gone up until then.  Real Madrid had enjoyed overwhelming possession at Old Trafford but had only managed a few relatively tame efforts on goal.  Why?  Because United had defended very well up until the red card (Carrick was a force, snuffing out dangers all over the field as if he were playing Wack-a-Mole with his feet) and Real Madrid had failed to take advantage of their opportunities (such as Ronaldo failing to get on the end of Higuain's wicked, low cross to the far post).

Game Day Beer Review: Crazy Mountain Brewing Lava Lake Wit

(5.20% ABV) Lava Lake was poured from the can and enjoyed in a glass at the home office.  The beer was a not-quite-clear straw yellow color with only the thinnest of white heads.

The beer smelled of citrus, predominantly oranges. We also picked up a bit of a yeasty smell.

Upon drinking, it was the flavor of chamomile that really shined through and cut the citrus; it was among the first and last things we tasted. If you like chamomile, which we do -- a lot -- this beer is for you. It was medium bodied, and refreshingly fizzy; we couldn't get enough. B+

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Power Play!: Thoughts on the Football Week that Was

photo by berevia PhotoRee

Power plays are a familiar concept to Ed, who is constantly throwing his weight around the coprorate office and disparaging the other columnists:
Well, Gareth Bale scored another.  This time with his head, and Gylfi Sigurdsson did all the hard work.  That said, the guy keeps scoring and scoring and scoring.  Gone are the cheers (jeers?) of "Bale plays on the left!" as Bale is now solidly in the number 10 spot right behind Defoe or Adebayor.  Bale is a different sort of number 10, though, as he is not a distributor like Rooney or Kagawa to name a few, but rather someone who can take people on, beat them, and fire it into the back of the net.  

Someone noted that Bale's statistics are similar to Ronaldo's at this point in his career, and Jermaine Defoe noted that Bale reminds him of Ronaldo at this point in his career.  I think there is some similarity.  Ronaldo's footwork is superior of course, but Bale's isn't bad, and he certainly has more top end speed than Ronaldo.  It will be sad if and when Spurs lose him.  For some reason I'm hoping for the impossible -- that they find the money and will to keep him and he's fine with that. Unfortunately, that is a wishing against the wind.

#          #          #

How about those Spurs?  They dispatched their nemises Arsenal over the weekend, and then completely dominated Inter Milan with their 3 to nothing victory.  To be honest, I'm not sure Spurs have every looked so good.  Sigurdsson continues to impress, and Scott Parker, who has been much (and unfairly in my opinion) maligned on this website had a brilliant game.  It is not simple to return from injury, and less simple to do so and have to join new midfield partners.  Dembele and Parker have both now seemed to have adjusted, and Parker played his best match of the season, completely dominating the holding midfield position.  A pleasure to watch.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Easy Street: Tottenham Hotspur 3 - Internazionale Milan 0

photo by NCBrianvia PhotoRee

If James is writing, Bale is scoring:

Spurs strolled through an Inter Milan side today that appears to be a shadow of the team that Tottenham shocked in the Champions League group stage in 2010.  The Nerazzurri, struggling through transition, injuries and only one point off the pace for a Champions League places in Serie A, appeared as if they were happy to focus only on that for the rest of the season.  Spurs, on the other hand, are on a quest for both a European trophy and Champions League next year and, based on recent performances, are well on course for both.

Inter’s meek display should take nothing away from a dominating performance by the Lilywhites.  A fair score would have been five -- or even six -- to one or two.  Spurs took the lead only six minutes in on a headed goal from You Know Who off a fantastic cross from the ascendant Gylfi Sigurdsson (official MOTM).  It was Siggy who doubled the lead only twelve minutes later after a nice exchange from Mousa Dembele to Aaron Lennon, who gave Inter fits all night.  Also excellent were Jan Vertonghen who scored off a corner on a Bale delivery in the fifty third minute (Spurs scored on a corner!!!), Dembele and Scott Parker (unofficial MOTM).

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Picture Perfect: Round 28 in the BPL

o Gareth Bale is a fearsome sight on the football pitch these days, indeed. Just ask the cameraman that took this picture.

o Meanwhile, if Bale was excited, you have should seem the reaction from Spurs' fans. These people really know how to party.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Fixed: Referee Madrid 2 - Manchester United 1

You're 'Avin a Laugh Ref! Come on England! - Red card and clown face

Manchester United were forced out of the Champions League by a shocking referee's decision on Tuesday night, as Nani's undeserved sending off changed the entire tenor and shape of what had been a tense and fiercely contested match.  Seeing a game-ending foul on a play that would likely not  have drawn even a yellow card in the Premier League, Turkish referee Cuneyt Cakir took the game into his own hands and almost singlehandedly gave the two legged tie to Madrid 3-2 on aggregate.  The sending off took much of the drama out of what to that point had been a white hot contest, with Real Madrid possessing more of the ball but United looking the far more dangerous attacking side.  Even Wayne Rooney's late game introduction, necessitated by the Englishman's surprising pre-game omission, was not enough to save the Reds on a night from which they deserved more based on the quality of their play. 

Although the two teams entered the locker rooms scoreless at the half, it was United's early second half goal that saw the home side rewarded for their valiant and disciplined defensive effort.  Although the pre-game talking points had been all about Madrid's counter-attacking abilities and questions surrounding United's midfield, it was the Red Devils who looked the more dangerous team on the break and Los Blancos who appeared the more labored of the sides in their midfield play.

The game changer was the referee.  Used to overseeing games in the Turkish League, referee Cakir was overwhelmed by the occasion and willfully altered the outcome in Madrid's favor. Although Nani's foot was raised, it was clearly in an attempt to bring down a wayward clearance effort -- and the winger showed no intent of harming unseen Madrid defender Alvaro Arbeloa, who -- to his credit -- did not roll around the pitch in the exaggerated manner favored by many of the visitors. 

Coming less than ten minutes after United had assumed control of the tie meant the home side were forced to play with ten men for over 30 minutes.  WIth Jose Mourinho at the helm, veteran Real watchers knew the Special One would make changes, and the first substitution he made altered the game within ten minutes.  The newly introduced Luka Modric curled an outstanding ball past the fingertips of an outstretched David De Gea to equalize the match in the 66th minute, before Cristiano Ronaldo tapped in a Gonzalo Higuain cross three minutes later to seal the contest and see Madrid through to the next round.

Even the visitors' bossman agreed his side had benefitted from the referee's shocker, claiming after the game that "the best team lost tonight." While the comment may have been aimed at currying favor with United's Board of Directors, it was a typical spot on assessment by Mou, who likely also sympathized with the cruel fate bestowed upon his friend and counterpart Ferguson.  Although United fought back valiantly, and threatened numerous times even when down to ten men, in the end the second road goal handed the home side an impossible task.

The match which ended so prematurely began rather slowly.  Several giveaways opened the match as both sides displayed nerves shredded by three weeks of anticipation. The first threat of the game came from the visitors, as Ryan Giggs conceded a free kick, but Cristiano Ronaldo's effort was snuffed out by a brave Tom Cleverley standing firm in the wall.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Bottle Broken: Tottenham Hotspur 2 - Arsenal 1

photo by Julia Manzerovavia PhotoRee

If not broken, there must have been at least a few empty bottles in Correspondent James' office after Spurs' victory over Arsenal in the North London Derby on Sunday:

One of the things we love about English footie is the extent to which the clubs tend to adhere to long standing historical attributes, irrespective of changes in owners, managers, grounds, etc.  This is particularly true of Spurs with their “To Dare Is To Do” ethos.  Their tradition is of winning trophies and of wide open, fluid, daring, European football and they’ve pretty consistently stuck with that same methodology over their 130 years or so of existence.

Of course, one of the attributes that has caused untold amounts of psychological trauma for supporters over not quite so long a time frame (thinking early 70's, apart from the odd League Cup thrown in) has been Spur’s tendency toward psychological fragility or, as the English like to say, to “bottle” it.   At the decidedly Spurs-like risk of jinxing this thing in its infancy, it may very well be time to pronounce this particular historical attribute dead and buried.  And what better time to do so than on the heels of an euphoric derby victory against Arsenal?

Yesterday’s victory pretty much epitomized how Spurs have generated their current unbeaten run of 14 in all competitions.  It has not always been pretty.  It has not always been all that daring.  Most of these matches have been taught nail-biting affairs – down to the wire scrapes that Spurs have historically lost many more times than won.  The point against United in the snow when Dempsey scored in injury time.  A come from behind win at the Stadium of Light.  A 67th minute wonder strike from Bale at the Hawthorns.  Another one in the 80th at Carrow Road.  Bale’s match winner in the 87th against Newcastle, injury time at West Ham, and the two ridiculous free kicks against Lyon.  And then Dembele with a minute left on the home leg against Lyon.

And then yesterday against the hated rival.  Holding -- holding! -- a one goal lead for most of the second half while the goalie, center halves and defensive midfielder played with cajones the size of church bells.  And this on the one year anniversary of the painful and historic collapse at the hands of Arsenal last February and of AVB’s sacking at Chelsea.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Game Day Beer Review: Schnebly Redlands Winery and Brewery Gator Tail Brown Ale

(5.30% ABV) Poured on draft at the Riverside Market in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.  Beer Advocate lists this beer as a porter, but we believe it may be more properly categorized as an American Brown Ale.  Irregardless, we liked this little gem produced by a winery-turned-brewery in the very southern reaches of Florida.

Gator Tail arrived a Coca-Cola brown color, showcasing only a thin whisp of an off-white head as decoration.  The beer offered the mildest scents of roasted malt and milk chocolate.

We detected some slight hops up front, followed by the rich, creamy fullness of milk chocolate, and ending with a sweet finish. The beer was relatively well carbonated and had a medium-bodied mouthfeel.  The beer's brewer appeared to focus less on the roasted notes than we've seen with many brown ales, but we didn't miss them.  It's a very nice beer, and one well worth trying if you're in the area: B+

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Word Association: Manchester United 4 - Norwich City 0

photo by badjonnivia PhotoRee

One Touch: So many nice, no-look passes by the home side to begin the game

Best View of the Action (Non-Participant): David De Gea

Frustration: For the first 43 minutes on Saturday, all work and no play

Stretford End: The non-threatening end of Old Trafford to attack this season

Parking the Bus: Norwich City's first half game plan

Stress Relief: A pre-halftime goal by Kagawa

Dead Certain Lock: A halftime lead at Old Trafford under Alex Ferguson