Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Brace Me: Manchester United 4 - Norwich City 0 -- Game Recap and Player Ratings

Photo by Lucas McDaniel

A Javier Hernandez brace, followed by unexpected scoring contributions from Phil Jones and Fabio, resulted in a comfortable 4-0 victory for Manchester United over Norwich City in the Capital One Cup at Old Trafford on Tuesday night, and moved the home side into the competition's fifth round. The pair of goals from the Mexican striker, coming on either side of the interval -- one from the spot and one off his head -- broke open a contest that United largely dominated.  While the Red Devils may be struggling for form in the Premier League, last night's performance was another free-flowing performance outside of the League from the home side.

The manager saw fit to hand Wilfried Zaha his first start of the season, while blending a lineup the featured both youth and experience, as is United's custom in the Cup. Once again, it was young Adnan Januzaj who added a dash of verve to the United attack, with the crowd gasping virtually every time the Belgian touch the ball. Herewith, our thoughts on the individual player performances in what can only be described as a comprehensive team victory:

Lindegaard: A light evening's work in the first half, but had to dive to deny Robert Snodgrass after the break. It was his reaction after the save, though -- to check on the badly injured player -- that was his best work of the night. 7.5

Rafael: The newly shorn look made his bombing runs appear even more aerodynamic. 8.0

Ferdinand: Cruise control in the middle of the park. 7.5

Vidic (c): Still our undisputed first choice at center back. 7.5

Buttner:  Above average service on offense, but needs to hit the books to learn some proper defending. 6.0

Young: Some of his deliveries were better than normal tonight. 6.5

Cleverley: Moved the ball well, but could stand to work some on his shooting. 7.5

Jones: We don't love him in a midfield role, but he proved once again he's nothing if not versatile. His well-struck finish began to match the scoreline with the home side's dominance.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Game Day Beer Review: Revolution Anti-Hero American IPA

(6.50% ABV) Anti-Hero poured a burnished copper color with a white head that really stuck around. We drank this beer at Reilly's Daughter, an Irish pub located at Midway Airport in Chicago, Illinois, during a recent business trip. We poured the beer from its can into a plastic cup; not the ideal presentation, but hey, sometimes you have to play the hand you've been dealt. 

We smelled primarily hops and pine emanating from the cup. We got much of the same upon tasting Anti-Hero, with the strong flavor of grapefruit also mixed in. There was a nice malt backbone that ran throughout the flavor profile and served to take the edge off.  

It's wasn't near as harshly bitter as some of the west coast IPA hop-bombs, but also not as mild and restrained as the east coast versions of the style.  Instead, Revolution played this one right down the middle -- befitting its location in the center of the country. 

This is a very good beer: A-

Smiles at Anfield

Photo by Seanbjack on Flickr

At least for Scott and those of his ilk, that is:

It was all smiles at Anfield on Saturday as Luis Suarez put on an AP-Level finishing clinic and, thereby, allowed Liverpool to exorcize the West Bromwich Albion demon that has terrorized the Reds at home of late. This time it was Steve Clark's men running scared as the toothy Uruguayan first 'megged his way to goal before powering his second with his head from -- get this -- outside the penalty area. To complete his pre-Halloween (hat)trick, the unstoppable striker glanced a perfect freekick from Steven Gerrard. Not wanting to be bereft of candy himself, Daniel Sturridge first pounded a side foot shot (how does he get that power?) off the crossbar before sublimely chipping the 'keeper from traffic to make it four for the home side, much to the cacophonous delight of the sea of red crooning about accompanied ambulations.

Alas, the near-perfect performance (overlooking a few missed opportunities and defensive miscues) was ruined by a most dubious foul called, not by the referee but, rather, a seemingly over-reaching linesman. That softest of penalty calls allowed Morrison to drill home the visitors' only goal. But the aforementioned glance and chip managed to restore at least a sizable degree of elation, if not the perfection that would have added another 8 points to my fantasy score.

Nevertheless, herewith, in copy-cat fashion, are my incontrovertible player rankings:

Lucas - excellent tracking back for important defensive touches and winning balls in midfield. Added the needed muscle in midfield. 7.5

Suarez - Simply masterful. The summer want-away has packed away any lingering disappointment or resentment by putting his head down and emerging as the best forward in the BPL again. Three glorious goals and an afternoon handful for West Brom's defense. 9.0

Henderson - a tireless, eager puppy but exuberance gets the best of him at times. Too many of his passes don't find their intended recipient. 6.0

Johnson - left at 62 minutes to a deserved hero's salute. Consistently dangerous with driving and dishing. We hope his knock is not too serious because the side is noticeably better with him in it. Still, he needs to fully regain his touch, which abandoned him at times. 7.0

Mignolet - not too much to do until the waning minutes when a few key stops preserved the score line. He did look calm with the ball at his feet, despite flapping at a few free kicks early on. 6.5

Toure - Was solid when he needed to be but lost the ball going forward too often and was a bit too cheeky at times, when the simple ball would have fared better. 6.0

Cissokho - seemed to be blamed for the penalty, undeservedly, but otherwise solid, breaking up plays and gamely carousing the left side. 6.5

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Game Day Beer Review: Brasserie Dupont Saison Dupont

(6.50% ABV) Poured into a chalice from a 11.2 ounce bottle on a recent Sunday while reviewing the weekend happenings in the Barclay's Premier League. The beer poured a murky orange-gold color with just a little bit of a white head showing around the edges. The carbonation was active and immediately noticeable, but due to the caution with which we poured the beer, the head was not hyperactive.

Saison Dupont smelled mainly of citrus and yeast. This quintessential farmhouse ale -- the epitome of the style for our money -- was dry and yeasty upon tasting, with the beer's flavors neatly mirroring its smell. We found some green apple and grains in the upfront taste, and just a hint of clove and maybe even vanilla on the finish. 
The beer was highly carbonated and active on the tongue. It's a genuine Belgian treat: A-

Saturday, October 26, 2013

The Return of the Late, Late Show: Manchester United 3 - Stoke City 2 -- Game Summary and Player Ratings

Javier Hernandez netted a late winner on Saturday afternoon at Old Trafford to lift the home side to a dramatic comeback victory -- the type of win that used to be routine, but one which had so far eluded the team's new Manager, David Moyes.  Hernandez' unmarked header from Patrice Evra's driven cross capped a stirring three minutes of action that saw the Red Devils surge from a late 2-1 deficit to the win.  The comeback was instigated by United's main men, as Robin Van Persie and Wayne Rooney combined for a glancing header off a corner kick to level a contest that had begun to test the patience of even the team's most dedicated fans.

Once again it was Adnan Januzaj who provided the initial spark off the bench, upping the tempo on an attack that produced relatively few attempts and only a solitary goal in the first 77 minutes of action -- that coming from Van Persie late in the first half.  No sooner had the Dutchman pounced on a rebound from Rooney's header to level the scoreline at one, though, did United hand back the momentum to their guests: a Phil Jones mistake leading to a fine Marko Arnautovic free kick which restored the Potters' lead just prior to the interval.

Although the victory may have been over only a mid-table Stoke City side, Old Trafford erupted with an explosion of noise that rivaled any heard in some of the team's most stirring come-from-behind efforts -- a testament to how much the win meant to the players, the coaches, and the millions of fans worldwide.  Herewith, our thoughts on the individual player ratings in a victory that may have far reaching implications for the rest of the campaign:

De Gea: Fine save on Crouch's initial effort, and nothing he could do about the rebound. Came up big to deny Walters before the game was a half hour old, but was unable to keep out a delightful Arnautovic free kick which restored the Potters' lead. Kept his head when all around him were losing theirs -- a Man of the Match performance form the Spaniard.  Let's be clear: this game was lost without his heroics: 9.5

Smalling: Slow to react to the initial attack from Stoke, which allowed the visitors to score their first goal in 5 1/2 hours. Was burned repeatedly by the easiest of moves; playing the center back on the right for his height backfired in two ways: immediately and regularly. 4.0

Jones: As if being found guilty of first half ball watching wasn't enough, his foul right before the interval led directly to Stoke's second tally of the afternoon. 4.0

Evans: Distribution today was almost as poor as his defending. Appeared to have grown two left feet since last week. 4.0

Evra: Prior to Januzaj's introduction, the Frenchman was the only player on either wing capable of crossing the ball. Superbly driven ball for Chicharito's winner. 7.5

Nani: Ballooned his first two attempts well over the bar, and failed to improve after that. Yanked in the 58th minute to an embarrassing chorus of boos from an Old Trafford crowd that should have known better.  Still, another puzzler from the Portuguese wide man. 5.0

Friday, October 25, 2013


In which Columnist Ed channels his inner Tom Petty:

For many years I've been hoping that Manchester United would come back to earth, but I just didn't expect such free fall and to be honest it's not very fun.  One could make the argument that Southampton is better than United this year.  Wait, that's not an argument that's a truth -- at this point in the season Southampton actually IS better than United this year.  Uh oh.

I find the use of Marouane Fellaini to be the most interesting.  Fellaini was not a very effective holder for Everton; he was physical enough but he didn't have the speed or quickness to close people down.  He also lacks the fine passing ability that top holders have.  Compare, for example, Sandro or Paulinho or Dembele or Capoue.  Each of them close down with speed, and with the exception of maybe Sandro -- who is a far better defensive player than Fellaini -- each of them also are better at distribution.

Fellaini did, however, do very well at the number 10 position for Everton.  His size and strength made him tough in the box.  His footwork and leverage were good, and he and Nikica Jelavic made a team that could bully many if not most teams' center backs.  But unfortunately for United, he's inferior by a long stretch to all of their number 10's, which forces him to the holding position, which once again raising the question "Why Fellaini?"  To me there's no way to get around the fact that this was a desperation move by a GM who needed to show that he got something.  Look for them to move him next season.

#    #    #

Spurs returned to form this weekend and saw Roberto Soldado put in his first goal during the run of play.  Soldado played well, though he still hasn't played to the level of his price.  Ultimately Spurs are still a team that lacks a top tier striker.  This will come to haunt them during the season if Soldado comes around.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Relief: Manchester 1 - Real Sociedad 0 -- Game Recap and Player Ratings

Photo by JC Medina

Inigo Martinez's early own goal provided the separation between Real Sociedad and Manchester United on Wednesday night, as the Reds narrowly prevailed 1-0 to take control of Group G in the Champions League.  Although United had the better of the evening's  opportunites, and likely deserved the three points, the Spaniards overcame their early shakiness to keep the Old Trafford crowd on edge throughout the evening, never more so than when Antoine Griezmann hit the bar above David De Gea's goal with a nearly perfect free kick before the interval.

Coming so soon after Saturday's disappointing draw with Southampton, the relief around Old Trafford was palpable upon hearing the whistle signaling the contest's conclusion.  Herewith, our thoughts on the individual performances in what was a necessary victory, one that kept the team's collective heads above the turbulent waters swirling around the club:

De Gea: Little to do before the half hour minute mark, when he was forced to make a fine fingertip deflection. Nearly caught out in the second half, but world class reflexes saved his bacon. 7.5

Rafael: Superb offensive cross in the first half went for naught. Displayed both speed and patience while defending. Was wisely subbed off on an evening in which the Dutch referee didn't see a foul he couldn't call. 7.0

Evans: Was fortunate to not concede an own goal near the 50th minute. Still, a shutout's a shutout. 7.0

Jones: Towered over the Spaniards in the air, and used his body as a shot blocking weapon. A generally confident performance. 7.5

Evra: Fell asleep early in the second half as United's defense went wobbly. 6.5

Valencia: Looked in the mood early.  Should've killed the game off at the hour mark, but was denied by the post. A better outing, but still seems plagued by indecisiveness. 7.0

Carrick: Kept the metronome ticking in the center of the park, and helped the home side control large portions of the contest. 7.5

Giggs: Showed his wheels still have some running room, even at age 39. Moments of brilliance on display, particularly in the second half. Got stronger as the game wore on. 8.0

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Game Day Beer Review: Rodenbach 2010 Vintage Oak Aged Flemish Red Ale (Barrel 144)

(7.00% ABV) The 2010 vintage Rodenbach poured a murky brown with an off-white head that disappeared almost immediately. 

The beer was poured into a chalice from a 750 ml bottle at the home office, and smelled mainly of a sour funk, with some depth to the scent offered by the wood aging. 

The sourness in this beer was at near perfect levels. We tasted cherries, crisp apples and grapes in the beer -- it was lip-puckering perfection in a glass. The Rodenbach finished relatively dry, and the alcohol made itself apparent only near the end as the beer warmed. 

The Rodenbach was highly carbonated and refreshing as hell. We absolutely loved this beer -- it's a classic of the style. A 

Monday, October 21, 2013

Treasonous: Some Complaints About Events at Manchester United

Some thoughts after another disappointing weekend:

o We're getting a bit tired of being lectured by certain fans who believe only they know how "true" Manchester United fans should behave at the current moment. Who make it clear that if you disagree with their own viewpoint you should be dismissed as a "muppet," a "Johnny-Come-Lately," or -- worst of all -- a "plastic" fan for expressing your feelings. We've got news for you guys: it's a big world out there, and there's plenty of room for dissenting opinions. When someone doesn't agree with you it makes them neither a "moron, an "idiot," or worse; instead, the incessant hectoring of United fans who are expressing displeasure at the current time just shows one's own intolerance and incredibly egocentric worldview. 

o This is not a "Moyes Out" rant. We're all for giving the new guy more time. But just as we criticized Fergie when we thought he made mistakes, we'll feel as free as we like to offer complaints about the events over the last five months at Old Trafford. 

o The transfer window was a shambles. End of story.  There's no glossing over this fact. Whether this was due to the Glazers, Ed Woodward, or David Moyes is less clear. Certainly United's "all over the map" strategy reeked of indecision and naïveté. But we're less interested in assigning blame than we are in acknowledging the fact, as well as admitting that the destabilization of certain players and lack of adding a true world-class player or two is contibuting to the team's current woes. 

o Marouanne Fellaini is not who United needed. Sure, he's a decent player, but he's not world class by any stretch of the imagination, and he's not the answer partnering with Michael Carrick in midfield. He may want to play the role of the holding midfielder, but it's different to where he was played at Everton, and it's abundantly apparent after even a few games in the role that he lacks the requisite speed and gets beaten much too easily to play there long-term. Perhaps Moyes will find the right spot in which to deploy the Belgian, but it's going to require some shuffling of the current lineup to do so. 

o Personally, we're of the opinion that Fellaini is a squad player and nothing more -- and this year's midfield excels in squad players, unfortunately. Fellaini was added because Moyes felt "comfortable" with him. "Comfortable" was never a word used to describe Fergie's relationships with his players. 

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Game Day Beer Review: The Alchemist Heady Topper Imperial IPA

(8.00% ABV) To paraphrase U2, there's been a lot of talk about this next beer, maybe, maybe too much talk. We decided to see what the Heady Topper madness was all about, and discover for ourselves if the Vermont-based beer lived up to the hype.

Heady Topper was drunk from the can, as instructed. Okay, we cheated a bit, and poured just a teeny bit into a glass so we could see what this baby looked like. The rest was drunk from the can, as instructed right at the top -- we promise!  Ok, truth be told, we actually drank this beer from a glass, but it was a specially-designed glass -- one suited for IPAs, and designed by none other than Dogfish Head and Sierra Nevada, both of whom know a thing or two about beer. So much for following directions, but then again we've never been too good about that....  Despite the instructions, we recommend drinking it from a glass if you have a good one. 

The beer was a hazy light yellow color, and came with a head that was white as the driven snow and just didn't want to leave. The smells of hops and pine resin were almost overwhelming, amazingly concentrated. The hoppy bitterness made itself apparent right away upon tasting, but it wasn't overwhelming. It stays there throughout the entire taste, but this beer was much smoother than many IPAs we've had over the years.

Heady Topper's mouthfeel was moderate, as was its carbonation.  It may not be the best beer we've ever had, but is is very well balanced and quite delicious. A

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Just Punishment: Manchester United 1 - Southampton 1 -- Game Summary and Player Ratings

Get my spanking story "The Perversion Process" in the e-book Perversion Process
Photo by Rachel Kramer Bussel on Flickr

Adam Lallana scored an 88th minute equalizer to peg back Manchester United at Old Trafford on Saturday, the latest setback in a season full of them for the Red Devils' increasingly under-fire Manager David Moyes.  Only the most ardent of United supporters would deny Southampton their point on a day in which the visitors outplayed the home team in virtually every facet of the game.

This year's United squad seem unable to keep the ball, and the visiting Saints were keen to exploit that deficiency, pressing the error-prone United midfield and backline into giveaways and inaccurate passes all afternoon long.  Other than the undeniable spark provided by the coltish Adnan Januzaj, the United attack looked flabby and uninterested again this afternoon, a possible sign of tired legs or a lack of cohesion in the locker room.  Compounding matters for the frustrated fan base, the team and its Manager appear to have fallen into a defensive shell as the game neared the 70th minute, hoping their once-invincible Old Trafford fortress would provide them the support necessary to stretch a shaky lead all the way to the finish line.  Unfortunately for both the team and Moyes, the strategy failed to work, and United were justly punished on the afternoon.

It's early days, but three wins in eight league games was clearly not the start the club was hoping for.  The glum reaction after Lallana's strike from former manager Alex Ferguson and former United CEO David Gill, sitting side by side in the Old Trafford Directors' Box, told the story of the game: another disappointing performance, more dropped points, and the pressure beginning to mount. 

Herewith, our individual player ratings on a game that has to be seen as a collective loss

De Gea: Stood up to the early pressure from the visitors, and denied Clyne from point blank range as the game wore on. Unclear if he could have done more on Lallana's late equalizer. 6.5

Rafael: Offered more than the alternatives at right back and his defensive brain farts seem to be fewer and further between these days. 6.5

Jones: Could he finally be fulfilling his promise as a center back? Jones offered a quietly efficient performance today and made a crucial second half interception to shut down a threat. Missed a late clearance when moved to midfield to accommodate Smalling. 7.0

Evans: Doesn't give off the same air of authority as Vidic, but cleaned up an awful lot of messes.  A generally confident performance from the Northern Irishman. 7.0

Evra (c): Made some nice attacking runs and overlapped well with Januzaj. 6.0

Nani: Looked lively on the right wing and offered accurate crosses: a novel concept for United this season. 7.0

Carrick: Forced to play a deeper role with Fellaini involved. He's not playing at nearly the same level as he did last season. 5.5

Fellaini: Turnovers and poor touches remained the norm for the Belgian. It's becoming clear that he's unsuited for the role in which Moyes is playing him -- which is strange given their collective history. Fellaini fouled often to break up Southampton's play, but was too easily beaten too many times to be considered for a central midfield role. 4.0

De Nada

Large straw sombrero with twisted tip on carpet
Photo by Horia Varlan

Correspondent Scott expects some thanks, at the very least:

"De Nada."  

That was the two word text I sent immediately after the USA improbably beat Panama by scoring 2 goals in stoppage time to condemn the valiant Marea Roja to another cycle without World Cup action.  Which condemnation simultaneously offered a reprieve to our struggling neighbors to the south who were unceremoniously dispatched by Costa Rica at the same time.  My text, of course, was to a Mexican friend who was actually in that country on business when he replied with his appreciation.  And the next day he forwarded a picture of a fictional Mexican National Team jersey boasting sleeves bespangled with stars and stripes to accompany the familiar green.

Is it fair to say, if the situation were reversed, that Mexico would have stopped playing long before the final whistle?  I think probably yes.  Credit must go to Jurgen Klinsmann who is stamping a winning attitude on the USA team by demanding more and making it clear that nobody is guaranteed a spot in Brazil – it is all about performance on the pitch.  So what else was Graham Zusi to do but score with his forceful header?  And can you blame Aron Johannsson for deftly touching the ball to his right before sublimely finishing in the bottom left corner from outside the 18 yard box with literally the last kick of the game?  Given that a ticket to Brazil was on the line, I think not.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Not Much to Say, and Oh So Much Time In Which to To Do It

Tomato Aspic and Bibb Lettuce Salad
Photo by Dylan Hardesty

Some none-too-important ramblings from your daily correspondent:
o Boy, it sure is lonely in here at the head office with the entire staff out on international break.  There've been no quick missives and a general overall lack of sonnets in iambic pentameter praising Luis Suarez from Correspondent Scott, no creepy sexual innuendos or tasteless, off-color jokes to deal with in Correspondent Ed's absence, and just a general lack of anything even resembling a presence from Correpsondent James -- who faithfully turned in expense reports as if he was on the Spurs' beat at White Hart Lane, but left it for the forensic accountants to discover he was instead covering high school crew regattas in Sarasota, Florida.  
o We'll all be back together tonight, though, one big happy family at the 10th Annual farlieonfootie Football Correspondents Dinner in Fort Lauderdale, Florida -- a ceremony draped in pomp and circumstance, but one generally reserved for some of the lesser lights of American football coverage.  The best way to describe the event is to say it's like the White House Correspondents Dinner minus the President.  And Conan O'Brien as the emcee.  And the B-list celebrities and other assorted famous people.  Also, no jokes are told.  None.  As in, not one.  All in all, actually, it's a fairly somber, staid affair, at which the merits of the minor league Moldivan football are heatedly debated, and the food consists mainly of assorted types of canned beans and tomato aspic.

What the farlieonfootie Football Correspondents's Dinner is NOT Like

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Game Day Beer Review: Cigar City Florida Cracker Witbier

(5.00% ABV) Poured from a 12 ounce can while watching a sumptuous night of  Cup qualifiers. Florida Cracker -- an oft-misunderstood term in today's world, but one that originally referred to the crack of the bullwhip used by old time Florida ranchers to drive their cattle through the dense undergrowth of the peninsula's backwoods -- appeared a murky gold-orange color, with a thick head of soapy white bubbles that dissipated rather quickly, leaving virtually no trace behind.

The scent of citrus and Belgian yeast were immediately apparent on the nose. Orange notes in particular stood out when lifting the beer up close for a smell.

The beer displayed plenty of clove on the initial taste, but it faded rather quickly and was subsumed by the orange flavor and a certain peppery spice. 

The beer had a light mouthfeel with plenty of carbonation. All in all, Florida Cracker is yet another stellar  effort from one of our very favorite breweries. B+

Monday, October 14, 2013

Game Day Beer Review: 7venth Sun Brewery Wolfman's Berliner Weissbier

(3.5% ABV) Poured from a growler into a tulip glass one hot summer weekend (aren't they all in Florida?). Wolfman appeared a clear-as-a-bell straw color with a whispy thin white head that was gone before we could even properly take note of it.

The beer smelled most profoundly of wheat, with some slight funk thrown in at the very end.

It was easy drinking all the way, and not as sour on first grasp as one might have expected. The wheat shone through on the initial taste and never really left. The beer was sparkly on the tongue and a real thirst slaker.  We love just about everything produced by this small Dunedin, Florida-based brewery, and this effort was no exception.  A-

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Game Day Beer Review: Birra Amiata Contessa American IPA

(7.00% ABV) Poured at the home office from a 22 ounce bomber on a lazy weekend afternoon. Contessa appeared a hazy orange/gold color with a massive head of soapy white bubbles. The beer was so well carbonated that some of the foam made its way out of the bottle even before the beer made it into the glass.
The beer displayed grass and lemon notes on the scent. The citrus notes made themselves apparent as soon as the bottle opened.

It was fizzy on the tongue, and just bitter enough on the finish to keep the initial lemon and floral freshness honest. It's nowhere near as bitter as some of the west coast hop bombs that currently rule the American scene, but we loved it nonetheless.

Contessa was highly carbonated and very light on the tongue. The beer was seriously refreshing: why anyone would choose to drink a macro beer over something like this little Italian gem is beyond our comprehension. A-

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Game Day Beer Review: Evil Twin Brewing Justin Blåbær Berliner Weissbier

(5.75% ABV) Justin Blåbær was poured on draft at Hops and Pie in Denver, Colorado during the week of the Great American Beer Festival. Blaeber poured an off pinkish-purple color with a thin, whispy head of delicate white foam that left behind no lacing whatsoever.

Blåbær had a blueberry funk smell thing going on in the nose. There was definitely a certain lactic sourness to the beer's aroma.

The tart soutness was the first thing that hit the tongue, although the blueberries and lemon shone through on the finish. The beer was very light, somewhat fizzy, and extremely refreshing. We loved it.

Friday, October 11, 2013

SAS (Sturridge and Suarez)

It's early days, but Scott likes what he sees:

SAS - Sturridge and Suarez. Really?  Let’s hope it lasts longer than Beniffer.

As much as I dislike cute acronyms (unless I make them up), you have to admit that SAS, after only a few games together, have the look of a duo that can strike fear into the hearts of EPL teams for as long as they decide to stay together.  Kudos again must be given to Brendan Rodgers for going with a formation that allows the two most in-form strikers in the league to occupy the field at the same time.  Maybe it’s too early to jump on the SAS bandwagon but I have the reins gripped tightly in both hands as I whoop and holler something along the lines of “giddy-up.” 

Steven Gerrard scoring from the penalty spot against Crystal Palace last weekend seemed merely an afterthought to the sumptuous link-up play between SAS that resulted in 2 goals, one each, between minutes 13 and 16.  That Liverpool coasted after arriving at a 3-0 lead is something that must be remedied – especially given that the Reds have turned their noses up at second halves this season much like my son does to cold broccoli – it would be good to get after it but they would rather not.  You would think that the fact they are second in the table instead of first is only due to not scoring another goal in any of several second halves, would be enough to finally crunch some cold cruciferous cabbage cousin.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Seeing is Believing

My eye
Photo by Orangeacid

The tremors from the Champions League match between Manchester City and Bayern Munich should still be felt throughout the football world.  The question continues to arise as to whether this was tactics or talent.  The answer, of course, is both.

Pep Guardiola is changing the course of football history by changing the game.  This is unlike the self-proclaimed Special One who is effective but never works outside of the box.  In the City game, Pep did what he used to do at Barca and flooded the midfield with his 4-1-4-1.  There was simply no room for City's midfield triangle in their 4-2-3-1 (though to be fair, City really had 2 at the top as Aguero rarely tracked back to help on Lahm).  But it wasn't merely formation, it was the suffocating tracking and pack hunting of Bayern.  When a City player go the ball on the outside he was immediately pressured and every one of his outlets was marked tightly.  The only ball would have to be a perfect ball or a dangerous cross field long ball.  But there was no time for either.

It has been reported by players like Cesc Fabregas that Barca works much harder in training than he expected.  And all the talk of the system.  But as pointed out well in the Guardian by Gary Neville (the former United player is, I believe, one of the best tactical commentators out there, as well as very entertaining broadcaster), it's also largely hard work.  That is, Pep demands intense pressure and tracking in addition to intelligent marking of outlets.  And it would seem his offense anticipates that the same will happen to him, so he floods the midfield with triangles and outlets.  Four players is not enough -- Lahm is behind the midfielders as well as the defenders to allow for even more ways out of trouble.

Bayern has a dramatically different style and set of players than Barca.  Muller, Schweinsteiger, Ribery, Robben -- none of these players have ready counterparts at Barca.  Indeed, people questioned whether his system was workable with this style of player or whether he would have to adapt and bring in smaller, quicker players.  All of this would take time -- the time that David Moyes seems to be begging for these days.  But instead, Bayern quickly adopted to the new style and has done so emphatically.  They embarrassed City with possession, at times passing it through the City midfield without purpose as if to taunt them.

I remain constantly shocked that there are fewer copycats of Pep.  I expected the same of Liverpool from Brendan Rodgers.  His prior team, Swansea, played a similar possession game though with less of the defensive pressure.  And they did so to great effect with marginal talent at best.   But now at Liverpool his teams look similar to almost all BPL teams, playing with much more directness and relying on Gerrard cross field passes as well as the speed and intensity of Suarez and Sturridge.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Game Day Beer Review: Anderson Valley Fall Hornin' Pumpkin Ale

Fall Hornin' was poured from the can into a pint glass on a recent autumn weekend. The beer was a brilliantly clear, tannish-red color with a mocha-colored head that was composed of bubbles of mixed sizes.

The fall offering from Anderson Valley smelled mostly of unidentifiable pumpkin pie spices, but we did discern cinnamon and just the a slightest hint of Band-Aid. Pumpkin spices dominated the upfront taste, as well, and we tasted the cinnamon and perhaps some nutmeg, as well.

The sweetness of the malt was a little more than we would have liked to have seen -- this is not something that we would choose to session.  The beer had a medium mouthfeel with average carbonation. B

Monday, October 7, 2013

Toppled: Week 7 in the BPL

Photo by Tup Wanders

We spent a great deal of this weekend on the road, and managed to catch only bits and pieces of mutliple Barclay's Premier League matches.  Still, that won't come near stopping us from having opinions about what we saw and heard -- otherwise what would be the point...?

o Norwich City threw virtually everything they had at Chelsea on Sunday afternoon, and the Blues still emerged with three points intact.  The comfortable final scoreline belied how tight the match actually was, with Norwich threatening to burst into a 2-1 lead late before being pegged back in the dying minutes of the contest by late Eden Hazard and Willian goals.  These are the kind of gritty, grind-'em-out results we were writing about when we referred to Mourinho's presence in our pre-season prediction column, and his team will derive a very certain sense of confidence from pulling a victory out as the clock ticked down with the game on the line.

o And that's exactly the kind of confidence that Manchester United seem to be lacking under David Moyes right now.  Barely scraping by against the League's worst team has temporarily silenced the critics, but won't have done much for the team's morale.  Although the adulation was rightly heaped on young Adnan Januzaj, lurking uncomfortably close to the surface was the fact that United -- with the sole exception of the young Belgian -- created almost no offensive opportunities, and looked limp and lifeless for much of the match.  An immediate crisis may have been averted, but the many questions about the team's near-term prospects remain.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Prodigy: Manchester United 2 - Sunderland 1 -- Player Ratings

Prodigy floppy disk
Photo by Grilled Cheese

Adnan Januzaj's surprise inclusion in Manchester United's starting eleven paid considerable dividends for his manager, as the young prodigy's second-half brace lifted the visitors to a 2-1 victory over the Black Cats at the Stadium of Light on Saturday evening.  Januzaj livened up an otherwise flat United attack, and the Belgian's two goals near the hour mark turned the game around for his side, which had been placed in a losing position through Emanuele Giaccherini's early goal.  Although Sunderland threatened to equalize and pull back two points in stoppage time, United's second half turnaround took the wind out of the home side's attack for much of latter 45 minutes, and the visitors had just enough gas in the tank to get the game over the finish line.

Herewith, our thoughts on the individual player performances in a match that handed a critical three points to the Red Devils

De Gea: Absolutely nothing he could have done on Sunderland's goal.  The Spaniard offered a goalkeeping master class to deny Giaccherini near the half hour mark and keep his side in the contest. 8.5

Rafael: Looked sloppy going forward, repeatedly offering a poor first touch. 6.5

Jones: Made mistakes before the interval, but his beautiful recovery tackle saved a 3-on-1 for the home side. Worked hard to hold Altidore in check for the second half. 7.0

Vidic: An inability to clear the ball cost his team dearly in the game's first five minutes, but the big Serb pulled it together after the interval to steady the ship.  7.0

Evra: Picked out Nani with a perfectly-weighted first half cross, and his vision was rewarded again when Januzaj stroked home the Frenchman's cross to pull the visitors level on 55 minutes. 7.5

Nani: Missed a volley when he really should have hit the target. Was willing to shoot, but often seemed to slow down the offense.  6.0

Januzaj: Displayed a brilliant touch and looked easily the team's most lively attacker on the night. Was constantly forced by the home side to try something spectacular and often succeeded. Offered a superbly composed finish to equalize at the 55 minute mark, and a stunning volley handed his side a lead they would not relinquish just six minutes later. 8.5

Friday, October 4, 2013


Photo by Pol Sifter

As a long-time Spurs fan, one thing Ed has in abundance is hope:

At the end of the day, neither Spurs nor Chelsea should be happy about their 1 - 1 draw this past weekend. Spurs shouldn't be pleased because they missed several other good opportunities to win, including Gylfi Sigurdsson's close call near the end of the game. But more importantly, Spurs looked very second-tier in the second half and were happy just to hang on. As I said prior, this game was big for Spurs because they needed to show they could beat teams like Chelsea, not merely pull out a draw at home. They must somehow aim and reach higher or I fear even fourth place all be tougher to land than might seem the case right now.

As for Chelsea, they allowed themselves to be dominated for a half of the game by a side that should be substantially below them. Sure, they pulled out a draw and looked the better team in the second half, but if they were that much better why should they be satisfied with a draw?  If Chelsea are intent on winning the league -- which they are -- a draw at Spurs just shouldn't be enough.

By the way, it was me (and AVB) who questioned Gylfi's spot in the lineup. The last few weeks he has showed me to be completely wrong and has been a creative and goalscoring force from the left. Moussa Dembele also looked the part against Chelsea beating no less than 8 players off the dribble. Paulinho, however, looked less than impressive. Similarly Roberto Soldado, who just hasn't shown much of anything since joining Spurs. We can only hope he improves as Spurs need a finisher who, well, finishes!

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Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge were fun to watch this weekend with their quick but purposeful play. Sturridge has always had the athletic ability, but now he seems very sure of himself. This confident keeps him from rush decisions, and as of now he always looks to have time on the ball. Suarez has picked up his jail break frantic style. He's an impossible player to like, but he is definitely dangerous.

Perhaps most interesting about Liverpool is that they don't even try to play the tiki-taka style that Rodgers used at Swansea. With Steven Gerrard as a holder that's frankly impossible. Stevie G is the kind of the long cross field one touch pass. He's not going to keep swiveling and moving it backwards and sideways. But Kudo's to Rodgers in not forcing something that isn't there. The tiki-taka style is more than half personnel; Liverpool don't have those kind of players, but the kind they do have are pretty good.

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Last year as Manchester United ran the table we used to joke that they were a mid-table team without Van Persie. Well, Van Persie has cooled and, predictably, gotten injured, and United looks very much the mid-table team. David Moyes was criticized on this site for stating that they don't have enough top-tier players to win the Champions League. I suspect the Special One wouldn't be criticized for saying the same thing. Plus, Moyes is right. The mystery at United isn't so much why they fell to 12th place as it is why so many formerly elite players look so mediocre these days. What exactly happened to Nani and Antonio Valencia? Even Ashley Young looks bad these days. In fact, only Wayne Rooney and RVP appear to be top tier talent. That should be enough to win a lot of games in the BPL -- presuming RVP isn't hurt -- but won't be enough to win in Europe.