Saturday, December 27, 2008

It still has 45 minutes to get worse

A certain Scouser asked me to post this for any Arsenal fan feeling aggrieved over yesterday's draw after a two-goal lead. It's just a reminder that things could always be worse.

Kilmarnock started out today's game at Hibernian on fire. Two goals in the first 12 minutes, and they looked set to cruise. Then it all fell apart between the 35th and 37th minute. Killie gave up two penalties, the second one bringing a red card for the keeper, and let Hibernian come level.

There's still a half to go. Down to 10 men, on the road, and missing their starting keeper, is there any hope for Killie whatsoever?

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UF Quick Throw: Sbragia Gets The Gig.



Ricky Sbragia has been appointed Sunderland manager after a succesfull spell as interim manager. Sbragia was Roy Keane's assistant and since the Irishman walked, he has delivered 2 wins out of his 4 games in charge, scoring 8 goals and conceding just 2. The 1-0 loss to Manchester United the only blip on his record. Sbragia has signed an 18 month contract..

And here is the rest of it.

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Friday, December 26, 2008

Friday Backpasses: Why did it feel like Monday to me?

Embedded video of Phil Brown taking his team to the corner of the pitch at half time. He's my hero of the day [BBC]
NSFW slideshow of C. Ron's recent girlfriends. Wanker [Bild]
Barca coming back to US for summer tour to help MLS bid. We're all wondering who Kevin is (seriously, we don't have a Kevin) [La Liga Talk]

Oops. Forgot to add this at first. From the tipline: Some English league results from 1919 of Christmas Day and (!) Boxing Day fixtures. Pretty cool, I think. PDF Alert [NY Times Archive]

Super Frankie Lampard (not the DS commenter) and pops get into the best money-making biz in Britain: selling booze to an island of drunks [The Sun]
Stephen Appiah has been released from Fenerbahce. Is he coming to MLS? "LOL WTF !!!11!!1!" was his approximate answer [Goal.com]
Two things here. One, if you do not understand German, you should not do anything your teammates will not. Two, Schweinie is not a pretty girl. We'll just declare Bild NSFW at all times, mmm'kay? [Bild]

And, finally:
More Germany tonight. I have no idea what the article says, but that is one hell of a tattoo. Also, that subject is pretty damn cut, but does he have moobs? Probably safe for work, but not if you work for either a religious or atheist nutjob. [Bild]

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The Good, The Bad, The WTF




Gah! I'm so late with this. I'll have to make up for it with a shirt I can almost guarantee you have not seen before, and that I am quite sure you are not willing to pay for. Madness, dually from Japan and the ebays, awaits you.



I'm not attempting to call any of you out on your bank accounts or your willingness to spend it on questionable shirts, but there is no way any one of you are spending over $900 on this

is there? If you do, take a picture and we will use it as our only post for that day.

As you can probably guess, I have an issue or two with this shirt. The big one I have is with the map used. Look at it. Besides not using the Buster Bluth-confusing green and blue color scheme, the map highlights something very odd. Instead of focusing on Japan, the map seems to have its focus on China and many of the islands off the coast of southeast Asia. This isn't a soccer shirt as much as it is a remembrance of areas conquered in World War II.

I can't really fault the manufacturer (who it is, I don't know) for the shirt coloration, because that's just the way it was in Japan in the '90s. Imagine the first generation of MLS shirts, but with more variety of color and less-inhibited design. That's where this shirt comes from.

What I can fault is the seller. Why can't you crop your slippered feet out of the photo? Are you attempting to sell your overpriced shirt to a small population of people who are soccer fans, map hounds and foot fetishists? If so, good luck with that. Because that person would also have to have more money than he knows what to do with. (Yes, it's a he. Women have entirely different perversions.)

I invite every one of you to bookmark this auction. It ends in two weeks, which just might be enough time to attract a bid. I sure hope so.

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EPL Liveblog Triple-Header, Game 3: Aston Villa v. Arsenal

Nope, not today.


Boy Howdy. A cracker to end the day. What will Wenger manage considering his recent losses? No Adebayor today, no Fabregas, no Walcott still...

... come Goon with me after the jump.

FULLTIME SCORES FROM THE 10am GAMES:
Manchester City 5, Hull 1
Middlesbrough 0, Everton 1
Liverpool 3, Bolton 0
Wigan 2, Newcastle 1
Sunderland 0, Blackburn 0
---

LINEUPS:
Aston Villa (4-5-1): Friedel, Reo-Coker, Davies, Knight, Luke Young, Milner, Sidwell, Petrov, Barry, Ashley Young, Agbonlahor.
Subs: Guzan, Harewood, Delfouneso, Salifou, Shorey, Gardner, Osbourne.

Arsenal (4-5-1): Almunia, Sagna, Eboue, Djourou, Silvestre, Song Billong, Denilson, Nasri, Diaby, Gallas, Van Persie.
Subs: Fabianski, Toure, Vela, Ramsey, Wilshere, Clichy, Bendtner.

Referee: Lee Mason (Lancashire)

No Laursen for Villa is a huge concern, but Arsenal are walking wounded at this point so I have no sympathy. Silvestre coming in for a healthy Clichy is definitely bizarre.

We're ready to start, I've got my gigantic turkey/stuffing/ham sandwich, so it's not all bad. Get the beers in, and let's see which Arsenal turns up this afternoon.

1 mins: Some early kick-about. If I'm a Villa fan, I'm not happy at seeing Zat Knight duff up the central defense. Still, so much pace moving forward. It's going to take something titanic from the Arse here. Odds are heavily stacked against, etc.

Early effort for Arsenal as Sidwell and Friedel miscommunicate in front of goal under pressure, but it's cleared.

4 mins: Milner gets a nice cross/shot in from the right, but Almunia's equal to it. Ashley Young lurked for the rebound, but he looked offside.

6 mins: Milner wins a corner off Silvestre as it gets all scrappy in the final third. Barry floats it in and Sidwell rocks the crossbar/post with his towering header. Good start for Villa at home, so close to taking the lead!

The commentary team need to stop telling us that Sidwell played at Arsenal back in the late 90s, even winning a reserves trophy with them despite never cracking the First XI. This is no longer an interesting tidbit; it's a bludgeoning bit of annoyance.

8 mins: More pressure at the Arsenal end as Almunia comes out to meet the long ball with his head just outside the box as Agbonlahor was closing in.

11 mins: A gorgeous deep cross in from Barry via a free kick, and Curtis Davies meets it wide open at the edge of the 6-yard box. His header goes a mile wide. A supremely wasted effort.

14 mins: Lovely play by Arsenal on the break finds Van Persie in the box. His first touch is perfect off the chest, but the giant oaf Zat Knight gets across to snuff out the danger, and in the nick of time too.

16 mins: More desperate defending by the Gooners, and you'd be forgiven for thinking that soccer was played in just one half of the field. A couple of dangerous crosses, a save by Almunia... par for the course at the moment. Arsenal are looking to break but their passing is rather lazy and gifting Villa more possession.

20 mins: Denilson and Sagna aren't going to take this pressure lying down, and neither's Diaby; his long ball looks for van Persie but is cleared. Song fouls Barry in midfield, and we're back down the other end.

Great break for Agbonlahor, and he spins Eboue like a dreidel; his low shot is parried by Almunia, and Sidwell's follow-up is blocked by Gallas and out for a corner. Nervy times again at the back for Arsenal. The lack of pace possessed by William Gauloises and Emmanuel will be exposed soon enough unless they get some help.

22 mins: More scrambling at the back as Villa seem to get free down the wings whenever they want. Another Milner cross is humped clear at the near post, and Eboue tries to reset the defense. The big problem for Arsenal resides in that crowded midfield; they're so young and inexperienced and they're having a tough time keeping possession. The key to stopping Villa is to stop their distribution up to Agbo and Ashley. If the Gooners can hold the ball for more than 3 passes, they have a chance to slow things down. At the moment, it's end-to-end sprinting and Almunia is keeping them in it.

25 mins: To prove my point almost immediately, Petrov wins it easily from Denilson and is promptly battered by Song, earning Song a yellow card. Villa pour forward once more.

26 mins: Arse flirt with danger via their offside trap as Young gets over the top, but he's marginally offside. Not much in it at all.

28 mins: The beast that is Friedel is awoken from a rather peaceful slumber by an Arsenal free kick that he fists to safety. Villa break up the left with Young and Agbo combining once more, but Almunia cuts off the final pass and hoists it out of play. The Villa fans are in full song at the moment, and the tackling in midfield is getting later and later from both sides.

Villa have had 6 attempts on goal, 2 on target, and 5 corners. Arsenal have 0s in every category. Sense a pattern emerging? If you decipher those numbers as being indicative of complete and total Aston Villa domination, you'd be right.

30 mins: Ashley tests the offside trap yet again but Sagna's got it right. Living on the edge, truly. Nasri makes a rare jaunt down the left and is interrupted emphatically by Reo-Coker's sliding tackle.

33 mins: A foul in the box gives Arsenal a breather and Almunia launches it down the other end. Wenger needs to bring Clichy on at some point, because Milner is in danger of owning poor Silvestre for life.

Gallas does well to cut off Agbonlahor's sprint down the left.

34 mins: GOAL GOAL GO-ALMOST for Aston Villa. Nasri does a spot of ball-watching as Barry lofts a free kick to the back post, and Milner sneaks in unnoticed. His sliding effort is well saved by Almunia low to his left via the post. Hit the post, bobbled back into Almunia's arms. Should have been 1-0.

36 mins: Eboue, meet yellow card. Yellow card, meet Eboue. Get acquainted, fellas. He chopped Agbo down on the wing from behind and had no complaints about that one.

37 mins: GO-ALMOST for Villa again! Davies' hook shot on the right sails over Almunia's head, and Miguel is helpless as he watches it rattle off the crossbar and away from danger. Third Villa instance of ball-to-woodwork already today.

If the goal were a foot wider, it's be 3-0. That said, if Grandma had balls, she'd be Grandpa. A difficult first half for Wenger. If he goes to his bench after the break, he's got nothing but youth to turn to. I can't imagine Wilshere or Ramsey doing much to stem the tide.

40 mins: GOAL GOAL GOAL GOAL... Unbelievable, really. The Gooners' first effort on goal brings them a goal. A lucky bounce frees Denilson in the area, and he does superbly well under pressure to slide the ball between Friedel's legs and give his side the lead, completely against the run of play and in defiance of the gods, physics, logic, rational thought, and Lady Fortune. Aston Villa 0, Arsenal 1

How will Villa respond? By falling apart, it seems. Suddenly they're skittish and give van Persie time to stepover and dribble in the box, but RvP's cross falls to no-one at the back post. Punishment for their profligacy, surely. (And yes, for anyone who's been mad enough to follow all these liveblogs today, that's my favourite word at the moment.)

43 mins: I'm speechless. Agbonlahor beats Almunia to the ball in the air and it speeds goalward, but Sagna overhead-kicks it off the line to save Almunia's bacon. The Gunners live to fight another day!

Song off due to injury, Aaron Ramsey on. He's in for a dogfight in the middle.

HALFTIME: Aston Villa 0, Arsenal 1
A simply outrageous 45 minutes of football. Villa hit the woodwork three times, Sagna clears acrobatically off the line, and Denilson scored against the run of play with the Gunners' only scoring chance. What will Martin O'Neill say at halftime?

999 times out of 1000, he misses it. Not today, however!


It's set up nicely for the second half. If Villa can recover, they could open up a 6 point gap between them and Arse. If it holds as is, they'll be level once more. Who said the EPL is predictable?

We're back, and O'Neill must wonder if his team can salvage something. That has to hurt; dominate for 44 minutes, yet still a goal down. I reckon it rates next to going 18-0 but ruining it at the last minute, albeit on a much smaller scale.

46 mins: No subs, and some header tennis in midfield. Nasri gets an inch of space on the left wing, but Milner and Petrov harry him and he gives up the goal kick.

Gauloises punts a long clearance, but Ramsey's long pass goes right out for the Villa throw. Holding possession is of the utmost importance for the Goons.

48 mins: Barry's long cross from the right is cleared easily.

GOAL GOAL GOAL GOAL and that, my friends, is how to surpass expectations. Delirium for the away fans, as Abou Diaby nips in behind Knight to finish into the top corner. Unbelievable. It was a half-break at best that caught Villa out, and a wonderfully calm finish. Eboue set him loose after some nice play on the right that left Curtis Davies for dust. Villa haven't done much wrong, and they're 2-0 down. As I said... unbelievable. Aston Villa 0, Arsenal 2

Diaby gets booked for his Lambeau-esque leap into the away fans after scoring, but do you think he cares?

53 mins: Amid the noise and frenzy, how will Villa respond? Agbo wins a throw on the left but it's wasted thanks to Young's cross-to-nowhere. It's going to take something epic to get them back in this one. For all their possession and early pressure, they look positively lost as to how they should respond. It's their turn to chase the ball around for a few minutes.

After my shit-talking on the Gooners, this is a hell of a way to respond to their recent troubles. Just when they're written off, they go and pull this.

55 mins: Should have been three! Diaby does his best Thierry Henry impression in slicing up the middle, passing to Ramsey who has his initial shot blocked, then van Persie gets a sniff and hits the post before his follow-up is deflected out for a corner. Nothing comes of it except for another corner. A third goal would be unlucky for Villa, but really, they should have been 3-0 up before Denilson's cool finish. Funny game, this. The confidence is all with Arsenal.

Villa clear the 2nd corner as far as Ramsey, and his gorgeous chip finds RvP with space to head home. His header goes a mile wide. Still, Aston Villa are falling apart before our very eyes. It's Arsenal chants ringing out around Villa Park. How will O'Neill respond? Missing Laursen was more serious than he expected.

59 mins: Agbonlahor squanders possession in the Arsenal box and the Gunners break again. At the back, Villa are like single-ply toilet paper. Diaby gets blocked from shooting but it comes to Nasri who finds Eboue wide open, and his goal-bound shot is blocked at the last second. Curtis Davies the hero that time. One-way traffic towards Friedel's goal at the moment. Funny what two goals will do to a game.

62 mins: Another Arsenal corner. Villa are confused. I blame tainted half-time oranges. They look more like Tottenham than Top 4.

Agbo gives it up easily again on the right. Villa are a great team when they're winning, but they never look like getting back into a game when they're struggling.

Just as I type this, Sidwell gets free down the right and plants it right on Ashley Young's foot in front of goal, but there's Bacary Sagna to stick a foot in as Young picks his spot. Superb defending, and a glimmer of life for Villa.

64 mins: PENALTY TO VILLA. Deserved too; he gets caught out by Milner's long pass and Agbonlahor has a step on him. Gauloises decides to tackle, but hashes it, and Barry has a chance to pull Villa back into it...

... GOAL GOAL GOAL GOAL for Gareth Barry from the spot, sending Almunia the wrong way. Emphatic finish, and the crowd's awake again. Testing times for Arsenal now. A phenomenal match thus far. Aston Villa 1, Arsenal 2

68 mins: Wenger is still miffed about the penalty, but there's more pressing issues at stake now. 25 minutes to go, and you never want to give Villa way back into the game. Almunia races out to clear a long ball aimed for Gabby down the line.

70 mins: Arsenal look like the Arsenal of the first half all over again. Struggling to maintain possession, and letting Villa come to them. Gabby takes on Sagna down the left, but Bacary wins that round.

Sidenote: I wish Rafa Benitez could buy Sagna. He's having an incredible game thus far, goalline clearance aside.

72 mins: Arsenal throw men forward again, but their attack fizzles out at the top of the box. Villa break with speed, but no dice. Agbo looks like he got a knock in that from-behind tackle on Diaby, and he gets a yellow card on top of it.

Sagna clears under pressure from Luke Young and the Gunners try to slow things down. It doesn't work; Sagna's throw goes right to Young, and when the cross comes in, it misses everyone and falls to Milner, whose shot is blocked at the edge of the box. He crosses in the rebound, and Villa put up a large shout for handball. No dice.

Ashley Young gets loose on the left again, but his cross is met in the middle by Almunia.

76 mins: Simmer down now, fellas, as things get heated in midfield. Diaby is chopped down, and then seconds later, van Persie gets beaten to the ball by Reo-Coker and then tracks him down to take him down. RvP gets a yellow card, the first meaningful thing he's done in 25+ minutes. Reo-Coker gets one too for his pushing and shoving. Bit silly - not a booking at all for either of them.

78 mins: Sagna's weak sidefooted clearance falls to Ashley Young in the box, but his floated cross is intercepted by Almunia. Deep breath for Arsenal... just over 15 minutes left.

80 mins: Eboue creates a problem by ignoring Almunia's call for the ball and trying to clear it himself, but mercifully for him, Gabby fouls on the loose ball and the crisis disappears.

Sagna again with the heroics. Barry gets room to run at the backline, finds Sidwell whose shot is blocked. Ashley Young is lurking at the back post, but Sagna gets across to block the cross. The corner bobbles around in the area, but neither Knight nor Milner can finish. Imagine how dangerous these Villa corners could have been with Laursen in the mix.

Stiliyan Petrov is pissed about not getting a throw-in and gets booked for yelling at the linesman.

Sub for Arsenal: Samir "The Ghost" Nasri on, Gael Clichy on.

84 mins: Young's latest cross is cleared easily. Anyone else get the impression that Villa are running out of ideas? Gaz Baz tries to take a throw too quickly and the ref orders a retake.

Silvestre with another well-timed interception as Gabby's header threatens at the far post. Barry wastes the corner.

86 mins: Ramsey takes a shot from 20 yards, but it's no danger to Friedel.

87 mins: Almunia leaps to collect Barry's lofted cross from the left while under pressure from Sidwell. Sidders isn't happy at the shove from Eboue, but the ref is in quickly to play High School Principal and break up the crowd.

88 mins: Toure clears the long ball after Zat Knight, Villa's new striker, knocked it down. I didn't even realize he was playing. I think Djourou was injured in warm-ups so Toure made the starting XI? Whoops.

Drama in the Arsenal box again as Almunia and Clichy combine to scramble the ball clear from Gabby's feet. We're almost in injury time...

90 mins: 4 mins of added time, and Arsenal are doing a good job killing clock in the corner. Villa break it up, and surge forward with Reo-Coker down the right.

90 mins + 2: GOAL GOAL GOAL GOAL.... as with everything in this game so far, it was utterly unbelievable. Zat Knight, having been moved to striker just minutes before, gets the loose ball off another half-clearance by Arsenal. Sagna gets a toe on it to keep it off Barry's foot, but Knight takes a touch and drills it into the bottom corner despite Toure closing in. Almunia had no chance. Absolutely incredible, although I'll say that on the balance of play, a draw is fair for Villa. Both sides have worked tirelessly today. Martin O'Neill is practically doing cartwheels on the sideline. Aston Villa 2, Arsenal 2

Gaz Baz gets booked fighting for a loose ball in Arsenal's half, and it looks to be the end of a thrilling Boxing Day encounter.

End-to-end stuff in the final 60 seconds, and the ref is primed to bring it to a close.

FULLTIME: Aston Villa 2, Arsenal 2
A brilliant game indeed. Zat Knight's move to center-forward proved brilliant in the end, but Arsenal acquitted themselves admirably in the face of a difficult December. The Gunners' hard luck continues.

Sorry lads. Tons of talking points, but the fact remains: Villa scored twice in the final 25 minutes to rescue the game.

It's been a wonderful day of football (except for that Spartak London game earlier). Let's hope New Year's Day yields more of the same.
Thanks for sticking around -- I think I'm taking a break from the computer for the rest of the day. I think it's earned.

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Um...Yeah?

Manchester City is destroying Hull City 4-0 at halftime. Felipe Caicedo (who?) has a brace as well as Robinho. There are two things that stick out from this match so far. The first is the video below of Robinho's goal celebration after his first goal. I don't know how to describe it, but it seems to be a mix of modern interpretive dance, break dancing, and samba with a porno video end flourish. See for yourself below.

The second is Hull City manager Phil Brown's blow dryer treatment of his team at halftime. ON THE FIELD. He sat the boys down like a bunch of teenagers and let them have it in front of all the fans. It really looked like a high school halftime where the team just went off to the side. Hopefully video coming soon.

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EPL Liveblog Triple-Header, Game 2: The 10am "Mystery Pick"

Which game will we get? The suspense might kill me!


Which feed will be most reliable? Let's liveblog a 10am game together, shall we? Join me after the jump...

The possibilities are:

Liverpool v. Bolton
No Torres! We've been lied to! Seriously though, does Keane have another gorgeous volley in him today?

Man City v. Hull City
Sparky tries again to save his job. Word has it that his Dubai overlords aren't too fond of Christmas spirit.

Middlesbrough v. Everton
Can a team with no strikers beat a team with no defenders?

Sunderland v. Blackburn
Which "New Manager Effect" will reign supreme today?

Wigan v. Newcastle
Bruce v. Kinnear. Boredom v. Ineptitude.

Spin the wheel and let's get lucky. Of course, let's all keep each other informed... get the scores and insights of the other games in the comments if I end up picking the one you didn't want.

And... it's LFC v. Bolton! Hallelujah! And the feed is in English!

LINEUPS:
Liverpool (4-2-3-1): Reina; Carragher, Hyypia, Agger, Insua; Gerrard, Benayoun, Keane, Riera; Kuyt.
Subs: Cavalieri, Babel, Mascherano, Leiva Lucas, Ngog, El Zhar, Darby.

Lucas is replaced, mercifully, and Arbeloa's injury brings the aging Finn into the fray. Carragher's xmas gift is a stint at right-back. Rafa's back in attendance, but up in the box seats after his kidney stone surgery.

Bolton (4-5-1): Jaaskelainen; Steinsson, Cahill, Andrew O'Brien, Samuel; Muamba, Nolan, McCann, Taylor, Gardner, Elmander.
Subs: Al Habsi, Smolarek, Davies, Riga, Shittu, Basham, Obadeyi.

Referee: Alan Wiley (Staffordshire)

Hooray, a 4-5-1 for Bolton! Megson has never picked up a point against Liverpool, so this should be fun. Granted, he's only had 6 attempts, but that's enough to be considered a precedent, right?

Early scores from around the EPL:
Chelsea 2, West Brom 0
Tottenham 0, Fulham 0
Portsmouth 1, West Ham 4
Stoke City 0, Manchester United 1

You'll Never Walk Alone plays over the loudspeakers, and we're just waiting for kick-off. Keep me posted with the other games, won't you? Man City/Hull should give some goals.

1 mins: LFC kick off and attack the Kop in the first half. Liverpool have been a bit crap lately, drawing every game in seemingly forever. With Man U sneaking a lucky win earlier and Chelsea victorious as well, they need to keep pace.

2 mins: Early nerves for the Reds as Elmander gets free down the right. His chip finds Nolan, but instead of shooting, he tries to find Gardner unmarked at the near post and Reina leaps to intercept the cross. If that had made it, Bolton would be up.

Liverpool counter nicely with Kuyt, and McCann puts it out for a corner. Gerrard floats it in, it misses everybody and comes to Riera alone at the edge of the box. He drills it in and Keane's flick-on ends up wide. A bright start for both sides.

5 mins: Liverpool enjoying all the early possession in Bolton's half as they try to unlock Bolton's 10-men-behind-the-ball approach. Riera can't reach Gerrard's long cross-field pass and Bolton get a goal kick.

8 mins: Benayoun gets behind Steinsson out on the right but Wiley reckons he handballed the long pass to bring it under control. Looked like shoulder to me.

10 mins: Riera skips through O'Brien on the left and puts a cross in, from which header tennis ensues. Bolton fail to clear properly and Samuel turns it out for a corner. From Gerrard's delivery, Riera drags a shot wide of the right post after collecting Agger's flick-on. Liverpool are giving it a go early.

13 mins: No way through the 9-0-1, and Bolton hoof it down to Reina. Elmander is an island up front, lost amid the grassy seas to be guarded by Agger and Hyppia. The stage is set for a terrifically boring 0-0.

15 mins: A promising burst by LFC down the left, as Riera and Insua play a neat 1-2 to find Kuyt at the edge of the box, but his leaden foot destroys the momentum. It's a guessing game for Liverpool; how to break down the rigid formation?

16 mins: Kuyt blasts his shot right at Cahill's shins from the top of the box, but much better passing from the home side. Their passing did manage to open up some space, and Bolton thump it down to Reina to clear their lines. If this is honestly Bolton's plan for the next 75 minutes, they will almost certainly lose. The notion of playing "Protect the Fort" for 90 minutes away from home in the EPL is sadly misguided.

18 mins: Lovely stuff from Liverpool. Hyppia's 1-2 on the right frees Benayoun, whose deep cross is turned out for a corner. From the corner, Insua gets a nice volley from the top of the box that forces a sharp save from Jaskelaainen, only for Bolton to cough up another corner. Good pressure at the moment. It means jacksh*t if they can't score.

20 mins: Alonso's beautiful ball in meets Dirk Kuyt's head, and he glazes it just over the bar with the goalie frozen.

22 mins: Robbie Keane's been very much a non-factor thus far. Insua gives it away and Bolton attempt a trade-mark counter-attack with Elmander, but it's snuffed out immediately.

Fabrice Muamba puts in a perfect tackle on Benayoun in the area after Jlloyd Samuel's header dropped nicely for Yossi. The corner is cleared, and then Yossi's deep cross is headed over by Cahill for another corner. PLEASE LIVERPOOL, SCORE A DAMN GOAL ALREADY.

25 mins: Liverpool win their 7th corner as Steinsson is troubled under the long pass to Reira. Alonso swings it in, and under pressure from Kuyt, Cahill concedes corner #8.

GOAL GOAL GOAL GOAL Liverpool, and finally Bolton crack. Albert Riera times his run perfectly to meet Gerrard's outswinger and he guides it with his right foot through Jaskelaainen's hands and into the net. Johan Elmander was a spectator at the front post. Should have done better. Liverpool 1, Bolton 0

28 mins: Andy O'Brien is almost hung out to dry as Muamba's clearance ends up falling into Dirk Kuyt's path. The two tussle, and O'Brien wins a free kick for his efforts.

Jesus, Man City score goals 2 and 3 within 90 seconds. Caicedo has a brace already, and Robinho is manhandling the Hull backline and gets the third for himself after setting up the other two. 3-0 Sparky within half an hour. NOT what I was expecting.

31 mins: The pace is slowing a little, but Liverpool aren't content with just one goal early. That's been their biggest problem of late; they've struggled to take the lead, and struggled even more to expand on it. Lots of neat passing across midfield as they look for another opening. Muamba scythes Keane down from behind and gives away a free-kick. LFC promptly punt it forward, but Kuyt is offside.

Can someone find me video of Robinho's goal and ensuing celebration? Try the usual resources around half-time... thanks for the help!

Ryan Taylor scores his 4th in 4 games against Newcastle to give Wigan the 1-0 lead at home. No score still at 'Boro or Sunderland.

35 mins: Insua and Riera torment poor Gretar Steinsson again down the right, but Insua's cross finds no-one in particular. It's all Liverpool at the moment as Bolton try their hand at defending from the edge of their own area. Very compact formation, very negative. Dirk Kuyt wins a free-kick 30 yards out after catching Gavin McCann in possession and then getting hauled down. Gerrard stands over it...

... he finds Hyppia at the back post, and it falls to Yossi who volleys wide of the far post.

Manchester City score a 4th thanks to Robinho once more, thus confounding bettors everywhere with their woeful, inconsistent team. An away defeat to West Brom one week, a 4-0 lead at Eastlands with Hull in attendance?

38 mins: Agger shoots from miles out but it's a mile wide. I can't remember the last time Bolton got inside the Liverpool half. Keane then breaks and wins yet another corner off Cahill's leg.

Some argy-bargy in the box, and Gerrard gets to re-take the corner. Hyppia uses Cahill as a Jungle Jim and Alan Wiley gives the free-kick to take the pressure off.

41 mins: Jamie Carragher, playing right-back, pops up on the left wing of all places, and fizzes a shot from 30 yards just over the bar. I am forced to pinch myself to check that I did actually see that.

Liverpool are playing brilliantly, but two things to consider:
1. They're only winning 1-0
2. They're playing Bolton

Still, it makes limp performances against Stoke, West Ham and Fulham appear all the more confusing.

43 mins: Holy sh*t, Bolton get forward! Elmander whiffs his volley and meekly appeals for handball against Insua, but it's waved off. Liverpool then surge forward, and Yossi's meandering run/cross wins yet another corner. I think that's corner #11 for the Reds in the first-half. It's been nearly 40 minutes since Nolan's attempt on goal.

Insua volleys again from the edge of the box and coming close. He's starting to look like a good little player.

45 mins + 1: Bolton win a free-kick just inside LFC territory but waste it, and Wiley promptly blows the whistle.

HALFTIME: Liverpool 1, Bolton 0
Seriously, this is about as lop-sided as it gets. Think the '85 Bears in their prime playing against a Pop Warner outfit. LFC with 47,653 corners, but only one goal thanks to Riera's near-post flick. They'll need a couple more goals before I'm convinced.

Insua, Riera, Yossi and Alonso all looking good in the first half. This is mildly encouraging. Keane still looks rather lost up-top, but then again, he's being marked by 8 players at any one time.

Thanks to U75 for finding the Robinho dance party... enjoy it here and wonder just what it was supposed to be. I like the idea of "Special Olympics Speed Skater" as noted in the comments.

And any video of Phil Brown's unique half-time team talk on the pitch in front of the away fans would be greatly appreciated too.

Let's get back to it... for Bolton, a sub! Kevin Davies on, Jlloyd Samuel off. Now no-one can argue that Bolton aren't interested in attacking.

46 mins: Steinsson gets a yellow for his late slide into Xabi Alonso. Bolton shift the formation a bit as Elmander tucks behind Davies with the bald? Mr. Cahill moving to right-midfield.

48 mins: Gretar Steinsson looks for an early bath as he clatters into Albert Riera way off on the left for no apparent reason, and gets a stern talking-to from Wiley. Any more fouls and he's off, it would seem. Best attack down that left if you're LFC, right?

Robbie Keane houdinis himself enough space to whip in a cross under pressure from Cahill and Steinsson (who is inexplicably drawn to the danger of a 2nd yellow), but it's cleared with ease. Bolton attack and win a free-kick for their troubles.

50 mins: The Kevin Davies Effect has jolted Bolton to life as they win their first corner. Cahill puts it right in Reina's hands, and life slowly returns to normal.

Beware this man, dislocated digits or not!


53 mins: Liverpool begin their evolution into aimlessness as the concept of stringing more than 2 passes together in midfield suddenly looks laborious and impossible. I pray to the Boxing Day deities for a second goal that'll put this game to bed.

54 mins: GOAL GOAL GOAL GOAL and wow, am I prescient! Almost right on cue, Gerrard breaks and finds room to run up the middle. Robbie Keane times his run off O'Brien's shoulder to perfection, Stevie finds him, and Keane beats Jaskelaainen at the near post with a wonderful finish. Is this the moment that Robbie turns his season around? Liverpool 2, Bolton 0

56 mins: Agger goes into the book for a two-footed lunge on Johan Elmander in the center circle. Fair call; despite being a 50/50 ball, leaving your feet always puts you in the book. Just ask John Terry.

58 mins: GOAL GOAL GOAL GOAL, and it's liquid football from Liverpool. Reina gathers a free-kick and throws long to Alonso, who sprints from halfway and finds Benayoun out wide. Yossi takes a touch and slides it across the face of goal where Robbie Keane is there to slide it past a hopeless Jaskelaainen. Yep, Keane's back. Liverpool 3, Bolton 0

60 mins: Bolton gamely attack and win a corner, but it amounts to nothing. It's nice to see my Liverpool play dominating football and get the goals they deserve. They'll still be on top heading into the New Year. Lovely stuff, really. Oh, when Fernando comes back, and Keane has rediscovered how to score... (must lie down)

Everton take the lead at the Riverside, and it's our most-hated Cahill, the Antipodean Tim, with the goal. Quite ridiculous that they're on pace to take 7 points from their last 3 games despite not having a single healthy striker on their squad. Toffee bastards.

64 mins: Liverpool swarm like flies at a picnic, passing comfortably and looking for more. Steinsson makes a hash of his clearance and the pressure stays on. Gerrard has a pot-shot from 25 yards and it drags wide of the post. Ah well. It must be nice for him not to be playing saviour for once. Those long-range shots aren't nearly as frustrating when we're winning 3-0.

I think Jussi should get a chance to play in midfield; as Yossi sprints to close him down on a long ball forward, he takes one shimmy to beat Benayoun before casually passing it out to O'Brien. So cool, calm and collected. Shame his outfield players are so damn skittish.

66 mins: Megson makes a double-change: Matthew Taylor and Johan Elmander off, Riga Mustapha and Polish international Ebi Smolarek on. Those names were a nightmare to spell, by the way.

67 mins: The subs make little difference; Liverpool crowd the box as Keane looks for his hat-trick, but Kuyt gets in the way and the two collide, leaving Andy O'Brien a simple clearance. Keane and Kuyt moan for a moment, but realize they're winning 3-0. Did I mention the score was 3-0? It's 3-0.

Sub for Liverpool: Albert Riera off, Nabil El-Zhar off. Good afternoon for the Spaniard, and some much-needed rest ahead of the New Year's fixtures. Let's see what the sub can do; admittedly he's not done much so far this season, albeit with limited opportunity.

Also, if you're vigilant: still no Ryan Babel sighting. Despite the comfortable win, he's being wasted by Benitez at the moment. Would be nice to give him a run out to build some confidence.

71 mins: A deep free-kick is cleared easily by Gerrard and Insua, and Yossi beat the offside trap on the right from the ensuing counter-attack. Nothing came from it, however. Almost 70% of possession for LFC so far today. That's f*cking insane.

Sub for LFC: Gerrard off, Lucas on. Nice to rest your studs with Newcastle just a few days away. Carragher takes the armband. Still no Ryan Babel? C'mon Sammy/Rafa. Give him 15 good minutes at least.

74 mins: The tireless Kuyt earns another corner, and Agger's header is just wide.

76 mins: El-Zhar cuts inside from the left and has a crack at goal, but it's well wide of the near post.

77 mins: Rafa didn't get the memo, as his final sub is used on David Ngog. Dirk Kuyt takes the bench.

It's petering out, and now, the focus will shift to Aston Villa/Arsenal in just under an hour. Honest predictions in the comments, please. I'll liveblog that one as well, so make the jump across around 12.00. That leaves me just enough time to build a leftovers sandwich: two thick slices of bread, cranberry sauce, turkey, stuffing, topped with roasted carrots. Delicious.

Bassong sent off at the JJB, and Amr Zaki converts the penalty to give Wigan a comfy 2-0 cushion with 10 minutes to go. Reports indicate it was a harsh dismissal, as the foul was just outside the box, but hey, can't win 'em all. LFC "target" Emile Heskey won the PK.

81 mins: Gavin McCann catches Xabi five minutes after the ball had gone, and gets a yellow card. Dismal afternoon for Bolton; they won 4 of 5 EPL fixtures in November, but now they've been thumped by Chelsea, Villa and Liverpool since December 6th.

83 mins: Keane almost gets on the end of a Alonso long ball, but O'Brien does well to usher it out of play.

85 mins: Almost a consolation for Bolton as Muamba's angled pass releases Smolarek, but his low shot is inches wide of the post. Reina is still on course for clean sheet #11 of the season, you'll be thrilled to know.

Gary Cahill's injured but won't come off and leave his side down to 10 men (Megson used all his subs 20 minutes ago), so he's moved to the right-wing where he'll jog around for the final 5-6 minutes. McCann's moved to center-back in his absence.

87 mins: Alonso's corner bamboozles Jaskelaainen and is cleared off Benayoun's foot. Jussi punched air and almost got caught out. From the second corner, Hyppia puts it cleanly toward the top corner but O'Brien gets in the way and prevents the 4th goal. LFC still pouring forward in attack. Tons of confidence on display.

Cahill's now playing striker well out on the right, presumably to avoid any contact whatsoever.

88 mins: Andy O'Brien plays Keane on, and Carragher finds him. Steinsson tracks back and times his tackle to perfection, denying him a hat-trick. A wonderful tackle.

4 added minutes. Keane is still looking for his third goal, and it seems like LFC are trying to get it for him. Keane turns provider and forces another fantastic, sprawling tackle from O'Brien to snuff out the danger from Ngog. Poor Bolton.

90 mins + 2: El Zhar is offside on the left wing as Liverpool look to break again.

Ryan Babel in a rare "action" shot as he spectates again. Let's hope he can turn it into a positive and write some good raps about the experience.


90 mins + 3: Yossi almost bends one in at the death as Jussi saves well to his left, and then Ngog almost turns it in from the follow-up. Mercifully, the ref blows the whistle.

FULLTIME: Liverpool 3, Bolton 0
A comfortable, convincing win for the home side, their first home win in what seems like months. They will stay top even after Chelsea and Man U win earlier in the day.

So, on to Liveblog #3! Join me in the next thread in 20 mins or so for the big match of the day, Aston Villa v. Arsenal. I need to make that sandwich, and FAST.

Read more on "EPL Liveblog Triple-Header, Game 2: The 10am "Mystery Pick""...

EPL Liveblog Triple-Header, Game 1: Spartak London v. West Brom

Father Xmas has seen better games than this, clearly.


It's been almost 3 weeks since a Big 4 club won a game in the EPL, but with 2 soft fixtures today for Spartak and Manchester United, surely that will end. It's 0-0 with Man U at the moment, and I'm just getting settled in for Spartak.

Come Boxing Day with me after the jump. This is truly the best day of the year.

LINEUPS:
Chelsea: Cech, Bosingwa, Ivanovic, Alex, Ashley Cole, Ballack, Mikel, Lampard, Joe Cole, Drogba, Anelka.
Subs: Malouda, Ferreira, Deco, Kalou, Cudicini, Mineiro, Belletti.

West Brom: Carson, Zuiverloon, Meite, Olsson, Robinson, Morrison, Koren, Greening, Kim, Brunt, Beattie.
Subs: Kiely, Cech, Barnett, Bednar, Moore, Dorrans, Borja Valero.

Interesting to see Drogba and Anelka playing *gasp* TOGETHER for once... will it last beyond half-time? Ivanovic fills in for England's Moronic John Terry.

3 mins: My feed just woke up in time for GOAL GOAL GOAL GOAL to Spartak, and they don't come much simpler. Deep cross in from the right, and Didier Drogba got free of his marker to head back across Carson into the corner. Expect plenty more goals. Spartak London 1, West Brom 0

8 mins: There's a predictability about the early going: West Brom defending from the edge of the 18-yard box, and Spartak merely passing it around until an opening appears. The Baggies don't have much promise going forward, besides an early shot from Chris Brunt, but this could easily be a cricket score by full-time.

10 mins: Lampard tries his luck from fully 40 yards via the free-kick, and it does reach Carson, to my surprise. The Baggies goalie smothers it like a problem child and play resumes.

13 mins: The tempo has slowed somewhat, as Spartak are playing like lions facing wounded prey. They're pawing with it at the moment, biding their time, prolonging the Baggies' misery as they slowly, methodically look for ways to break through. West Brom are loving the long ball forward but can't seem to master the art of staying onside once the ball's in flight.

16 mins: Whoa, almost spoke too soon. Ivanovic lets Kim in behind him but his shot from a tight angle is easily saved by the Czech traffic cone. Bosingwa gets forward down the right, but his cross drifts all the way out for a throw-in on the opposite side. Not good.

18 mins: The Baggies have decided to let Jose Bosingwa cross at will on the right, as he whips in three or four crosses under little duress. None of them especially threatening, mind you -- he looks more Pennant than all-Pro -- but West Brom seem content to keep the middle crowded and play header tennis all afternoon. Olsson punts it clear for Beattie, but he's offside!

Lampard sneaks into the area unmarked but wastes the opportunity, hacking wide from 15 yards. Ugly shot from an ugly player. Is it just me, or is he wildly overrated?

20 mins: Neat flick by Joe Cole that almost breaks for Lamps through on goal, but a heroic slide from Zuiverloon takes the ball right off his shooting foot and to safety.

22 mins: Ballack lands a shot in the proverbial Row ZZ after Drogba's blocked from goal by Abdoulaye Meite. The flirtation with a 2-0 lead continues.

Elsewhere, Pompey-West Ham is locked up at 1-1, as Collison's scrappy effort cancels out a fine goal by Nadir Belhadj. No score with Stoke/Man U (was anyone else perplexed by Fergie's lineup for this afternoon? Evans in for an injured Rio makes some sense, but Scholes, Fletcher AND Giggs?) or at White Hart Lane between Spurs and Fulham.

25 mins: Joe Cole puts Drogba clean through on Carson, but he's a mile offside. Easy call for the linesman.

Jonathan Greening takes an awful knock in heading clear a Lamps' corner, headbutting the back of Alex' head and is slooooooow to get up. In the meantime, an injury-related switch for West Brom: Abdoulaye Meite off with hamstring knack in conceding that corner, Leon Barnett on.

29 mins: Bosingwa's cross misses everyone on its travels across the 6-yard box. The pressure is building once again... seriously, where is this second goal coming from?!?! Joe Cole shoots weakly from distance, ruining a good passage of play. The crowd is getting restless.

31 mins: A rare attack for the Baggies! It ends with Chris Brunt hoisting another speculative shot high into the crowd.

Lamps sidefoots a Bosingwa cross well wide, but he does find that room between the center backs and their cover. Both Barnett and Olsson were glued to the edge of the 6-yard box, but Lamps couldn't exploit.

This isn't a very good game so far, folks. It has the lazy pace reminiscent of Thanksgiving morning football games, where everyone's still hungover from the night before, and their minds are clearly focused on the starchy excess to follow at dinner-time. Every Spartak chance on goal is rather tame. Can the Baggies exploit? As some boy band once said, "it only takes a minute, girl."

Half-Time for Fergie: Stoke 0, Manchester United 0. Not a good day if you bet heavily on the away win, like I did.

36 mins: That should have been 2-0! Ashley Cole slips around the back and strikes it beautifully, but it pings back off the post and Carson recovers to save Cole's second effort. This is why defenders should practice shooting more. It reminds me immediately of his chance against LFC all those weeks ago, when he should have equalized but buried it in the crowd. Good times. Also, f*ck Ashley Cole.

38 mins: It's raining Bosingwa crosses at Stamford Bridge, but the 8-1-1 formation by the visitors are still keeping them at bay.

39 mins: West Brom win a corner as Bosingwa deflects Brunt's cross out of play. Can they take advantage?

Answer: No.

Having seen snippets of the first half, I think it's safe to say that Manchester United are still suffering from some jetlag, as they look awfully ordinary thus far. Might be in for a shocker there.

42 mins: Ashley Cole again demonstrates why he shouldn't be getting in front of goal, as Bosingwa's teasing cross just eludes his outstretched foot in front of an open goal. Carson was beaten, and Olsson was out of position, but Cole at full stretch still couldn't turn it in. Shame, that.

I am craving half-time right now. Spartak are looking Arsenal-esque in their final pass. Bosingwa puts another ball along the 6-yard box, but Carson intercepts this one and the crowd groan at another missed opportunity. The Baggies then give them the ball right back by hoofing their clearance out for a throw. Not smart.

45 mins: Joe Cole takes a hand to the face from Koren as they go for the ball, but then he does his best "Willem Defoe in Platoon" impression. Sorry Joe, no free-kicky for you.

45 mins + 1: Bosingwa's 1,283,957th cross of the first half floats into Carson's grasp. Another wasted effort.

45 mins + 2: GOAL GOAL GOAL GOAL, and Lampard looks to have cemented his overrated status with this one. Nice build by Spartak, and Ashley Cole's pass lands in Lamps' path. He slips past one weak challenge and chips over Carson. Spartak London 2, West Brom 0

HALF TIME: Spartak London 2, West Brom 0
A 15 minute break never looked so sweet. Not particularly thrilling football at the moment. Both teams could be forgiven for looking like the grass is covered in molasses.

Elsewhere, Defoe misses a penalty to give Pompey the lead. Lucas Neill fouled Crouchie, and Defoe dragged his effort wide of the post. Could be a contender for the next volume of "Worst Penalty Misses Ever". Not good for someone who wishes to play for England, and really, not good for anyone who plays football professionally.

46 mins: And we're back. Stoke had a wonderful chance to take the lead just a minute ago. Good for them.

Sub for Spartak at half-time: Belletti on, Bosingwa off. I had no idea crossing the ball so many times could result in injury, or maybe Big Phil was sick at seeing his attempts always end up miles from goal.

50 mins: Robert Koren breaks the sleepy monotony by firing wide from 20 yards. Still, it woke me up temporarily.

51 mins: Belletti demonstrates his wastefulness in front of goal by trying the cheeky chip from the edge of the box. It sails high and wide, hardly vindication for his half-time entrance. All the time in the world to actually shoot and he pulls that out instead.

55 mins: This is dire to watch. Koren and Kim are finding some room down the right, and Alex gives away a corner. If the Baggies would like to make this competitive, now would be a good time.

Brunt's effort is cleared with ease at the near-post, but from the rebound, he gets a chance to strike. Dipping, curving, powerful shot... right into Cech's hands. The agony continues.

58 mins: Lampard is through on goal again thanks to Drogba's pass, but he tries the cheeky chip and Carson's unimpressed.

For the 10am games, I'm not sure which will end up liveblogged. Of course I'd love it to be LFC, but it all depends on which dodgy Southeast Asian video feed I can find. Of course, follow along any other fixtures or games in the comments. Once this one's over, we'll leap to a new post, and then leap again at noon for the Villa/Arse marquee clash.

60 mins: The malaise is interrupted temporarily by a West Brom substitution: Luke Moore on (hero last weekend against Citeh), Craig "Did I Even Touch The Ball Today?" Beattie comes off. His most meaningful contribution today by far.

62 mins: It's Drogba's turn to be profligate, shanking his shot wide from 12 yards. Florent Malouda prepares to enter the fray. He and Solomon Kalou are equally useless, and I love seeing them flounder. At the very least we should be able to glean some comedy from the final half-hour, right?

Drama at Stoke as Andy Wilkinson attempts limb-removal on Cristiano, earning himself the most obvious 2nd yellow card in history. Off he goes, leaving his team to struggle out the final 10-15 minutes a man down. Still 0-0 there.

65 mins: Carson saves well from Drogba twice as his defenders sleep around him. Should have been 3-0 there.

That's the end of Didier too, as Scolari seems to think his formation must change to protect a 2-0 lead; Drogba off, Malouda on.

Early team news from Anfield suggests we were the victim of a cruel, and awfully early, April Fool's Joke: no Torres anywhere near the 18 to face Bolton today, as Keane will forage alone up-front once again and Carragher ends up at right-back for Boxing Day.

68 mins: Luke Moore gets a sniff at the other end, but Alex closes him down quickly and the danger subsides.

Sub for the Baggies: Kim Do-Heon off (he's been half-decent today), Roman Bednar on.

Man United finally take the lead despite playing like absolute pants today, and saving my betting day in the process. Carlos Tevez is the scorer, and hopefully his goal will get him a game or two in the starting XI. Elsewhere, West Ham take the lead late at Fratton Park' the hero is Carlton Cole. "Hero" and "Carlton Cole" are not things you see together very often. Savour the flavour, Sir Carlton.

72 mins: To prove to you all that I'm still watching this drivel, Joe Cole shoots three miles wide despite having time and space to pick his spot. It's petering out to a snooze at the moment. The crowd is rather quiet. I reckon washing Xmas dinner dishes would prove more exciting and enjoyable at this point.

Ballack gets a yellow for punching Chris Brunt in the face. I thought fist-to-face contact was a red card, no?

75 mins: A rare West Brom raid into the Spartak half dissolves, and at this point, I feel like I deserve a medal for stomaching this one. Send all medals to: UF Towers c/o Kinsale Tavern, New York, NY.

76 mins: Ivanovic whips in a decent corner but Ballack's header is no trouble for the defense. Alex gets on the end of a second cross, but it's well wide of Carson and the goal. Still 2-0.

James Morrison does well to dispossess Joe Cole on the right, and the Baggies counter well as Chris Brunt wins a corner. Please, pull a goal back, just to make this watchable!!!

Scolari makes his final substitution before the kick is taken: Deco on (what's happened to him since September?), Joe Cole off.

Paul Robinson has a crack at goal following Ballack's weak clearance, but Alex throws himself in the way and Cech is spared the work.

87 mins: A simply dire last 10 minutes, so I didn't bother typing. After all, to paraphase some ancient Zen koan, how does one describe nothingness?

West Ham score their 4th, and it's Bellamy again. So is everyone sold on the fact that he's going to White Hart Lane in a week or two?

3 minutes of stoppage time. Heaven help us. I can only watch so much more of this disjointed, uninspiring football. If I squinted, I'd swear I was watching Serie A.

Spurs and Fulham are doing their best to discourage people from supporting them, as the clock ticks down on an awful 0-0.

90 mins + 2: Belletti wins a late corner after a nice run down the right. The wonderfully-named Gianni Zuiverloon heads it clear, and Deco fouls in the race for the loose ball. That's it, surely.

FULL TIME: Chelsea 2, West Brom 0
Thank the lord that's over. Join me at the next liveblog, won't you?

Read more on "EPL Liveblog Triple-Header, Game 1: Spartak London v. West Brom"...

Thursday, December 25, 2008

It's Boxing Day soon...

Well folks, the holidays are almost over, and some of you are back to work tomorrow. If you're not back in the office, you're stuck with the family and in-laws for another 24 hours, and I'm honestly not sure which scenario is worse.

For me, my lady has to work and my in-laws do too, so that translates to a free, unfettered morning/afternoon of EPL. Which also means a free, unfettered morning/afternoon of liveblogging.

So join us in the morning, whether you're chained to your desk or being swarmed by screaming, sugar-filled children. Especially for that Aston Villa/Arsenal at lunchtime.

See you all then. Hope Santa brought you the gifts that keep on giving.

Read more on "It's Boxing Day soon..."...

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Wednesday Backpasses: If only I were that poor

Happy Holidays and all that. This may be the last time you hear from us until Boxing Day, so enjoy. Be safe, too. Holidays scare me because of the other idiots out there.

"Poorest player" in La Liga wins a share of the Spanish holiday lottery [The Offside]
Jermaine Pennant priced himself out of Real Madrid move. Will enjoy Wigan instead [Daily Mail]
Big Sam drops Robbie Fowler [BBC]

Ghana's national team will be playing a friendly against DC United in February [All Africa]
Carlsberg unhappy with Liverpool's new stadium delay [Guardian]
Why aren't movie directors bigger sports fans? Is the best we can hope for as soccer fans Fever Pitch? [Oregon Live]
New ESPN columnist takes a look at the Club World Cup [ESPN, duh]

And, finally:
Scotland's probably most important World Cup qualifier is in Norway on August 12th. Why is the SPL dead set on starting August 8th? [Telegraph]

Read more on "Wednesday Backpasses: If only I were that poor"...

Your Christmas Eve Update On Footballers Named Ronaldo

It's feeding time.


Ronaldo, the fat and original one.


It wasn't a blown wheel rather a blown gasket that sidelined Ronaldo for the last 9 months. He's just had a baby, which might explain the weight gain.


Ronaldo, the other fat one with a horsemouth.


Ronaldinho's Italian home was broken into while Ronnie was away on vaca back home in Brazil.


Ronaldo, the prancing fairy one.


Still hated. Still prancing. Still diving. Still wearing hot pants.

Read more on "Your Christmas Eve Update On Footballers Named Ronaldo"...

If At First You Don't Succeed, Try, Try, Try, Try again...Wait, What? NO!



But wait? All that trying could be for nothing. Non league Droylsden beat Chesterfield in the FA Cup second round last night at the 4th attempt, but today it appears they fielded an ineligible player. Doh! This tie has been an epic saga, worthy of a rolling Star Wars title screen. Join me after the jump for a breakdown.

Take 1
On the 29th of November the non-league players of Droylsden were excited to face League Two Chesterfield in the second round of the cup but the tie was abandoned at half-time due to fog, with Droyslden 1 up on their league opponents.

Take 2
The rescheduled tie took place on the 9th of December. And boy there was controversy. At 1-1 Chesterfield did not give the ball back to Droylsden after the non league team had booted it out for an injury stoppage. Jack Lester lobbed the keeper to take the lead. The furious protests stopped the game and after lots of banter the home side agreed the goal was a low blow and let Droylsden's Steve Halford stroll down the park and pop the ball into the net to level the game. It finished 2-2.

Take 3
16th of December. Back to Droylsden for another replay. Chesterfield were two goals to the good through Jack Lester and Darren Currie when the floodlights failed on 70 mins.

"There's far more visibility here now then there was two weeks ago when we played 45 minutes. The referee will probably hide behind safety regulations, which is fair enough, but there were only 19 minutes left to play. Could we have got to the end of the game without any incident if both teams had agreed? I think we probably could."
- Chesterfield manager Lee Richardson.

Take 4
December 23rd. Sean Newton put Droylsden ahead. Jack Lester levelled on 35. But the nights star man Newton scored from the spot to give the non-leaguers the lead. Lester was dismissed on 84 mins for using an elbow and Droylsden went on to win, making them the 8th non-league team to make the third round this year and setting up a possible giant killing opportunity with Ip..Ip..Ip..them at Portaloo Road on the 3rd of January.


Sean Newton scores from the spot last night.

BUT WAIT......

Newton was apparently ineligible to play! Last nights double goal scorer should have been serving a suspension last night after picking up his 5th booking during take 2 back on the 9th.

Bury were expelled from the competition in 2006 for the same issue and the FA are now investigating whether or not Newton should have been in the stands, but it seems pretty clear cut. The FA communicated the ban with Droylsden on the 10th of December and the part-timers confirmed the ban on the 14th. Someone really dropped the ball with this one. But lets be honest, a non-league team doesn't have a paid secretary to deal with the FA and keep track of all the administrative paper work, so I feel for them, but the rules are the rules. So After 4 games it looks as if Chesterfield will be heading to Suffolk in January.

Should Droylsden be booted, 7 other non-leage teams will be representing part-time football in the third round of the historic cup competition.

Kidderminster Harriers head to Coventry.
Forest Green host Derby County.
Histon are at home to Swansea.
Kettering play Eastwood Town.
Barrow head to Middlesbrough for a shot at the Premier League boys.
Torquay will be at home to Blackpool.
Blyth Spartans head to Sam Allardyce's Blackburn.

Good luck to all of the above, their inclusion in the third round is what makes the FA Cup the greatest cup tournament in the World. Among that lot surely a fairy tale result will emerge. Just ask Yeovil, Hereford, Shrewsbury, Wycombe, Harlow or Sutton United.

All ties are played on the 3rd, 4th, and 5th of January.

-Bigus

Read more on "If At First You Don't Succeed, Try, Try, Try, Try again...Wait, What? NO!"...

And so Year 2 Begins: A Look Back at Year 1



Soc-cer? It was that one simple, trite phrase from the unwashed masses at Deadspin that caused us to leap into action and form the genius that you all know and love today. With literally every instance of Hirshey's "Closer" column the oh-so-hilarious footy naysayers would come out of the woodwork with their well-thought comment (seriously, searching for "Soc-cer?" on Deadspin would yield 1,279,321 hits). And finally, we had enough. A plea went out in the comments - "Who is interested in starting a soccer blog?" and the response was immediate from the hard-core gentlemen (sic) who formed this site (RIP Badly-Drawn Boykins - we still love ya, buddy!).


We've grown quite a bit since our first post on December 23rd, 2007 - we picked up some stragglers, diversifying the crew beyond Gooners and Scousers. We conducted several interviews, attended media events, and became live-blogging experts (well, some of us, at least). All told, it's been a fantastic year, and we guarantee that we will be even better in Year 2.

But for now, as we look back on Year 1, it's time for us to pat ourselves on the back as individuals. Although I haven't been as busy as I would have liked over here, I still had 89 posts from which to choose my 5 favorites. And the nominees are:


(1) "Who Are: Tottenham Hotspur?" - With only my 3rd post I decided to mark my territory as any Arsenal supporter would - by pissing on Tottenham.

(2) "A Blog Divided: The Arsenal v. Liverpool Treble" - One of the first "group efforts" on the site where I solicited opinions from everyone on the upcoming matches (2 Champions League and 1 EPL) between the clubs supported by the majority of UFers. I think we all remember how things turned out.

(3) "Euro 2008 Liveblog: Germany v. Spain" - Liveblogging the Euro 2008 final was quite a treat, as the match ended 1-0 for Spain on a brilliant strike from Nando and we got 50 comments. Plus, our coverage of the entire tournament absolutely crushed Deadspin after our advances to provide coverage for them were dismissed. (But we still love you, Will!)

(4) "Silence, Bande de Cretins!" - Dealing with things near and dear to my heart (Les Bleus and La Marseillaise), I think I had just the right touch of seriousness along with a good self-deprecating joke at the end.

(5) "We Don't Want to Rule the World, We Just Want to Piss Off the Brits" - The discussion of UEFA's proposal for a "super-sports administrator" gets the nod purely because the ever-cranky Georger loved the use of the Ming the Merciless picture. And also because Platini, whom I grew up admiring, really is a douche.


So there it is - my 5 favorite posts from that scamp The NY Kid. Overall, I think the most fulfilling part of this experience for me has been providing my Ligue 1 coverage (and making a Bordeaux fan of jjf3) while not having to deal with (too many) French surrender jokes, despite the prevalence of Brits in the house. In truth, we rip each other because we all have a great respect for what we each bring to the table, and I think the site is better for it.

A great big thank you to all of our readers and commenters - we couldn't have done it without you. And Happy Holidays, you crazy kids!


To Year 2, and beyond!

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Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Tuesday Backpasses: Backlinks ahoy

Thanks for the kind words in the birthday threads. I would personally like to thank jjf3 for beginning to follow Aberdeen. The season turned around when he threw a look their way. Anyway, it's our birthday, and since Bigus failed to put in an Aberdeen badge in his work earlier today, I'm putting one with this post.

Nicklas Bendtner wants out at Emirates. Okay, say Gooners everywhere [Guardian]
This is what you car looks like when you run it off a bridge [The Offside]
I knew the number was this high, and it's why I asked this question. Still, it's startling how many Brazilians move abroad to play every year. American parents, get your kids playing futsal as soon as possible [SI]

And, finally:
Kevin McCarra takes Arsene to task, and not without reason [Guardian]

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UF Quick Throw: Sylvie Van der Vaart

The title of this post may have a double meaning...or it may not. Anyway, Sylvie Van der Vaart, wife of Rafael, splashing around in the ocean.

Happy Holidays!

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UF is One: And Bigus climbed aboard.



Well we are one. What can I say. I joined the good ship UF a few months after it left the dock and ever since I have given you regular Colaship reviews and many, many, many, many, many, many rants. Boy do I rant. Bigus loves football and a good rant. Bigus is easily irritated. Prod me with a stick and I'll bite. But hey that's me and I like to think people enjoy my rage as much as they enjoy Mike Georger's through his 6 billion comments this year.

I started out my UF tenure with posts slanted towards Norwich City but I'd like to think that throughout the year I have been consistent with a variety of topics and observations, keeping the love for Norwich deeply embedded in the Colaship reviews. I tried anyway.

The rest of the guys are picking their 'best 5' of the year and they have lots of choice.

Why?
A: They are a lot smarter than me.
And B: They are a lot smarter than me.

I have a few faves and I'll share them after the jump.


1: My favorite has to be the Ip.Ip.Ip..Them preview. I started out attempting to preview them in a serious manner and then I said f--k it!

2: I enjoyed writing this piece about Capello after England's win over Belarus. What makes this one memorable is that 2 days later the BBC's chief blogger Phil McNulty wrote pretty much the same thing. I rushed them my resume.

3: UF reader Kopper picked this next one. I am a very passionate England fan, just ask Autoglass about the tears that drip into my beer after a penalty shoot out at a major tourney. At the time I wrote this, the booing of Ashley Cole was a popular topic.

4: I did 3 interviews this year and yes they were all Norwich related! I asked our readers and the UF crew to pose the questions and I think many people were genuinely interested in hearing the professional point of view. First I talked to my mate John Revell, a youth coach at Norwich. Many of you asked about techniques and training and I think Mr Revell was pretty descriptive with his answers. Another interview was BBC Commentator and ex Norwich and Everton midfielder Neil Adams and again I received many questions wanting to probe the life of a Premier League footballer. Just this September I fired some email questions at my hero and current San Jose winger Darren Huckerby. I felt the answers could have been longer but those pesky media Nazi's at San Jose love their CTL and X keys.

5: Finally I liked this post a lot because it's just so stupid. It started with Newcastle's signing of Fabricio Coloccini and from there I dived back into time with hairdresser Tyson Kennedy for a look at unforgettable hair do's.

Well that was my year. I am very proud to be apart of UF along with the geniuses who keep this great site alive. We really have gone from strength to strength over the last 12 months and we aim to amuse and entertain over the next 12. Thanks for reading.

Oh crap..I just remembered this!

-Bigus

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Happy Birthday To Us!!


The keys to UF success can be found in this photo. (Thanks to Bigus for the Photoshop)

Well, we made it. One year. 365 days. Now it's time for us to verbally fellate ourselves, pull our puds and generally pat ourselves on our backs. Ouch, my elbow.

Anyway, we couldn't waste our employer's time and money without the help of our readers, who give us far too much enjoyment in the comments section. In the next year, we will continue our mission to find the most humorous, most sordid, and generally awesomest soccer/footie/football/calcio stories that occur each day. It is our goal to be funnier, better looking and more popular in year two. Although, I'm not sure how I, personally, can be funnier or more handsome.

Before we enter our next year of existence, I am going to give you my five favorite posts of the year. You'll notice that there seems to be a theme to most of my posts. Plus, a nice birthday bonus after the jump.







Oops!


(1) Meiendorfer SV women's team seeks sexy kit sponsor. I found this one before any other English language blog or newspaper did and I was able to use my dormant German language skills.

(2) Eva Roob's boobs. A former pro soccer player turned stripper? Quintessential UF story. My second most successful post in terms of driving traffic. Again, I found this one using my German skillz.

(3) Van Nistlerooy in MSPaint. I explained the controversial offside no-call in the Italy-Netherlands Euro group play...in MSPaint. It took me two hours to do those awful renderings. But, it was great fun.

(4) Interviews. I only liked the way three of the interviews turned out. So thanks, Rob Stone, Greg Lalas and Mike Quarino.

(5) Nereida Gallardo. Not the greatest story, but by far my most visited post. Although, there were nice pics.

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UF Quick Throw: Grayson in at Leeds.



Simon Grayson (39) is the new manager at Leeds. Grayson dumps Blackpool and drops a division to take over at Elland Road. Grayson has been manager at Blackpool for 3 years where he guided them into the Coca Cola Championship. He takes over from Gary McAllister who was sacked on Sunday after a run of five defeats. Grayson returns to the club he started his career with back in 1988.



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We are one


One year ago, on this very date, Precious Roy published our very first laugh at Tottenham piece. It was to become a theme. The first months were a little shaky, but summer went better than expected. We can thank the Euros and some great interviews for that.

Look how far we have come. We lost one guy along the way. Badly Drawn Boykins, without you we never could have explained how messing with an Asian's hot pot dinner is not a good idea. And we picked up some others. Bigus you undoubtedly know for his Norwich and Huckerby love. We love him for his photoshops. We also expanded our EPL (suck it,Barclay's!) stable by adding both a Chelsea man as well as a Tottenham one. Oh, how the times have changed.

Time for a little navel-gazing. After the jump, I have picked my five favorite pieces I've written in the last year. Enjoy the trip down my memory lane.

I'm still holding out for Stuart Pearce to be England's next great home-grown manager.

Reading between the lines in Scotland. Also, I was more than right.

It took my heart about an hour to calm down afterward. Fun game.

Mesh bikini briefs cannot be beaten.

Had to have one of these. The oddest shirt I have come across over the past year.

We thank you for continuing to read us, and doing so almost daily. This year we promise to get better. How else are we going to beat the WNT Blog for third place?

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Jose it aint so?



Just last week I had to take Mike Ashley to task for being a ridiculous moron. He had breached the rules of common sense in claiming that Joe Kinnear was a better manager than Fabio Capello. Well it's not just Ashley who seems to be suffering with this new disease, stupid-itus, oh no, the latest outbreak has been tracked down to Italy and one Jose Mourinho.

The special one and current Inter Milan boss is claiming that Zlatan Ibrahimovic is better than Ronaldo. Now those who know me can attest to the fact there is no love in my locker for a diving cheating prima donna who sent me into a wild rage during the World Cup 3 years ago.

In fact, it took my wife about a month before she could prize the Christiano Ronaldo Voodoo doll from my fingers. But this statement is just ridiculous. Ibrahimovic is having a great season and scoring good goals but to compare him to THE best player in the World is just nonsense.

We all know that players reach their best at around 27 and Ibrahimovic is no different. Just have a look at Gareth Barry, but truly great players just get better and have the talent on display at a much younger age. Torres, Rooney, Kaka, Ronaldinho and Ronaldo. To declare that a player is better than Ronaldo at 27 after a somewhat decent but un-inspiring 9 years in football is just daft.

Even Darren bent can have a good season or two.

Jose Mourinho is a smart man, and I cannot believe he means what he says. Likely he is trying to play mind games ahead of Inter's two-part battle with United in the Champions League, but should this really be a case of stupid-itus, lets compare the two and restore some common sense to the World.



Zlatan Inrahimovic. Age 27. Club: Inter Milan.

This season. 11 goals in 22 appearances. 6 assists.
Last season. 22 goals in 29 appearances. 9 assists.
06/07 season. 15 goals in 33 appearances. 5 assists.
Last 3 years for Sweden. 13 appearances. 2 goals. 1 assist.
--
Last 3 seasons, club and Country: 97 appearances. 50 goals.

Honors

2 Serie A titles. 2 Eredivisie tiles. 2 Italian Super Cups.
2005 Serie A footballer of the year.
3 Swedish footballer of the year awards.
UEFA team of the year 2007.



Cristiano Ronaldo. Age: 23. Current Club: Manchester United.

This season. 17 appearances. 9 goals. 4 assists.
last season. 45 appearances. 42 goals. 8 assists.
06/07 season. 49 appearances. 23 goals. 20 assists.
Last 3 years for Portugal. 27 appearances. 12 goals. 1 assist.
--
Last 3 seasons, club and country: 138 appearances. 86 goals.

Honors

2 Premier League titles
1 FA Cup
1 League Cup
1 Champions League Trophy
UEFA 2004 Team of the Tournament
FIFA Young Player of the Year 2004
UEFA Team of the Year 2004, 2007
FIFA World 11 2007, 2008
PFA Young Player of the Year 2007
PFA Player of the year 2007, 2008
Premier League Team of the Year 2006, 2007, 2008
Football Writers Association Player of the Year 2007, 2008
Premier League Player of the Season 2007, 2008.
Premier League Golden Boot 2008.
European Golden Shoe 2008.
UEFA club Forward of the Year 2008
UEFA club Footballer of the Year 2008
FIFA World Player of the Year 2008.
Ballon d'or (European Footballer of the Year) 2008


Not close is it? At just 23 years old, Ronaldo has achieved far more at club/International level AND individually than Ibrahimovic. So have at least a score of players Ibrahimovic cannot compete with. Ronaldo is far more creative often changes games at the highest level. Can the same be said of Ibrahimovic? I don't see anyone trying to sign Zlatan for 100 million quid. Or at all!

I hope this outlandish statement is Jose being Jose and not a sign that the special one is becoming a special one, that really would be a loss for football. Once you go all Ron Atkinson, there is no coming back.

-Bigus

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Trouble in Boys' Town

Yesterday, it was reported that Cesc Fabregas will miss 4 months with "a knee." To my mind, Cesc is Arsenal's first, second and third best player.

Sitting fifth in the table after a disappointing start, will Arsenal finally splash cash on big signings in January? And who stands to benefit from the Gunners' troubles?

On top of Arsenal's other struggles, the loss of Fabregas will make the second half of the season that much more difficult. One would expect Arsene Wenger to spend big in the January Transfer window to bring in some experienced depth to protect their VERY lucrative CL spot. However, Wenger's "Boys Town" strategy defines him. He might well rather finish 5th or 6th his way than claw his way to fourth having brought in grown ups.

Looking at the table, Arsenal are fifth on 31 points. Forget United in fourth; that's an illusion given their two games in hand. So Villa are three points above the Gunners in true fourth. Below "Boys Town" are Hull, Everton and Fulham. Nothing really scary there, you say? However, consider that Hull grabbed 27 points in their first 18 games. Hull! Who's to say that an Everton or a Portsmouth can't make a run? And how many points will Arsenal get in the second half?

Looking further down, it seems that even lowly Tottenham picked the right year to get off to a slow start. Their 19 points after 18 games is pathetic. But that's only 12 points behind Arsenal and are bound to do much better in the spring. I doubt they'll catch the Gunners, but that poses the question...

Who is best situated to take advantage of Cesc's injury on top of Arsenal's other troubles? Villa is the obvious answer, but who else do you like?

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Relief for West Brom: no tackles like this on Friday

I could watch John Terry's sending-off over and over again until I die. It's a fun one; for once he keeps his mouth shut, and I can't help but wonder how long until England stops calling. There are definitely better alternatives out there.

Whoops, forgot the song wasn't exactly work-safe. I was assuming you're all in bed still anyway.





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