Jet lag is a crazy bitch.
I've been back in the U.S. for under 48 hours, neither me nor my darling son are yet settled into the time difference yet, he's been crying for 87% of this New Year's Day, I've been beating myself up with the marathon of Being: Liverpool on FSC today with healthy helpings of mimosas and cookies while my lady looks on disapprovingly, the Buffalo Bills have been entertaining us all with a smoke and mirrors show the like we've never seen, and other than my piss-my-pants-in-excitement post cheering the firing of Chan "I refuse to use my suer-talented running back due to unresolved issues with my father and his tendency to call me a dickless failure" Gailey, I haven't contributed to this site in a few weeks which is long for me because I'm, well, obsessive about giving you fresh plates of steaming hot takes as often as possible.
Run-on sentences are my jam when I'm this tired.
I would talk at greater length about those Buffalo Bills but Joe Pinzone asked me to be on his podcast tonight so I wouldn't want to ruin it for the six of you that happen to listen. It goes without saying that, if you were to observe the spectrum of Bills' fan outlooks after Russ Brandon was elevated to President and CEO of Los Billeros, I would be somewhere close to the "dear god please stab me in the dick this team is perpetually shit and nothing is going to change that." Don't worry, sometime in March I'll be overly optimistic about our Bills and will lose my last shreds of credibility for the dozens of people that read this site, I'm sure.
Today, though, it's all about the footy - specifically the English brand of it. Just back from that transatlantic trip to London for the holiday, its unsurprising that I'd confine myself to the English game. After all, one game past the midway point of the Premier League season, things are starting to get pretty interesting, and with the FA Cup's Third Round on tap for this weekend, there's plenty to keep fans of the English game entertained.
And if you're not a fan of the English game, it must be said, you're a fucking moron. This shit is amazing.
After the jump -- Liverpool confound with their frustratingly inconsistent play, Manchester United continues to firm up their foothold on the top of the table while their Sky Blue neighbors flounder, Arsenal bounce back from their 0-2 defeat at home to Swansea, and Harry Redknapp is a blustered ball of frustration and I love it. Oh, and some unfounded FA Cup predictions because why the fuck not?
When Mrs. Barrister, Baby Barrister and I arrived in London a couple weeks ago, we had a long taxi ride from Heathrow to my sister-in-law's flat in Hampstead. The driver was silent for much of the trip, as was his radio, but about a half hour in he asked me if he could turn it on. No objection from me, the driver tuned into a program about medical ailments featuring professional advice on a range of conditions. Norovirus, a disgusting and briefly debilitating strand, was the topic of some conversation. It is, apparently, doing some serious rounds throughout the UK, and, I learned more recently, has incidentally cycled through various Liverpool players and staff. Lovely stuff.
The team's sickness was the topic of much conversation following their win at QPR yesterday, which was probably for the best since any focus on the good play we saw from the Reds will most likely be temporary. Might as well talk a lot about how Brendan Rodgers is simultaneously puking and pooping back in Merseyside rather than try to make sense of a squad with such erratic play. Just when I want to praise the team for a great effort - say, their come from behind road win to West Ham a couple weeks ago - they follow it up with a massive fuckup - like, for instance, the 1-3 defeat at home to Aston Villa. That particular turd burger coming on and partially ruining a breakfast of my famous #LFCPANCAKES with the Apologist, Yachtsman and his lady fair.
While I was in England, Liverpool's inconsistent form continued with a dominant 4-0 win to a completely over-matched Fulham, a mind-numbing 3-1 loss at Stoke and finally a stunning first half en route to a 3-0 win at QPR.
I really don't know what to make of any of it, since there are certainly equal parts brilliance and shitfuckery coming from Liverpool during any given game. You can only hope that it evens out at the end of 90 minutes more often than not, and that they continue to get points at home. Ultimately, you can't take too much from these recent results - wins at home to Fulham (FFC is1-4-5 on the road) and away to Rangers (QPR is 1-4-5 at home) are, in essence, expected, and a loss at Stoke is probably just as predictable (SCFC are 5-5-0 at home).
Other mailed-in, bullet-pointed thoughts:
- Luis Suarez is the best striker in the league right now. This is with much bias, as the leading goal-scorer is Robin Van Persie and I would prefer each and every player at Manchester United to die after getting bitten by the creepy Outbreak monkey. That concession aside, Van Persie is playing on a team of set-up men including league-leading assist man Wayne Rooney (?!?) and a team total of 36 assists on the year. Suarez, on the other hand, has Gerrard who is tied for third, but a team total of only 20 assists. Suarez remains effective despite the dearth of creative talent on his squad, most often creating chances himself. Sunday's two goals were prime examples.
- I was chatting with friend of the Deeg, Phil, yesterday and he mentioned someone describing Suarez's first goal as a "through ball to himself," which I find pretty accurate. As I wrote to Phil, that kind of decision one-on-one is a very smart one, but also requires a deft touch with the correct amount of weight. Too hard, and Luis risks the QPR keeper collecting it easily. Too light and he risks the defender being able to correct towards the ball and clear it before Suarez gets behind him. It was really a superb moment.
- I want to believe Steven Gerrard is the same glittering ray of sunshine that he has been for so long at Anfield. But... he's just not. The pace of the game under Rodgers - and not just foot speed, but ball speed - has exposed Gerrard's age this season. He's looked better in the last few fixtures, but has had several extremely rough outings where his touch has been flat or inaccurate or both. He still has tremendous value on corners, but frankly LFC doesn't have enough talent in the air so Gerrard's placement - when good - is often wasted. It will be sad when Gerrard leaves LFC, but that day is probably sooner than I care to think.
- As you saw in the video, Gerrard's talent from the corner was not wasted Sunday, as Agger did what he does best in the box. (giggity giggity) He's been the subject of some transfer talk recently, but he's been consistent enough for me and fuck if I'd want to get rid of a guy willing to tattoo YNWA on his knuckles. What a badass.
Despite the relatively unexpected draw away at Swansea a week ago, United retains their hold on the top of the table. They're now 7 points up on Manchester City and, frankly, that distance seems insurmountable.
This state-of-things is troubling, apart from my general disdain for everything associated with Old Trafford, given the fact that United has seemed eminently beatable this season yet still seem to get the results they need. Despite being down 1-0, then 2-1, then 3-2, Man U found a way to beat Newcastle at home on Boxing Day and pulled further ahead of Man City as the Sky Blues lost at Sunderland. (I know. SUNDERLAND). Fact is, United has been beatable - they lost to lowly Norwich, after all - but they have inexplicably kept themselves well afloat which is something good teams do I suppose but wouldn't know anything about since I don't root for good teams as a rule.
On top of the annoyingly successful play, there is also the annoying dipshit of a manger at United. If you watch enough of the EPL and aren't a knuckledragging ManU fan (and I say that with love, assholes), you'll eventually notice the kind of kid glove treatment that Alex Ferguson receives. Again, it's probably impossible for me to discern how much of my opinion on Fergie is tied to my admitted anti-United bias, but after watching him argue and fume over decisions in the match against Newcastle, only to receive zero admonition from the FA, it appears that an irregular set of standards are at play here. Fuck, Roberto Mancini was asked to explain himself and may be suspended after quietly suggesting, in a postgame presser, that official Kevin Friend - who is a SHITTY FUCKING REF BY THE WAY - had eaten too much at Christmas dinner. But, for Fergie: nothing. The fact that match officials reported no unusual incident in their match report of the ManU/Newcastle match - indeed the officials called the exchange cordial after the game - despite the fact that Ferguson's outburst was plainly full of some serious rage is probably the most troubling aspect. What we've learned is that you can scream all you want at the officials, showing them absolutely no respect, and can do so during a match when your anger might actually impact their decisions, but you can't make a quiet, sarcastic remark after the match when the all of the decisions have already been made. Especially if you're not English. Got it. Makes sense.
The turd pie on top of this shit sandwich is that Manchester City remains my most favored team within the current top 5 and really the only team I'd like to see win a trophy this year. United are scum, Chelsea's fans are plastic pieces of shit and the recent revival of Fernando Torres makes my heart ache (see below), Tottenham regularly school LFC and took Clint Dempsey out from LFC's underpaying fingers, and Arsenal, well, they won't be winning another title any time this decade so it's pointless to worry.
City is the lesser of all these evils yet it seems pretty clear they don't have it this season.
When Torres departed Liverpool in 2011, Reds supporters said goodbye and good riddance to a player seemingly slipping in form and seemingly uninterested in staying at Anfield. It was easy, for a time, as Torres struggled to score and, then, to even crack into the lineup. He was barely a blip in the Champions League success last season and it was easy to cavalierly chuckle at his bad fortunes in London.
Then, late last year and continuing into this year, he started scoring. And with Liverpool often struggling to find the back of the net and still in need of a striking compliment to Luis Suarez, well, watching him in Blue predictably got much harder.
Chelsea is a frustrating club to root against since they've had a string of managers I respect and are more palatable than Man United, for instance, but their recent success with Torres makes me fucking ill. El Niño was the lone bright spot during some pretty shitty years at Anfield and now that he's making it clear his form was not forever lost,and doing so under the direction of former LFC boss Rafa Benitez, it's tough to take.
On the upside, as I'm committed to keeping an upbeat mood for 2013, Chelsea keeper Petr Cech may miss some time due to an abductor strain and will be replaced by Ross Turnbull who has barely had a career other than a ton of games on the bench or playing for reserve squads and a reported affair with Robbie Williams's housekeeper. Should Cech miss any significant amount of time, things could get interesting at the back.
Something to hope for, at least.
If you're unfamiliar with the FA Cup, get your shit together. This open tournament is about as fun as sports gets for me as it allows low division teams the yearly opportunity to be world-beaters; to play the role of David taking down immensely over-confident Goliaths. When I was in Bath for a junior year semester abroad, the Bath University team made it to the First Round Proper - the first University team to make it into the competition since 1880. It was an early exposure to the excitement of the tournament for me, and I've been hooked ever since.
The Third Round Proper is really the first round that matters - though some lower league supporters would be angry at that comment - as it is the round in which Premiership squads enter the tournament. Every year there are surprises in this round, and this year should be no different.
So, some predictions for the ten matches that have caught my eye:
- Crystal Palace 2 - Stoke City 1. One of my good friends here in NYC is a Palace supporter, so I often hear about their success. They have been near the top of the League Championship table for much of the season, and have a +15 goal differential at home. Frankly, Stoke's success every year depends on their home record, but this year they're 1-6-3 away. I also hate Stoke and want them dead. I see Crystal Palace taking care of business at home for the good guys.
- Swansea City 1 - Arsenal 0. My bet is that the Gunners take a day off. Their goal, as always, is Champions league qualification and they've consistently shown no interest in the FA Cup. The Swans score one on a break and keep it tight defensively against a second-team roster. Arsene Wenger takes a nap after too much whiskey during halftime.
- West Ham 2 - Manchester United 3. I want to believe that the Hammers can win, especially since ManU barely fields a second team in early FA Cup fixtures, but I see United's luck holding up. Prediction is that RVP gets subbed in for last twenty minutes and scores a hat trick just to piss me off. Wayne Rooney not expected to play due to hairline issues. Sir Alex Ferguson expected to receive a quick handy after he belligerently spits on a referee.
- Leeds United 3 - Birmingham 1. I enjoy Leeds United for the simple fact that The Damned United is a great flick. I think it's on Netflix so do yourself a favor and watch it sometime. This is a fixture between two midtable (sort of) League Championship sides who are pretty familiar with each other, but I don't expect an upset here by Birmingham away.
- Southend 3 - Brentford 2. This match is between the fourth place teams of League Two and League One, respectively. I went to a League Two match while in England last week and, frankly, once you get to these lower divisions the parity is more striking. I'm looking for underdog Southend to upset at home.
- Southampton 1 - Chelsea 5. At this point, Southampton's priority is staying above the relegation zone, so I can't imagine they'll be playing their full first team. That said, even if they do, Chelsea's scrubs will run all over them. This one will likely get real ugly and be a lot of fun.
- Fulham 2 - Blackpool 2. Fulham look like a complete mess these days. Losing Clint Dempsey was a tough early season blow, if expected, and they've been slowly sinking to the bottom of the table lately. Also: getting blown out by Liverpool means you're hot garbage. But Blackpool is, well, not very good, and the best I can give them is a draw and replay back at home where I predict they'll upset the Cottagers 1-0. #Boom #analysis
- Wigan 1 - AFC Bournemouth 4. I hate Wigan. Really for no reason other than that they typically put up too much of a fight against Liverpool, at least until recently. Well, the 3-0 win against them did little to ease my unreasonably ragey anger for this mediocre club, so fuck it they lose by a bundle at home, just like they did to Man U today. I will celebrate by drowning my liver in some scotch and my stomach in Soft Batch cookies.
- Crawley Town 5 - Reading 2. I really want this to be true if only because Reading is a joke of a town and should be quickly dispensed from the Premiership this year. This hatred is really based on very little apart from the fact that I once got stuck on a train with a bunch of smelly shits from the Reading Music Festival going on about how great All-American Rejects are and I'm pretty sure I caught a severe case of scabies as a result.
- Mansfield Town 3 - Liverpool 0. The Reds were gifted an easy fixture against an over-performing non-league side for the Third Round Proper. I fully expect them to shit the opportunity away. Brad Jones will be sold after his performance in this one despite his super hot wife. Fenway Sports Group dig up Tony Meola as new backup in appeal to fans of the Buffalo Blizzards, New York Jets and the Off-Broadway hit Tony and Tina's Wedding.
And there are my ten predictions. Why ten? Because I fucking felt like it and there were like 30+ fixtures anyway so just be happy I didn't blabber on about all of them. Watch it all this weekend, children. It's fun as hell and I know you all need another excuse to drink after the holidays.
In the meantime, start enjoying 2013 right away because if the NHL comes back the Sabres will be awful and we'll all be seriously depressed and then the Bills will come back under the reign of some guy named Jizzongunt (yeah I went there! Someone had to!) and we'll all be contemplating whether we should just be Browns fans or something. And if you're like me and love the Mets, well shit, this is going to be rough.
Happy New Year. Hugs.