Week 2: “View from the Booth” with Arlo White

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When watching soccer on TV, have you ever sat there and wondered what the man behind the microphone really thinks?

Maybe this will go someway to helping with that.

In our new series “View from the Booth” NBC Sports’ lead soccer announcer Arlo White will be joining us each week to talk about the hot topics in the beautiful game and preview the weekends upcoming Premier League action.

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In Week 2, the leading voice of soccer in the USA talks about the two huge games he’s covering this weekend, Aston Villa vs. Liverpool and Manchester United vs. Chelsea, the newly promoted teams and discusses Arsenal’s situation as the transfer window deadline nears.

Ready? Here’s my Q&A with Mr. White, just imagine his dulcet tones responding to these questions… Magnificent.

Have Manchester United silenced the doubters and do you expect them to push on against Chelsea on Monday?

I wouldn’t say they silenced the doubters, what they did was remind everyone that they are the Premier League Champions and are well capable of producing ruthless performances. It was fascinating to be at the Liberty Stadium on Saturday to witness the start of the David Moyes era. I watched Wayne Rooney warm-up before the game and his body language didn’t scream enthusiasm and delight at being there. But when he came on in the 2nd half he was terrific and set up two United goals. OK, he didn’t celebrate with his team mates, and plenty has been read into that, but it was a demonstration that he still loves playing the game and is prepared to be professional when called upon by Moyes to perform. Of course, that is the least he can do whilst he’s still a United player on massive wages, but the eyes of the world were on him, and anything less than giving his all for the cause would have been a huge story.

source: Reuters
The Wayne Rooney saga still hasn’t been solved. But Arlo was impressed with his application vs. Swansea.

Can they kick on against Chelsea? They are very capable of doing so. Robin Van Persie and Danny Welbeck appear to be in excellent early season form.

I think Jose Mourinho has been as canny as usual. Saying that Chelsea will be ethical and won’t bid for Rooney before Monday’s game is savvy, but then hinting that they will bid after the game still created a potentially de-stabilising situation for Rooney and United, ahead of such a huge early season game.

Before the Manchester United vs. Chelsea game, you are at Aston Villa v Liverpool on Saturday. What can we expect from that match?

I’m really looking forward to this one. It could be a terrific open game.

Villa have had a busy first week, but a fruitful one. To open the season with trips to Arsenal and Chelsea inside five days and come away with 3 points (which could have been 4, as Jose Mourinho acknowledged) is a huge achievement for a young team who struggled so badly last season. I know most of the transfer talk during the off season has centred around Bale, Rooney and Suarez, but one of the greatest signings of recent Premier League history has been Villa securing Christian Benteke’s signature on a new contract.  It was a stunning turn around, as many assumed he was going to a bigger club. His goal at Chelsea on Wednesday was terrific, striking a left foot shot inside the near post took tremendous poise and skill.

It’s also great to see Gabby Agbonlahor firing on all cylinders at the start of the season.

As for Liverpool, I think things are looking really encouraging.  It may sound remarkable given how many goals Luis Suarez has scored over the last couple of seasons, but Liverpool’s win percentage is far better without him (64%) than it is with him (39%). It goes without saying that he is a tremendous player, but it’s equally obvious that Liverpool have learned to cope without him in the short term. Daniel Sturridge got off to a flier against Stoke, he’s now scored 7 goals in his last 6 Premier League games. I can’t wait to watch Coutinho.  As former Liverpool great Peter Beardsley said this week, “he could be the new Kenny Dalglish.”  That is praise indeed.

Can any of the newly promoted teams get off the board this weekend? They have some pretty tough games. 

All games are tough in the Premier League, and I wonder which newly promoted team will find their feet first.  Hull manager Steve Bruce told the NBC commentary team last week that he sees the Norwich game as very significant for his side. It is sandwiched between the opener at Chelsea and a visit to Manchester City, so they must get something from the game.  Bruce called that sort of game Hull’s ‘bread and butter’, and told us his side need 10 wins to stay up this season. I’m sure their new signings Tom Huddlestone and Jake Livermore will start the game, and they must build on their 2nd half performance at Chelsea, where they passed the ball with much more confidence.

source: Getty Images
Arlo predicts another tough weekend for the newly promoted teams.

As for the other two, Crystal Palace may fancy themselves to get something at Stoke, who are revamping their style of play under Mark Hughes. The atmosphere at Cardiff will be magnificent, but they face an incredibly tough task against a Manchester City side who looked very slick in their opening victory over Newcastle.

How has the situation at Arsenal affected their chances of reaching the top four? Mounting pressure on Wenger, but surely it’s too early to panic? 

I am a believer that in life, nothing occurs in a vacuum. I’m sure Arsenal’s reticence in the transfer market has convinced other sides (Spurs anyone?) that they are more vulnerable than ever, and that it’s time to spend big and pounce on the opportunity. Arsenal enjoyed a soothing win at Fenerbache during the week which has all but secured their place in the Champions League group stage, and perhaps that will be the final trigger for them to go out and spend some of their massive war chest. Of course, Spurs can wield enormous spending power because of Bale’s value, but I’m equally sure that Arsenal’s wobbles have convinced them to spend big right now to seize the moment.

Mourinho’s men have got off to a flying start, do you expect them to be clear at the top this time next month? 

Did you see Manchester United and Manchester City last weekend? If Chelsea are clear in a months time then they will have enjoyed a magnificent start to the season (including a win at Old Trafford next Monday) and City must have wobbled early on (with a defeat v United?) Chelsea have 6 points out of 6.  Hazard, Oscar and De Bruyne played very well together in the 1st half against Hull, but they were perhaps fortunate to take all 3 points against Villa on Wednesday.  Chelsea are going to be a major power this season, but clear  at the top in a months time? I doubt it.

source: Getty Images
Arlo tips Sam Allardyce’s men to keep on improving.

Out of Southampton, West Ham and Aston Villa… which team is most likely to make the top 10 this year? Early form shows all 3 teams are much improved. 

On the early evidence, all three clubs can feel very optimistic.  Villa have been impressive. We’ll know more about them after Liverpool’s visit on Saturday. Southampton pulled off a major coup by signing Osvaldo from Roma.  He’s a real live wire both on and off the field, so much will depend on Mauricio Potchettino’s ability of focussing his mind on Football and getting the very best out of him. It’s always interesting when small to medium sized clubs start spending unprecedented amounts of money. It really could go either way, but Pochettino seems to be an intelligent, level headed manager.

Big Sam is delighted with life at West Ham. They enjoyed a great opening day win and have Striker Andy Carroll returning from injury. With Downing on one flank, and Jarvis on the other, they have the skilled wide men to deliver the ammunition for Carroll. Kevin Nolan started with a really nice goal.  Sam told us last week that Nolan is in great shape and in good form, so thats big news for the Hammers.

To answer your question, why not all three?

Big shock results this weekend? Fulham piling more misery on Arsenal? Palace to beat Stoke?

I’m not sure that there is a major shock in store this weekend. I just can’t see Cardiff beating Manchester City, but they will give it a real go.

I think it’s a massive weekend for Newcastle United, who host their former manager Sam Allardyce and West Ham. The Magpies were very poor on Monday night at Manchester City. Sure, they were de-stabilised with Arsenal’s untimely bid for Cabaye, but their performance was listless and the most worrying of any Premier League team on the opening weekend (including Arsenal). The Toon Army will walk up to St James’ Park full of their usual enthusiasm but with plenty of trepidation too. They will be desperate to see a response from their side, but will fear that another unconvincing defeat will act as the prelude to a long season fighting relegation.

That shouldn’t happen with the squad they have and they don’t have the disruption of Europa League Football this season, but the omens weren’t great on Monday Night.

Enjoy the weekend everyone!

LIVE: Real Madrid host Barcelona in El Clasico

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Let’s go.

Real Madrid host Barcelona at 2:45 p.m. ET on Sunday in the final installment of El Clasico this season in La Liga.

[ LIVE: Follow El Clasico, here ] 

With Barca three points behind their bitter rivals who top the La Liga standings and also have a game in hand with six weeks to go, nothing but a win will do for Luis Enrqiue’s men.

All of the talk before this game has been about the absence of Neymar as Barca have decided to not put the Brazilian forward in their squad after they appealed his three-game ban but have yet to hear back on his suspension.

Aside from that bizarre situation, it’s been a mixed week for the Spanish giants in the UEFA Champions League.

Barca were knocked out by Juventus at the quarterfinal stage, while Real Madrid got by Bayern Munich in an exhausting clash at the Santiago Bernabeu which required extra time to set up a semifinal tie against Atletico Madrid.

The stars will come out to play as Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez, Cristiano Ronaldo, Gareth Bale and Karim Benzema will collide.

Liverpool 1-2 Crystal Palace: Benteke haunts Klopp

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  • Palace win third-straight at Anfield
  • Christian Benteke scores twice
  • Liverpool slip up in top four race
  • Eagles 7 points above drop zone

Crystal Palace stunned Liverpool at Anfield once again on Sunday as the Eagles fought back from 1-0 down to win 2-1 and added to their recent impressive wins against Arsenal and Chelsea.

Phillipe Coutinho gave Liverpool the lead with a stunning free kick but just before half time Christian Benteke made it 1-1 and then the former Liverpool striker headed home in the second half to give Palace a precious three points.

With the win the Eagles are on 38 points and move up to 12th place as they surge away from the relegation zone, while Liverpool remain on 66 points and can feel Manchester City and Manchester United breathing down their neck in the race for the top four.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays

Liverpool started the game well but found it tough to break down a stubborn Palace defense and the Eagles always looked dangerous on the break.

One of their breaks saw the ball drop to Benteke but the former Liverpool dragged his effort wide of the post after beating two players.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings

Coutinho soon had Liverpool ahead as the Brazilian magician curled home a stunning free kick for his 10th Premier League goal of the season. 1-0 to the Reds.

Just before half time Palace were level as sloppy defending let in Yohan Cabaye and his perfect cross was tapped home by Benteke against his former club. 1-1. Benteke had another shot on target before half time but Simon Mignolet saved as Palace were buoyed by their equalizer.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ] 

In the second half Coutinho danced free on the edge of the box but smashed an effort way over as Palace sat in deep and frustrated Liverpool’s attack.

Palace threatened at the other end from set pieces and Benteke caused mayhem in the 71st minute but Cabaye smashed an effort over the bar with the goal gaping.

Moments later Benteke put Palace ahead as Andros Townsend‘s corner from the right missed everyone and the Belgian nodded home his second goal of the game. 2-1 to the Eagles.

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score

Late on Liverpool pushed hard for the equalizer but Palace held on for their third-straight win at Anfield and all but secured their Premier League status for another season.

Arsenal 2-1 Man City: Gunners reach FA Cup final

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Arsenal beat Manchester City 2-1 after extra time at Wembley on Sunday as Arsene Wenger got the better of Pep Guardiola to set up an FA Cup final against Chelsea.

Sergio Aguero put City ahead in the second half but Nacho Monreal equalized in normal time and then Alexis Sanchez scored the winning goal in extra time to seal the Gunners spot in the FA Cup final on May 27 at Wembley.

It will be an all-London affair in the FA Cup final and it could perhaps be Wenger’s final game in charge.

[ MORE: Full FA Cup schedule ] 

Aguero went close early but made a mess of a patient build up play and David Silva‘s header was pushed over by Petr Cech, while Arsenal had the ball in the net at the other end but Laurent Koscielny was offside as he flicked the ball past Claudio Bravo.

City were forced into an early change as Silva limped off after a collision and Raheem Sterling came on and soon after Aguero went down in the box under a challenge from Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain but referee Craig Pawson waved away the appeals.

Aguero slammed a shot into the side-netting as half time approached with City controlling the possession but failing to break through. A huge moment of controversy arrived five minutes before half time as Leroy Sane’s cross was flagged to have gone out of play as Aguero and then Sterling both finished but replays showed it had stayed in.

A huge let-off for Arsenal and right on half time they could’ve had a penalty kick as Jesus Navas bundled over Sanchez in the box.

In the second half it was Arsenal who put City under pressure as Fernandinho gave the ball away on the edge of the box and Olivier Giroud‘s effort was blocked by Nicolas Otamendi.

Moments later City were 1-0 up as Aaron Ramsey was robbed by Yaya Toure and Aguero raced free from Monreal and dinked home to put City ahead. The goal was Aguero’s fifth in as many FA Cup appearances this season and with 12 goals in his last 12 games he now has 166 for City, taking him to tied second on their all-time list of scorers.

Mesut Ozil flashed an effort just wide of the post after City went ahead as the Gunners continued to push forward in pursuit of an equalizer.

The leveler arrived with less than 20 minutes to go as Oxlade-Chamberlain’s fine cross from the right found Monreal at the back post and the Spanish left back nonchalantly smashed home with the outside of his right foot. 1-1. Game on.

Moments later Toure’s stunning volley was superbly saved by the fingertips of Cech as the ball hit the post and came out and soon after Fernandinho’s header cannoned off the bar as City pushed hard for a late winner.

Substitute Danny Welbeck went so close to snatching the win for Arsenal in normal time but the former Manchester United striker lashed an effort inches wide of the far post after breaking free.

In extra time it was Arsenal who could’ve gone 2-1 up as Rob Holding headed over the bar from close range. Soon after Sanchez did put Arsenal ahead as Welbeck missed his kick but Sanchez controlled and finished clinically to make it 2-1.

At the other end Sterling’s cross was cleared by Holding and the sub was subbed at the half time of extra time with Kelechi Iheanacho coming on as City’s fourth substitute as the new FA rules were used.

Fabian Delph, another sub, was put in by Kevin De Bruyne in the 110th minute but Hector Bellerin deflected his effort wide at the crucial moment then De Bruyne flashed an effort just wide as City poured forward for an equalizer.

In the end Arsenal held on to seal a third FA Cup final appearance in the last four seasons.

VIDEO: Coutinho curls home stunning free kick

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Philippe Coutinho was at it again at Anfield on Sunday.

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The Brazilian magician curled home a stunning free kick in the first half to put Liverpool 1-0 up against Crystal Palace.

Click play on the video above to watch his 10th Premier League goal of the season as Wayne Hennessey couldn’t get close to it.