Week 3: “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, as well as chatting about the latest news from MLS and the US national team.

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This weekend Arlo is off to two massive games for very different reasons. First up is Crystal Palace against Sunderland on Saturday (12:30pm ET, watch live on NBC and via NBC Sports Live Extra) as both sides aim for their first win of the season. And then it’s the big one, Liverpool vs. Manchester United on Sunday (8:30am ET, watch live on NBCSN and via NBC Sports Live Extra) at Anfield as two of England’s most famous clubs clash in a bitter North West rivalry.

Enjoy it folks, now it’s over to Arlo.

Looking ahead to the games this weekend, obviously Liverpool vs. United sticks out. Can Liverpool keep their good early season form going despite plenty of injury worries?

What a fascinating match-up this is, and one that hopefully will add more goal mouth action to the tactically intriguing game on Monday between United and Chelsea. I think everyone present (except perhaps the traveling support) will have goosebumps when Anfield pays tribute to the great Bill Shankly before the game, by celebrating what would have been his 100th birthday.

The big injury worry for Liverpool is Kolo Toure. It was well publicized before the game at Villa last week that Liverpool had left themselves a touch short in central defense after the retirement of Jamie Carragher. Martin Kelly can fill in, but he’s returning from an ACL tear. Andre Wisdom is a center back of the future. but I think Brendan Rodgers is keen to get him out on loan to gain more experience. Sebastian Coates also suffered an ACL tear on International duty recently. It all means that Martin Skrtel, who was perhaps surplus to requirements before these injuries, is now a vital player this weekend, alongside Daniel Agger.

source: AP
Can RVP fire United to victory at Anfield?

I think Rodgers would like to see a 90 minute performance from his side at the level they managed for the first 45 at Villa. They were stroking the ball around with real authority and comfort. They were purring. Gerrard and Lucas dictated the game from their deep lying midfield positions. Coutinho showed the odd flash of brilliance (particularly his dummy for the goal) and Daniel Sturridge continued his rich goal scoring form. They are coping brilliantly without the suspended Luis Suarez.

Liverpool might be kicking themselves at taking their eye off the ball against Notts County during the week and being forced to play extra time in the League Cup, but they have started the season well. Let’s see how they fair against the major step up in quality presented by the Champions.

And for David Moyes, this match will have extra importance after managing on Merseyside. Will murmurs of discontent start to be heard amongst United fans if they lose this one?

Will there be crushing disappointment, of course, it’s a derby. Will there be discontent with the manager, I very much doubt it. Moyes was greeted with a rapturous welcome at Old Trafford on Monday night. There is now a permanent banner across the Stretford End that reads ‘The Chosen One’ with his image. United played very well against Chelsea, but were stunted by a somewhat timid tactical approach from Jose Mourinho. United fans are well aware that they have an important role to play as the club transition from 26 years of Sir Alex Ferguson to the start of the David Moyes era. It may require some patience, and it will certainly require support.

I think Moyes and Manchester United have handled the Wayne Rooney situation superbly. He was terrific against Chelsea, full of energy and intent. In the absence of any major signings so far in the transfer window, Moyes should at least be credited for his part in that turn around.

Of course we have to talk about Arsenal vs, Spurs on Sunday too. Are these two teams closer than they’ve ever been in the past? And is this the season Tottenham finally overtake the Gunners and move into the top four?

Things could change significantly before 11pm BST on Monday, but I said before the season started that Spurs will take 4th place and Arsenal will miss out on the Champions League spots this season, and Tottenham’s dealings in the transfer market have only strengthened that conviction. I haven’t seen Capoue play live yet but the early reports are very good (I even read this week that he’s being compared to Patrick Vieira, steady on!). Soldado hasn’t scored from open play yet, but confidently banged in 2 penalties against Crystal Palace and Swansea. AVB now has a deep cast of talent to call upon to challenge those top spots.

Now, if Arsenal land Benzema, Di Maria and Ozil from Real Madrid, it could all change (btw, will Daniel Levy do the Bale deal as late as possible to help scupper Arsenal’s plans of recruiting those potentially surplus Real stars??)

One of the painful offshoots of Arsenal’s transfer window malaise is the lack of squad depth. They’ve already been forced to play full back Sagna in central defense, and it’s only August. Podolski’s injury is a huge blow which leaves them short up front, and Oxlade-Chamberlain will be missing for a while, weakening them on the flanks.

Was Flamini converted into a goal sniffing center forward at AC MIlan?

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Arlo tipped Cardiff for success this season. Can they build off their stunning win against Man City?

I seem to remember you picking Cardiff City as your “surprise package” at the start of the season… you must have had a chuckle to yourself when they beat Manchester City on Sunday. The Bluebirds have impressed but have you been impressed with Everton under Roberto Martinez so far?

I’ll hold my hand up. Yes, I did say that Cardiff would be a surprise package this season, but I also went out of my way in last week’s column to say they wouldn’t get anything against Manchester City. In fact, the only thing I got right about that extraordinary game, was a complete no-brainer anyway; it was a great atmosphere!

Did you watch Malky MacKay during the game? He was calm, composed and authoritative. His in-game signals to the players were very clear, after he’d already sent them out with a brilliant tactical game plan to stunt Manchester City.

We go to Goodison Park after the International break and I’m looking forward to seeing Everton in the flesh. Watching Roberto Martinez at press conferences, you can see how much the transfer window is irritating him. He knows that Baines and Fellaini are vulnerable to late bids, and is well aware that if Bill Kenwright receives an irresistible offer on Monday, he will be left with precious little time to re tool sufficiently. Worrying times for the Toffees. Roll on Tuesday morning!

Everton related, their former loanee Landon Donovan signed a new “multi-year” deal with LA Galaxy earlier this week. What do you make of his decision to stay in MLS? Should he have come back to the Premier League to have one last go?

I’m torn on Landon. I love Major League Soccer and I’m so impressed with it’s growth. Landon Donovan has played a huge part in that, and he will continue to do so with his exceptional play.

The devil on my other shoulder argues that a re-energized Landon could be a smash hit once again in the Premier League, and I would love to have seen him give it a go.

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Arlo would like to have seen Donovan have one last hurrah in the Premier League.

I sat down with Landon in May 2012 with my NBC colleagues and we had a fascinating chat. He revealed so much about his state of mind before the US game against Scotland (in which he scored a hat-trick by the way) that it came as no surprise when he announced that he was stepping away from the game for a while. What a great move that turned out to be. We re-connected before the Gold Cup, and the difference was palpable. Landon isn’t a particularly demonstrative or excitable character when we all chat, he is calm, level headed and articulate. The Landon we sat down with before the Gold Cup was very different from May 2012. The language was all positive and content.

It’s a great boost for LA and for MLS. I think the league is entering a new exciting phase now that Clint Dempsey has returned as well. Do I wish I could call an Everton or a Manchester United game with Landon Donovan on the field? You bet. Should we respect his decision and enjoy his play for LA and the US National team for the next few years? Absolutely.

Another USMNT forward will take center stage live on NBC this Saturday lunchtime. We spoke about Altidore before but can he really spearhead Sunderland into the top 10 this season?

Having spoken to both Jozy and Paolo Di Canio over the passed few weeks, I’m excited for him. Di Canio is a big fan, hence why he paid $9M to AZ Alkmaar for his services. He says he has that rare ability to sense where the goal is, and that he has matured from the young man who struggled in a bad Hull City team a few years back.

Jozy seems happy at Sunderland. He joked that he had to ‘get his head around’ some of Di Canio’s managerial eccentricities, but that he’s raring to go.

We’ll see on Saturday if he can make an impact against a team like Crystal Palace who are favored to be relegated, but will be tough to beat at Selhurst Park.

Money from Wembley replay will ‘support Rochdale for two or three years’

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Worst-case scenario for Tottenham Hotspur: drawing League One side Rochdale in Sunday’s FA Cup fifth-round clash; best-case scenario for the Dale: drawing the Premier League giants and forcing a replay at Wembley Stadium.

[ MORE: Man Utd draw Brighton in FA Cup QF; Chelsea get Leicester ]

For a club the size of Rochdale — 10,200-seat stadium, and never been above the third tier of English soccer — the financial impact of raking in half of the game’s gate receipts “will support the club for the next two or three years,” according to manager Keith Hill — quotes from the Guardian:

“I don’t know how much it is worth but a lot of money has gone into the new pitch. That was a heavy investment for us. Hopefully the money we make will support the club for the next two or three years. We will cut our cloth accordingly and we won’t be in debt.”

As for Steve Davies’ 93rd-minute equalizer, Hill was adamant that it was nothing short of what they “deserved”:

“It was a feeling of reward, not relief, because the performance deserved at least the opportunity for us to go to Wembley for a replay. I’ve always wanted to do that against a Premier League team and manager. Why not take them on and try to win? It could have been football suicide but I thought we gained their respect and to score the goal we did was tremendous. The players were magnificent.”

Tottenham Hotspur, soccer philanthropists.

Try, try again: Messi seeks 1st goal vs. Chelsea in 9th attempt

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LONDON (AP) As unlikely as it sounds, Lionel Messi is still waiting to score his first goal against Chelsea after drawing a blank in eight previous Champions League matches.

The five-time World Player of the Year is likely to get another chance to break his duck this week and Chelsea manager Antonio Conte believes the past will count for little when Barcelona visits Stamford Bridge on Tuesday.

“I hope we maintain this tradition but we are speaking about a fantastic player,” Conte said ahead of the last-16, first-leg Champions League game. “The most important thing is the present.

“We must have great respect but at the same time we must be excited to play this type of game and take on this type of challenge. It won’t be easy because we know very well this player, we are talking about one of the best in the world.”

The teams have produced some epic games in the past although they have not met in the Champions League since Chelsea pulled off a remarkable backs-to-the-wall semifinal victory over Barcelona on the way to winning the trophy in 2012.

Messi missed a penalty in the second leg at the Nou Camp as the London club overcame the first-half dismissal of captain John Terry, and a 2-0 deficit, to draw the game 2-2 and secure an unforgettable 3-2 aggregate win.

Bayern Munich hosts Besiktas in Tuesday’s other game while the following day sees Manchester United traveling to Sevilla, and Shakhtar Donetsk playing host to Roma.

Two weeks ago, the prospect of a Chelsea win over Barca would have been unthinkable after Conte’s men had slumped to successive defeats by two of the Premier League’s lesser lights.

The London club was still smarting from a 3-0 home loss against Bournemouth when it traveled to Watford and succumbed to an embarrassing 4-1 reverse.

Chelsea has got back on track since then, though, easing past West Bromwich Albion 3-0 in the league last Monday before swatting aside second-tier Hull 4-0 in the FA Cup four days later.

Conte has several selection dilemmas. He must choose between captain Gary Cahill and Antonio Rudiger for a place at the back, and between Alvaro Morata and Olivier Giroud up front.

Cesc Fabregas will also be desperate to play against his former team but may have to settle for a spot on the bench.

Barca has lost only once in 38 matches this season since falling in the Spanish Super Cup to Real Madrid in August. It has a seven-point lead at the top of La Liga and has reached the final of the Copa del Rey.

Messi is having another stellar campaign, scoring 27 times in all competitions, and he helped set up two goals in Saturday’s 2-0 win at Eibar.

Philippe Coutinho is ineligible for Barca following his move from Liverpool.

Mourinho claiming injury crisis ahead of CL showdown

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The next three weeks will go a long way toward defining Jose Mourinho’s second season at Manchester United, with the Red Devils facing not only fellow top-four aspirers Chelsea and Liverpool, but also contesting their Champions League round-of-16 tie with Sevilla.

[ MORE: VAR provider admits incorrect graphic displayed on TV ]

Thus, it’s not exactly the most convenient time for the words “injury crisis” to rear their ugly heads yet again, but that’s the challenge Mourinho claims he faces ahead of Wednesday’s CL clash.

Paul Pogba missed Saturday’s FA Cup victory with a last-minute illness; Marcus Rashford is dealing with a leg injury and remains questionable, as are Ander Herrera and Antonio Valencia; Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Marcos Rojo, Phil Jones and Marouane Fellaini are all but officially out, according to Mourinho — quotes from ESPN.co.uk:

“I didn’t rest one single player so we had today every player available here. I didn’t rest anyone. I brought two kids that played on Friday 90 minutes [for the under-23s] because I don’t have another player, so we arrive at this crucial moment with some problems.”

“Can we recover some of them to Wednesday? I believe so. I think Rashford, Herrera, Valencia — I think they have a chance.

“Paul, I don’t know. Marcos Rojo, Phil Jones, Marouane, Zlatan — I don’t think they have any chance.”

Mourinho dealt with a similar rash of injuries very late on last season, as his side barreled its way into, and eventually won, the Europa League final, securing a place in the CL this season. With a top-four finish all but out of reach at the time, Mourinho opted to rest his bare-bones group of first-team regulars in Premier League action and prioritize Europe’s “other” competition.

[ MORE: Man Utd draw Brighton in FA Cup QF; Chelsea get Leicester ]

This time around, United sit second in the PL table, just four points clear of fifth-place Tottenham Hotspur, and the path to winning the CL will prove far more difficult than taking on the likes of Saint-Etienne, Rostov, Anderlecht, Celta Vigo and Ajax.

Serie A: Napoli, Juve hold serve in 1-point title race

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A roundup of all of Sunday’s action in Italy’s top flight…

[ MORE: Barcelona now 31 games unbeaten | Real Madrid 17 points behind ]

Napoli 1-0 SPAL 2013

The battle for Serie A supremacy isn’t ending anytime soon, as Napoli and Juventus continue to match one another (nine straight wins for each side) in Europe’s only remaining major title race.

On Sunday, they even traded 1-0 victories — Napoli at home to SPAL 2013, with Juve triumphing over Torino in the Turin derby.

Brazilian midfielder Allan bagged the only goal for Napoli after just six minutes, finishing off a mesmerizing, free-flowing move that’s become synonymous with Napoli this season. The video-assisting referee came into play just after the hour mark, when Marek Hamsik headed home to make it 2-0 before the VAR wiped it away for offside.

Napoli’s current nine-game winning streak is the longest in club history.

Torino 0-1 Juventus

Juve’s victory came at something of a cost, though, as star striker Gonzalo Higuain was lost to an ankle injury after just a quarter-hour (the injury occurred after just three minutes), followed by a potentially serious knee injury for Federico Bernardeschi, who replaced Higuain, in second-half stoppage time. Higuain isn’t expected to miss significant time, with the club calling it a twisted ankle.

In between the injuries came Alex Sandro‘s 33rd-minute winner, a tap-in from close range masterfully set up by Bernardeschi. One additional positive for Juve: Sunday also saw Paulo Dybala return after missing five weeks with a hamstring injury. The Argentine star entered as a second-half substitute.

“Paulo played 30 minutes at a good level,” Juve manager Massimiliano Allegri said. “I’m pleased with his and everyone else’s performance. This is a good result against a well-organized Torino side.”

Elsewhere in Serie A

AC Milan 1-0 Sampdoria
Atalanta 1-1 Fiorentina
Bologna 2-1 Sassuolo
Benevento 3-2 Crotone