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.

AT HALF: Chelsea strikes twice to build 2-1 lead over Saints

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Gary Cahill‘s stoppage time goal has Chelsea leading Southampton 2-1 after 45 minutes at Stamford Bridge.

Eden Hazard scored the match’s first goal, with Saints’ Oriol Romeu equalizing in the 24th minute.

A win would send Chelsea seven points clear of second place Spurs, which has played one less match than the Blues.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

There were early lively moments for both sides, as Saints’ Manolo Gabbiadini attempted to back up Antonio Conte‘s pre-match praise as one of the best left foots in the world.

Chelsea found the opener through Hazard, as Costa held possession into the right of the box before cutting back to find Belgian. Fraser Forster couldn’t get low quick enough to stop Hazard’s low shot, and it was 1-0.

Romeu, clearly buoyed by JPW’s feature piece earlier this week, bagged an equalized off a corner kick. Gabbiadini sidled up to the ball at the back post, and pushed it off Thibaut Courtois into the path of the former Chelsea man.

Sofiane Boufal was also dangerous for Saints, and won a free for James Ward-Prowse that amounted to a corner kick from the edge of the 16. Courtois flew forward to put the ball free.

N'Golo Kante had his turn to start a threat, and Forster’s block of his cross only queued up a pair of opportunities between Diego Costa and Nemanja Matic.

Cahill made it 2-1 in stoppage time, darting in front of Costa’s scissor kick attempt to nod Marcos Alonso‘s headed pass into the goal.

Ajax’s home stadium to be named after Johan Cruyff

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AMSTERDAM (AP) On the day Johan Cruyff would have turned 70, his home city has agreed to name Ajax’s stadium after the Dutch football great.

Amsterdam Municipality says it has agreed with the stadium and Ajax to change the name of the Amsterdam Arena to the Johan Cruijff Arena – using the Dutch spelling of the Ajax and Barcelona star, who died last year.

[ MORE: JPW’s Midweek Premier League picks ]

Ajax, the stadium’s board and Amsterdam say they “want to pay a worthy tribute to the best footballer Amsterdam and the Netherlands have ever known.”

The agreement announced Tuesday is expected to be finalized within six months.

Born in Amsterdam, Cruyff was the mercurial driving force behind Ajax and Dutch “total football” in the early 1970s. He went on to become a highly successful player and coach at Barcelona.

STREAM LIVE: Leaders Chelsea host Southampton

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Chelsea look to extend their lead atop the Premier League to seven points as they host Southampton on Tuesday (Watch live, 2:45 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com) at Stamford Bridge.

WATCH LIVE ONLINE, HERE

Antonio Conte‘s men can momentarily pull further away from second-place Tottenham, who play on Wednesday at Crystal Palace, and following their FA Cup semifinal victory over Spurs at Wembley on Saturday it would be another huge psychological boost in the title race for the west London club.

As for Southampton, well, they are pushing hard to finish in eighth place and secure a fourth-straight season in the top eight of the PL. Claude Puel‘s men have the quality to cause a big upset and could be tough to break down.

In team news Chelsea have Gary Cahill back from fitness, while Eden Hazard, Diego Costa and Cesc Fabregas all come back into the starting lineup.

Southampton bring back Oriol Romeu from suspension and he replaces Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg, wile Sofiane Boufal comes in for Nathan Redmond out wide.

LINEUPS

Chelsea: Courtois; Azpilicueta, Luiz, Cahill; Moses, Kante, Matic, Alonso; Fabregas, Hazard, Costa. Subs: Begovic, Ake, Terry, Willian, Pedro, Chalobah, Batshuayi

Southampton: Forster; Cedric, Stephens, Yoshida, Bertrand; Romeu, Davis; Ward-Prowse, Tadic, Boufal; Gabbiadini. Subs: Hassen, Caceres, Clasie, Hojbjerg, Redmond, Long, Rodriguez

Premier League Playback: Projecting the top four

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You should’ve seen my face when I worked out the points totals for the four teams in the running for the two remaining UEFA Champions League spots…

Mind. Blown.

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Let’s make an outrageous assumption (it’s basically fact at this point) that Chelsea and Tottenham will finish in the top two places in the Premier League and that Everton, who have played up to three more games than their nearest contenders, are out of this battle for the top four.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings | Schedule

So it’s down to Man City, Man United, Liverpool and Arsenal for the final two places and it could not be tighter as we enter the final weeks of the season.

Judging by the projection below, it could all go down to the final day of the season and none of the four teams below are playing each other. Say no more.


LIVERPOOL
The Reds are wobbling again. Following the 2-1 home defeat to Crystal Palace, their first defeat in eight games, Jurgen Klopp‘s men are under intense pressure in their final four games of the season. They’ve played two more than Man City and Man United below them but the gap to United is now just three points. Without Sadio Mane and Adam Lallana, this ridiculously easy run-in is looking arduous. Liverpool have four cup finals to win and hope for the best. All season long they’ve struggled against the smaller teams and that could cost them dear in the final weeks with bitter rivals United in form.

Toughest game remaining: vs. Southampton (May 7)
Predicted final points total: 74 points (5th place finish, on goal difference)

MAN CITY
It’s all about this Thursday for Man City. Pep Guardiola‘s men have to pick themselves up after the disappointment of losing to Arsenal after extra time in the FA Cup semifinal. After the derby against Man United (who sit one point and one place below City) they finish with three home games in their final five and face teams in eighth or below. Should be easy for City but Guardiola’s men have made life more difficult for themselves than it should be. Expect them to win four of their final six games to seal UCL action next season.

Toughest games remaining: vs. Manchester United (Thursday)
Predicted final points total: 77 points (3rd place finish)

MAN UNITED
Ander Herrera is right when he said that the Manchester derby was the “game of the season” on Thursday. It is a match which United have to win and if they do then their destiny is in their own hands. With long-term injuries to Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Marcos Rojo, plus so many other injury issues as the toll of a run to the Europa League semifinal hits home, Mourinho’s men have surprised everyone to get their top four hopes back on track. If they lose at City then United may just focus on winning the Europa League to get their Champions League spot next season. United have the toughest remaining schedule in the top four battle but it will be close between themselves and Liverpool for the final spot. Having a 23-game unbeaten run in the PL is no mean feat.

Toughest games remaining: at Manchester City (Thursday), at Arsenal (May 6), at Tottenham (May 13)
Predicted final points total: 74 points (4th place finish, on goal difference)

ARSENAL
The Gunners will get plenty of confidence from that FA Cup semifinal win over Man City and it will also give their players plenty to play for in the final weeks of the season as they aim to be in the starting lineup at Wembley. With a trip to Tottenham followed by a home game against Man United in the space of a week, their season will come down to those two games. They have seven matches to play, more than any other team in the PL, and Arsene Wenger may be feeling confident of sneaking into the top four.

Toughest games remaining: at Tottenham (Apr. 29), vs. Manchester United (May 6)
Predicted final points total: 74 points (6th place finish, on goal difference)


Premier League Playback comes out every week as PST’s Lead Writer and Editor takes an alternative look at all the action from the weekend. Read the full archive, here