Week 5: “View from the Booth” with Arlo White

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This weekend the voice of soccer on NBC Sports is back in action as the Premier League returns following the recent international break.

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 the latest edition of “View from the Booth” NBC Sports’ lead soccer announcer Arlo White talks about Everton vs. Chelsea on Saturday as Jose Mourinho squares off with Roberto Martinez. Arlo also discusses the U.S. national team and their chances in Brazil and how Liverpool can keep their fantastic early season run going.

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With four live games on NBC and NBC Sports Network this weekend, and every single games available live online via NBC Sports Live Extra, you have no excuse to not get back into the Premier League spirit.

Okay let’s get to it with this weeks questions, over to Arlo.

Well Arlo, the international break is over. It seems like an age since we had some Premier League games to talk about. You will be at Goodison Park for Everton vs. Chelsea on Saturday, who do you expect from this game?

Firstly, it’ll be great to be calling games again after the International break. This match-up is fascinating on so many levels.

Everton need a win. It’s simple. They weren’t handed a horrible start to the season, but they’ve only managed three consecutive draws against Norwich, West Brom and Cardiff. Now Everton fans, is your glass half full (it’s an unbeaten start, you haven’t conceded a goal in the last two games, no team has had more possession this season than your 64% and you’ve still got Leighton Baines)? Or is it half empty (we haven’t scored for 205 minutes, we haven’t won a game yet and we lost Felliani to Manchester United)?

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Mirallas is one of the stars at Goodison who must rise to the challenge after losing Fellaini.

It’ll be fascinating to see how Everton fans react tomorrow. They’ve enjoyed some big wins against Chelsea in recent years at Goodison Park, earned through good play and ferocious spirit. Will they be patient if all is not going well and their team aren’t getting the ball forward quickly enough for their liking?

I’m sure they will. They know their Football, and they know it’s a process. Everton wasn’t nicknamed the ‘School of Science’ for nothing.

As for Chelsea, who is going to start up front? Will it be Torres? Will it be Eto’o? Will Juan Mata feature? Will there be a debut for Willian? Will Frank Lampard feature? Will my question mark button still be working next week? It’s been a big week for Frank after earning his 100th cap for England, but he’s played 7 matches already this season for club and country. He only played 45 minutes for England v Scotland but then played all 120 minutes for Chelsea v Bayern Munich. He may be due a rest in this one, especially given that Chelsea start their Champions League campaign on Wednesday.

And then on Monday your back in South Wales to see if Liverpool can keep their good run going against Swansea. Do you see another 1-0 win coming up for Brendan Rodgers’ men against his former club?

What are the odds on another Liverpool win, with Daniel Sturridge scoring the only goal? Does lightning strike four times? Rodgers will be desperate for Sturridge to be fit as he’s on an incredible run. It’s hard to believe after Liverpool dug their heals in so doggedly to keep Luis Suarez from the clutches of Arsenal, that a debate has started about whether the Uruguayan will actually get his place straight back when his ban ends.

Liverpool have been superb defensively. Mignolet has been fantastic in goal. Between them, Toure, Agger and Skrtel have been solid at centre back. But the engine room for Liverpool is the axis between Lucas and Gerrard at the base of midfield. They dictate the pace of the game, and have done so to great effect so far. Ahead of them, they have the likes of Sturrdige, Coutinho, Aspas and Henderson, who you’d back to nick a goal. It’s the solidity of the back seven that protect those slender leads. I’m sure Liverpool will be more expansive as the season progresses, but right now, a controlled approach based on possession and pressing is working very nicely.

I’m sure Rodgers will get a decent reception back in Swansea. For the home side, Michu needs a Premier League goal. He’s failed to find the net in the league so far this season, and only has one one in his last 7. I’m sure it’s just a blip, and the Swans will be hoping to build on that cathartic and nerve settling away win at West Brom.

Talking about 1-0 wins, would Manchester United take that scoreline against Crystal Palace at home on Saturday? That opening day win against Swansea must seem like a long time ago for David Moyes’ side.

Of course he would. This is an important game for Manchester United. If they slip up, they will take that disappointment to Manchester City next weekend for the Derby. I’m sure David Moyes and United fans everywhere would love a thumping 6-0 win at Old Trafford, but I bet secretly he’d be delighted with a relatively routine 2-0 victory, and bank the three points.

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Is Shinji Kagawa the set to play in a new-look United midfield alongside Marouane Fellaini?

I have a couple of questions re United. If they weren’t interested in Mezut Ozil because they already have Shinji Kagawa, are we going to see the Japan International start a game? And now that he’s signed a new long term deal, is it time that Nani stepped up and fulfilled that attacking potential?

As for Palace, their manager Ian Holloway was in typically great form when the NBC team spoke to him on the telephone the other day. He said, “I’m down here in the gutter but I’m looking up at the stars.” The man is a pure quote machine! I thoroughly enjoyed our trip to Selhurst Park for the Sunderland game two weeks ago. It was a golden sunlight evening in South London and Palace played a vibrant brand of Football and got their fans jumping with a 3-1 win. The atmosphere was brilliant. In Midfielder Mile Jedinak, they have a player who may turn a few heads this season. Ollie may face a fight to keep him in January.

An intriguing battle will take place up at the Stadium of Light this weekend, with Sunderland desperate for their first win and Arsenal rolling into town with new superstar Mesut Ozil set to make his debut. Do you think it’s too early for Sunderland fans to be worried?

No. I suspect they are a little concerned already. There is no doubt that Paolo Di Canio is an excellent coach, but his challenge will be to mesh together a disparate group of new signings in spite of his somewhat idiosyncratic methods. It was a tough night at Selhurst Park last time out, but one positive was the return to the field and then the goal scoring charts for Steven Fletcher.

After he ducked out of heading a Stewart Downing cross at Palace, will we see Jo Dong-Won in a Sunderland shirt in the near future?

After all the celebrations in the United States following World Cup qualification, how far can Jurgen Klinsmann’s men go at Brazil 2014? Many are suggesting that qualification is only the start for Klinsmann’s squad.

The USA were so impressive on Tuesday night in Columbus. They completely bossed that game game against Mexico. The players knew the tactical plan and they executed it with authority.

Having watched England labor to string two passes together in Kiev earlier that evening, it was refreshing to see the US possess the ball with such confidence. It gave them a great platform in the game but it also further demoralized Mexico, who stumbled around looking bewildered and thoroughly beaten for most of the 2nd half. It hasn’t been smooth sailing for Jurgen Klinsmann, but he has broken this team in now, like a very good drill sergeant. The personalities that are in his squad now are the ones who have embraced his methods and philosophy, and they are an infinitely stronger team for it.

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Find out how far Arlo thinks the U.S. national team can go.

The result against Mexico was thoroughly deserved, and was achieved without Michael Bradley, Jozy Altidore and Geoff Cameron, so they will be stronger still. I wonder if Mix Diskerud has a bigger role for the national team in his future? He looks to the manor born in International Football, so maybe a move from Rosenborg is on the cards soon.

The Finals are still a long way away and we are still months away from the draw, but on current evidence, I’d be shocked if the USA didn’t make it out of their group. From then onwards, who knows? (ps – Ghana can still quality, eeek!)

Staying with World Cup qualification, what do you make of England being lambasted for their negative approach in the 0-0 draw with Ukraine?

A point away from home, in a hostile environment like Kiev, when the home side have a massive incentive to win the game, is a very good point, and one that Roy Hodgson would have been satisfied with before the game. However, the method through which that point was achieved was, I’m afraid, deeply concerning and not very surprising.

It’s one thing to gain a point on the road by controlling the game. Keeping the ball for periods frustrates, and extracts the sting from the opposition and quietens a crowd. It’s quite another to completely fail to retain possession, repeatedly hand Ukraine the ball, and hope that you can defend successfully for 90 minutes. There is no doubt that the England team have spirit and tenacity and are difficult to beat (which is something to celebrate), but I just don’t understand why some very good Premier League players struggle to play together in a cohesive manner. Sure, they were missing key attacking players like Rooney, Sturridge and Welbeck, but the likes of Gerrard, Wilshere, Lampard, Milner et al, should be able to keep the ball for periods shouldn’t they?

England got away with it in Kiev because Ukraine are fairly average.

So far, they have only beaten Moldova and San Marino, yet they still lead the group and control their own destiny. I’m confident that with their stars back (fingers crossed) and two big Wembley crowds behind them, they can get the 6 points they need against Montenegro and Poland to qualify for Brazil, but my word it’s been a painful journey.

Premier League notes: Wanyama, Bolasie return after long layoffs, Sakho injured

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Two Premier League clubs saw a pair of players return to the field after long spells on the sidelines.

Tottenham revealed that Victor Wanyama took part in training on Monday for the first time since suffering a knee injury in late August, which has kept him off the field since then. Wanyama started in both of Tottenham’s first two fixtures of the season before the injury.

[ MORE: Premier League stats ]

At the same time in the northwest of England, Yannick Bolasie returned to the field for Everton’s reserves for the first time since suffering a torn ACL last December against Manchester United. Everton manager Sam Allardyce hinted recently that Bolasie could even make the first team subs bench before the end of the calendar year as he continues his rehab.

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Report: Sporting KC on verge of signing French midfielder Croizet

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Sporting Kansas City could be adding some European flair to its midfield this offseason.

According to multiple reports, the MLS club is in negotiations to sign French midfielder Yohan Croizet, who currently plays for Belgian first division side KV Mechelen. Croizet, who reportedly cost Mechelen a transfer fee worth more than $1 million, has started all 15 games he’s played for his side this season but has been substituted off on seven occasions and Mechelen are currently struggling in the league, sitting in 13th place with 18 points from 18 games.

Croizet hasn’t played since November 17, and appears on his way out.

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Sporting Kansas City coach Peter Vermes, a Hungarian-American, is no stranger to the European market and has brought over plenty of diamonds in the rough from Europe to star with Sporting KC. Some previous examples, though in different positions from Croizet, include current winger Gerso, Krisztián Németh, Uri Rosell, and Aurelien Collin.

It will be interesting to see where Croizet plays in the Sporting KC side should it sign him, and how he works with Benny Feilhaber, who is turning 33-years old in January.

Arsenal lands Ostersunds in Europa League draw

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Arsenal will face a team with an English connection in the UEFA Europa League Round of 32.

The Gunners were paired with Swedish side Ostersunds in the Europa League knockout stage draw Monday, with matches set to be played on February 15 and February 22. Ostersund are managed by Englishman Graham Potter, who played in the Championship and lower in England before starting his managerial career with Ostersunds in 2010 in the fourth tier of Swedish soccer.

[READ: UCL draw+analysis]

Ostersunds surprised many earlier this year winning the Swedish Cup to qualify for the Europa League, and then advanced out of a group that included Hertha Berlin and Athletic Bilbao.

It represents an interesting draw for Arsenal, which will have to balance the squad during a tough February. The weekend prior to the first-leg match is the second leg of the North London derby against Tottenham, and following the second match with Ostersunds is a showdown with Manchester City.

Here’s a look at how the rest of the draw shook out:

Champions League last 16 draw sets up huge clashes

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The Round of 16 draw for the UEFA Champions League did not disappoint.

[ MORE: Champions League schedule

We have some monster clashes with Chelsea facing Barcelona, once again, and the reigning champs Real Madrid paired with the favorites Paris Saint-Germain.

With five Premier League teams remaining, Tottenham have been handed a tough draw against Italian champions Juventus who were also runners up in the UCL last season, while Manchester City, Manchester United and Liverpool will all be rather happy with their draws.

United have been drawn against Spanish side Sevilla, Liverpool will face FC Porto and Man City clash with Basel.

Below is the draw in full, while UEFA has also released the schedule for the games with Man City, Spurs, Liverpool and Man United all playing their second legs at home.