Manchester City title favorites, Arsenal surging – 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 the latest edition of “View from the Booth” NBC Sports’ lead soccer announcer Arlo White talks about Tottenham vs. Chelsea, Manchester City and Arsenal’s title credentials and much more Premier League news.

(MORE: View from the Booth Archive)

You can hear Arlo calling live games this weekend on NBC and NBC Sports Network, and watch every single game available live online via NBC Sports Live Extra,

Let’s get to it.

Are you still in shock after Manchester City comprehensively dismantled Manchester United? And do you think Manuel Pellegrini’s side can sustain that level of play throughout the season?

The thought crossed my mind after 50 minutes, when Samir Nasri put City 4-0 up, that we might see the sort of seismic, once in a generation result that Manchester United achieved themselves in thrashing Arsenal 8-2 a couple of seasons ago. City were tearing United apart and had achieved a level of performance beyond anything we’ve seen in the Premier League so far this season. To United’s (and Wayne Rooney’s) great credit, they displayed defiance in the face of humiliation and great pride in playing for such a successful and significant club. In addition however, Yaya Toure took a bit of a breather in the center of the park after his hitherto awesome display, which did let United off the hook.

Vincent Kompany was incredible. An absolute rock at the back. Did you see his lung busting run into the United penalty area before Navas crossed for Nasri’s goal? It distracted me on the call, and clearly upset the United defense. It was an incredible display of desire and athleticism, and it was a finger in the eye to the convention of center backs knowing their place.

source: Reuters
Can Manuel Pellegrini bring Premier League success to the Etihad?

I could reel off a list of City names who excelled, but to Kompany and Toure I would add Aguero, Kolorov, Navas and Negredo as those having stupendous games.

Can they keep it up? They won’t play like that every week that’s for sure. I have a theory that teams who carry a genuine threat in wide areas (pace, guile, touchline hugging wingers) have a wonderful chance of success this season, as the trend seems to be to play more narrow in the attacking third of the pitch, which is clogging up the space. City have width (Navas is fantastic) and that is part of the reason they have to be favorites to regain their Premier League title this season.

With Arsenal now winning eight on the bounce in all competitions since that opening day loss to Aston Villa, are they the title favorites? That vibe has started to gather momentum in the past few days, but do you expect that game at Swansea to be their biggest test yet?

No, I think City are favorites, but Arsenal are in the mix for sure. Whilst prepping to call the Swansea v Arsenal match, I was reminded of just how much attacking talent Arsene Wenger has at his disposal in his midfield alone. Mesut Ozil is world class. Aaron Ramsey has scored 7 goals in 7 matches this season, and not only that, he is second in the Premier League in touches (behind Yaya Toure) and equal first in tackles (with Lucas of Liverpool). Santi Cazorla and Mikel Arteta will see Premier League action again soon. Jack Wilshere will be the best English midfielder of his generation. Tomas Rosicky it still a talent. Then there’s the injured duo of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Theo Walcott. It’s an embarrassment of riches.

However, it’s a different story up front.  Olivier Giroud has produced the goods so far, but there has been recent talk of a knee problem.  If he succumbs to that issue, another injury, or just a simple barren run of form, then the Gunners are in a spot of bother. Niklas Bendtner played his first Arsenal match for 767 days at West Brom on Wednesday in the League Cup. In Niklas Bendtner’s mind, Niklas Bendtner is the greatest player that ever walked the planet, so let’s see if his talent can eventually break the shackles of the reality that he’s been decent, full of promise, but ultimately disappointing so far. Arsenal might need him.

The big game this weekend is of course Tottenham vs. Chelsea early on Saturday. Will this match act as a measuring stick to see if both teams can challenge for the title, like they think they can? 

source: Getty Images
Jose Mourinho vs. Andre Villas-Boas… who will come out on top?

I’ve seen more of Chelsea (3 games) so far this season, than I’ve seen of Spurs (0 games). Chelsea’s squad is packed with talent, but it is taking time for Jose Mourinho to mold them into the team he wants, and the process is producing as much selection controversy as it is Premier League points. I cannot wait to see if Juan Mata features in this game. He had a good run out at Swindon in the League Cup, but it’s the Premier League that matters, so is Jose ready to give him another go? We shall see. It’s an issue that is beginning to dominate the agenda with Chelsea, and not in a positive way.

Mourinho has his ‘anointed one’ in Oscar. The young Brazilian responded very well to his elevation with a good performance against Fulham. He was always keen to receive the ball and also worked hard when Chelsea didn’t have it. I thought Fernando Torres looked lively and confident when he came on in that match. I wonder if he is about to embark on a decent run of goals?

Look at Spurs. Bale has gone but they have won 8 of their 9 matches so far this season, scoring 22 goals and conceding just 1. But that ‘1’ was a crucial goal to give away. It was scored by Olivier Giroud and it won the North London derby for Arsenal. Can Spurs win the big one? History suggests not, they’ve only beaten Chelsea three times in 42 Premier League encounters, but this is the time for them.

Their squad is packed with talent.  Soldado, Paulinho, Lamela, Eriksen etc have added a different dimension to the club. If they can beat Chelsea, and look convincing in doing so, it’ll set tongues wagging that perhaps they might be involved in the title race down the stretch.

Are you sad to see Paolo Di Canio exit the Premier League? Do you think he was given a fair crack of the whip? And who would you like to see replace him? 

I wouldn’t say that I’m sad and I certainly wouldn’t say that I’m surprised. We spoke to Jozy Altidore before the season started and when I asked him about Di Canio’s methods he replied “Err, it’s different.” Jozy was extremely diplomatic, but I read between the lines that Di Canio’s idiosyncratic methods might lead to trouble ahead.

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Paolo Di Canio’s departure wasn’t a huge surprise. What now for Sunderland?

His reaction after the final whistle at the Hawthorns was simply bizarre. It was his Phil Brown moment. I just didn’t understand what he was trying to achieve. Was he thanking the fans for their support? If so, why didn’t he approach them closer? Was his posture defiant or actually quite aggressive? If it was intended to placate a disgruntled away end it failed catastrophically. Sunderland came out of the game with more concern about their form and more evidence that their manager was a loose cannon, so they acted.

Do you remember last year when Brian McDermott and Nigel Adkins lost their jobs at Reading and Southampton at relatively early stages of the season?  There was uproar. In contrast, the sacking of Di Canio just 5 games into the season was greeted with a collective and knowing nod that said we all expected it.

After going through Roy Keane, Ricky Sbragia, Steve Bruce, Martin O’Neill and now Paolo Di Canio since the start of the 2008/09 season, Sunderland need a period of stability.  Their next appointment is absolutely vital.

What about Martin Jol at Fulham, he must be worried? It is ridiculously early to talk about sackings, but the Cottagers have looked pretty woeful in recent weeks. Is there now too much pressure to start the season well, what with the even bigger financial incentives?

There is pressure that’s for sure. We’ve already seen one ‘MJ’ removed from Craven Cottage this week, but thankfully for Jol, it was the Michael Jackson statue from outside the stadium.

It’s far too early to really assess Fulham this season. They were beaten at home by Arsenal, who we now know are a terrific side this year. They’ve also traveled to Chelsea and lost. I wonder what could have been if Darren Bent had scored with that great first half chance?

But, where there is Berbatov and Bent, Parker and Sidwell, Hangeland and Riether, there is hope.

Fulham have a crucial run of 4 games now, after which, we’ll know more about their prospects this season. They face Cardiff at home this weekend, and follow that with Stoke (H), Crystal Palace (A) and Southampton (A). Those are all teams that the Cottagers will be competing with, so they must gather a decent haul of points.

Finally, what are you really looking forward to this weekend?

For me, it’s the game at the Liberty Stadium between Swansea and Arsenal on Saturday afternoon (12:30pm ET).  I can’t wait to call this one on NBC with Graeme Le Saux. The last time we were in South Wales we were treated to a terrific match between the Swans and Liverpool that’ll be forever known as the ‘Shelvey game’. This game could be even better.

source: Getty Images
Michu and Swansea are back in form, can they beat Arsenal on Saturday?

Swansea are so impressive.  Michu has started scoring goals again and they seem to have a batch of wonderfully inter changeable Spaniards! I really liked Pozuelo when he came on against Liverpool. But I also liked Pablo Hernandez when he came on against Manchester United on opening day.

Swansea have had a busy run of games. They followed the Liverpool match on a Monday night with a game in Valencia on Thursday, then they were in London on Sunday to face Palace, before a midweek trip to Birmingham in the League Cup. They will be happy to be at home (where they are due a win in the Premier League), and Michael Laudrup has rotated the squad very effectively.

This is a massive test for both sides, but it’s got all the purest ingredients to satisfy the appetites of neutral fans who like purposeful passing Football. Don’t miss it!

Enjoy the Premier League weekend everybody…

Barcelona plan Cruyff tribute at club’s training center

Photo by Alex Caparros/Getty Images
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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) One year after his death, Barcelona says it will name the future stadium at its training center after Dutch great Johan Cruyff.

The new stadium at Barcelona’s training center just outside the Catalan city will be called “Johan Cruyff Stadium” in honor of the club’s former player and coach.

Barcelona says in a statement that “the most emblematic building in the facility where future Barca players are coached is to be named after somebody who played such a central role in fostering youth talent at the club.”

Barcelona also says it will commission a “commemorative sculpture” of Cruyff, who died of lung cancer on March 24 last year at age 68. The statue will be placed at Barcelona’s main Camp Nou stadium.

Cruyff is largely credited with launching Barcelona’s era of trophy success, both as a player and a coach.

As a player, Cruyff joined Barcelona midseason in 1973 and led the middle-of-the-table team to its first national title in a decade.

He later returned as a coach and guided Barcelona to four consecutive Spanish leagues from 1991-94 and the club’s first European Cup in 1992.

“I think the tributes are very warming,” said Cruyff’s son, Jordi Cruyff. “It sort of changes the sadness that we might feel as family to lose a father, a husband and a grandfather. It changes to a certain kind of pride to understand that he left something behind.”

MLS Snapshot: Defense optional — Crew SC outlast Timbers, 3-2

AP Photo/Bryan Woolston
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The game in 100 words (or less): As far as teams who get out in the open field and score the lion’s share of their goals on the counter-attacking, there aren’t many MLS teams better than Columbus Crew SC and the Portland Timbers. The two sides met Saturday night at MAPFRE Stadium, site of their MLS Cup 2015 clash, and lived up to their reputations. Of the five goals scored, two were notched on flat-out counters and two more came to pass through quick transitional movements. Portland (9 points) dropped their first points of the season, falling 3-2 to goals scored by Justin Meram, Ola Kamara and Niko Hansen, while Crew SC have back-to-back wins and find themselves level on points (7) with the New York Red Bulls with each side having played four games.

[ MORE: Saturday’s MLS (afternoon) roundup ]

Three Four Five moments that mattered

4′ — Asprilla opens the scoring early on — 2017 Crew SC defending, same as 2016 Crew SC defending.

11′ — Meram fires home the rebound for 1-1 — One of Portland’s biggest weaknesses last season was their set-piece defending. Looks like not much has changed.

19′ — Higuain feeds Kamara for a 2-1 lead — The question mark that Portland will eventually have to answer is this: How much, if at all, have they improved defensively in the open field? Based on this Crew SC counter-attack, the answer might be “not much.”

45+3′ — Adi recovers to make it 2-2 — Everything Adi does these days (even the bad things, like this first touch) ends up being good.

84′ — Hansen cleans up at the back post for 3-2 — Jake Gleeson made a spectacular reaction save to deny Kamara his second goal of the game, but the rookie, making his MLS debut, was in the right place at the right time.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverageStandings | Stats | Schedule ]

Men of the match: Wil Trapp

Goalscorers: Asprilla (4′), Meram (11′), Kamara (19′), Adi (45+3′), Hansen (84′)

Andorra’s 11-year, 58-game losing streak is over

Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images
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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) Rarely has a scoreless stalemate in front of the home fans tasted so sweet.

But 11 years of nothing but losing will do that to a team.

Andorra’s 0-0 draw with fellow minnow Faroe Islands in World Cup qualifying on Saturday ended its run of 58 competitive defeats.

It was the first point in qualifying for the Pyrenees mountain principality, population 80,000, since a scoreless draw with Finland in 2005.

Faroe Islands finished with 10 men after Joan Edmundsson was booked a second time with 15 minutes to play.

World Cup qualifiers: Dutch disaster persists; Greece hold Belgium

AP Photo/Armando Franca
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A roundup of all of Saturday’s World Cup qualifying fixtures, as Groups A, B and H hit the halfway point in Europe…

[ MORE: USA 6-0 Honduras | Three things we learned | Player ratings ]

Bulgaria 2-0 Netherlands

Spas Delev scored both Bulgarian goals (5th and 20th minutes) to secure all three points and send Danny Blind’s Netherlands side (7 points) into fourth place in Group A, six points back of leaders France and three back of second-place (qualifying playoffs) Sweden.

17-year-old Matthijs de Ligt was handed his international debut for the Dutch; he was ultimately at fault for both of Delev’s goals; he was subbed off at halftime (as was Georginio Wijnaldum).

Luxembourg 1-3 France

Olivier Giroud scored twice (28th and 77th minutes) for France, and Antoine Griezmann added the other (37th minute – penalty kick), as Les Bleus maintained their three-point lead in Group A. Kylian Mbappe, Monaco’s 18-year-old rising star, made his international debut in the 78th minute, when he replaced Dimitri Payet.

Portugal 3-0 Hungary

Cristiano Ronaldo bagged the 69th and 70th goals of his international career (36th and 65th minutes), as Portugal (12 points) kept pace with an unbeaten Switzerland side (15 points) which managed a 1-0 victory over Latvia to keep their 100-percent record intact. Andre Silva scored the opener (32nd minute) for Portugal, the 21-year-old Porto striker’s fifth goal in six international appearances.

Belgium 1-1 Greece

Romelu Lukaku‘s 89th-minute rescued a point for Group H leaders Belgium (13 points), but it did little to mask an otherwise uninspiring performance from Roberto Martinez’s side. Kostas Mitroglu put Greece ahead in the first minute of the second half, but Panagiotis Tachtsidis saw his second yellow of the game in the 65th minute, and that was the start of Greece’s unraveling. The draw was just enough to keep Greece (11 points) in second, ahead of Bosnia-Herzegovina, whose 5-0 thrashing of Gibraltar moved them to 10 points with a superior goal differential.

Elsewhere in UEFA’s World Cup qualifying

Group A

Sweden 4-0 Belarus

Group B

Switzerland 1-0 Latvia
Andorra 0-0 Faroe Islands

Group H

Bosnia-Herzegovina 5-0 Gibraltar
Cyprus 0-0 Estonia