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…

Juventus bumped by Atalanta at the death

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Juventus is still in firm control of the Serie A title race, but they were dealt a slight setback as Atalanta secured a 2-2 draw with a dramatic 89th minute equalizer in Bergamo.

Dani Alves had given Juventus the lead in the 83rd minute on a header after a brilliant far-post cross by Miralem Pjanic, but Remo Freuler answered late as he grabbed a point.

The goal came on a fortunate bounce as Pjanic and substitute Stephen Lichtensteiner got tangled up on the ball and failed to clear, and the ball squirted to Freuler who suddenly found himself free in front of Gianluigi Buffon. The Juventus keeper came off his line to smother the chance, but he failed to completely collect, and the ball again popped free. Freuler followed up the loose ball, and with a trio of Juventus defenders flying in, the 25-year-old Swiss attacker knocked it in.

The draw was deserving for Atalanta, who had controlled the game for much of the first half, and went ahead just seconds before the break on a goal by Andrea Conti. Atalanta outshot Juventus 7-4 in the first half, 3-1 on shots on target. Juventus took over control in the second half, and got back on level terms just five minutes after the break as Juventus loanee Leonardo Spinazzola put one in his own net.

Alves’ goal put Juventus in front, but that lead only lasted six minutes. Juventus goes nine points clear at the top of the Serie A table with the draw, but Roma has the chance to cut that to six if they can beat Lazio at home on Sunday.

MLS Week 8: Litmus tests across the board

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Week 8 in MLS action could teach fans a lot about clubs with plenty to prove.

With questions still abound regarding teams like NYCFC, New England, Seattle, Portland, and New York Red Bulls, all those teams have a chance to make statements regarding their potential strength this season.

[ MORE: Week 8 MLS Power Rankings ]

In addition, struggling teams such as Los Angeles, Minnesota, and Montreal all have opportunities for much-needed points against arguably weaker opposition.

Let’s take a look at the weekend slate chronologically:

Toronto FC vs. Houston Dynamo
7:30 p.m. ET Friday

Toronto got a pair from Giovinco last time out, and sitting near the bottom of the crowded East mid-tier, they need points fast to avoid finding themselves in a hole behind the top of the table. There’s goals in this one, with Houston defensively challenged and Cubo Torres on fire to start the year.

Montreal Impact vs. Vancouver Whitecaps
3:00 p.m. ET Saturday

An all-Canadian clash actually serves as a vitally important match for both clubs. With each side near the bottom of their conference standings, they both need a result badly to jump-start the campaign. A draw does nobody any good here moving forward.

Orlando City vs. Colorado Rapids
4:00 p.m. ET Saturday

The Lions are one of 2017’s surprises, and Cyle Larin is on an absolute tear. Unfortunately, so far, anyone who shuts down Larin shuts down Orlando City. That said, good luck to Colorado shutting down an early MLS Golden Boot challenger.

Cyle Larin has 6 goals in 6 games this season (Photo by Alex Menendez/Getty Images).

NY Red Bulls vs. Chicago Fire
7:30 p.m. ET Saturday

New York has seen bumps on the early-season road, but overall remains a strong Supporter’s Shield contender. They face a big test against another strong Eastern Conference side, and a win here would make it three straight, all over good competition. Chicago is reeling after its defeat to Toronto, out-shot 9-1, but has another chance to pick up a road win before heading back home.

Columbus Crew vs. NYCFC
7:30 p.m. ET Saturday

Columbus has been poor on the road, but they return home to Mapfre Stadium to take on a strong NYCFC side. This game could potentially teach us a lot about whoever comes out on top, as both look to build separation from the rest of the pack in the East. Both have lost two of three, but both still appear strong up front, and three points in this game could prove to be a marquee win to point to later in the season.

Minnesota United vs. San Jose Earthquakes
8:00 p.m. ET Saturday

Minnesota United, owners of one of the worst starts to the season, has shown signs of life. Can they keep it going against another team struggling for points?

FC Dallas vs. Portland Timbers
8:00 p.m. ET Saturday

This is a marquee matchup, and with FC Dallas unbeaten so far, represents a huge test but also a huge opportunity for Portland to announce itself as a true top contender in the West. They’re top of the table, but have played at least one more game than most teams just below them. Can the Timbers find a way through the strong Dallas D?

Sporting KC vs. Real Salt Lake
8:30 p.m. ET Saturday

A big rivalry game with big table implications, Sporting KC has the unfortunate luck of catching RSL after hiring Mike Petke and not before. This should be a fun one.

Seattle Sounders vs. New England Revolution
10:00 p.m. ET Saturday

We still don’t know exactly what New England is. For every step forward they’ve taken one back, and for every setback they’ve had they’ve found a way through. This is a fantastic test. There are plenty of excuses for a potential loss with the team going cross-country to face one of the league’s best attacks, but a result could be a true statement.

LA Galaxy vs. Philadelphia Union
10:30 p.m. ET Saturday

With Philadelphia struggling and now traveling a long way, this should be a chance for the Galaxy to turn things around. Should be.

Atlanta United vs. D.C. United
3:00 p.m. ET Sunday

Atlanta is back home for the first time in over a month. They have slipped a bit since the torrid start, but still appear a dangerous club. D.C. will have its work cut out.

Asian FIFA executive pleads guilty to bribery charges

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A guilty plea was entered early Friday by senior Asian Federation (AFC) official Richard Lai to bribery charges, leading FIFA to suspend the 55-year-old indefinitely.

Lai has served as the head of the Guam FA since 2001, and is a member of the FIFA audit and compliance committee. He was also formerly a member of the AFC executive committee, and currently sits on the AFC marketing committee. Lai is a United States citizen.

The guilty plea confirms more than $1 million in bribes accepted by Lai, including those from Kuwaiti officials looking to increase their influence over FIFA voters in the confederation. Two unnamed AFC executives, including one Kuwaiti, were also named as co-conspirators.

“One of the functions the defendant Richard Lai performed for Co-Conspirator #2 and Co-Conspirator #3 in exchange for the funds they sent him was to advise them on who was supporting which candidates in AFC and FIFA matters, including elections, and who Co-Conspirator #2 and Co-Conspirator #3 should recruit to support their chosen candidates,” a Department of Justice document published on Friday said.

That wording seems to indirectly implicate Qatari executive Mohamed bin Hammam, who was banned for life by FIFA in 2011 for bribery.

“I would like to thank the American authorities for their continued efforts to stamp out corruption from football,” FIFA president Gianni Infantino said in a statement following the plea. “I am happy to confirm once again, that FIFA will provide whatever assistance is needed by the U.S. and any other authorities around the world.”

Lai has also been provisionally suspended by the AFC.

Argentina closes in on Sampaoli, according to FA boss

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The Argentinian FA is hoping to convince Jorge Sampaoli to abandon Sevilla and take the opening in his home nation.

President Claudio Tapia confirmed that Sampaoli is their top target, calling the 57-year-old their “chosen one” in an interview with ESPN.

“We have chosen a coach that has a contract,” Tapia told ESPN. “We want to be respectful and wait because he has a release clause which is once the tournament ends. We will communicate it to the club and we will sit down and negotiate his departure and release clause. We want things to go well in the final games he has left.”

Argentina dismissed coach Edgardo Bauza after the country fell to fifth in CONMEBOL World Cup qualification following defeats to Paraguay, Brazil, and Chile over the past six months.

Sampaoli is under contract with Sevilla until the summer of 2018, but has a $1.6 million release clause, to which Tapia was referring. Sevilla sits in fourth position in the La Liga table, level on points with Atletico Madrid but behind significantly on goal differential. The club finishes its league season on May 21st against Osasuna, and Argentina’s next game is a friendly on June 9th at home against Brazil. The next World Cup qualifier is in August against Uruguay.

Samapoli has been with Sevilla since since last summer in his first European club job, but the Argentinian has ample experience to take over for his home country. He managed Chile for four years, winning the 2015 Copa America in Chile. He resigned in early 2016 due to a contract dispute, paying a heavy price to do so as he gave up bonuses to wriggle free of his contract.

Argentina’s desire to secure Sampaoli as coach is nothing new, as the man himself confirmed an offer for the job a week ago, but said he would not consider it until the end of the season. It appears now that a deal is likely, and he will have a very short turnaround to get his first look at the team against a fierce continental rival.