Desperate times for Spurs, Newcastle flying high – 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” we chat with NBC Sports’ lead soccer announcer Arlo White about Andre Villas-Boas’ treacherous predicament at Tottenham as they welcome Manchester United to White Hart Lane. Newcastle could go into the top four if they beat West Brom and can the Saints shock Chelsea?

(VIEW FROM THE BOOTH ARCHIVE)

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

So, let’s get to it.

Newcastle have quietly gone about their business this season and Alan Pardew’s men can potentially break into the top four if they beat West Brom on NBC at 12:30pm this Saturday. What’s the secret? Fit players? No Europa League? Boat loads of Frenchmen!?

I’m really looking forward to experiencing the atmosphere at St James’ Park again. The whole city of Newcastle is buzzing on a match day, and when the team are doing well, the Toon army take the excitement level up a notch.

Even the most optimistic Newcastle fan must have feared for their side after the Tyne-Wear derby. They’d been beaten again by their nemesis Sunderland and faced a home game against Chelsea next, before traveling to White Hart Lane to face Spurs. It didn’t look too clever.

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Loic Remy is firing on all cylinders up at Newcastle.

All of a sudden, Alan Pardew’s side have sprung to life. Chelsea were beaten handily at home. Goalkeeper Tim Krul played out of his skin to preserve a narrow win at Spurs, and Norwich were beaten 2-1 at St James’ last time out. As if by magic, Pardew is now facing questions about his team’s chances of challenging for the Champions League spots. They start the weekend just two points outside the top four.

Loic Remy has been on fire, scoring 8 goals in his last 8 Premier League games, but as Pardew pointed out last week, Shola Ameobi was the “pick of the bunch.” It doesn’t seem 5 minutes since I interviewed a giant, young and softly spoken Ameobi in the bowels of the Nou Camp after he’d scored Newcastle’s lone goal in a 3-1 Champions League defeat against Barcelona. Sadly for both of us, it was actually 11 years ago. Ameobi is 32 now, I’m considerably older, but he led the line superbly against Norwich and is enjoying his run in the side.

Newcastle are playing well, and their often fatalistic fans will hope they don’t blow it against a team they feel they should beat.

As for West Brom, they’ve been ticking along quite nicely, albeit having drawn a few too many games. They are 8 points behind their electric pace at the same stage last season. Steve Clarke would surely leap in at this point and argue that his side should have won at Stamford Bridge the other week but for the award of THAT penalty, and he would have a valid point. I think it robbed West Brom of a bit of momentum. However, if Shane Long can reproduce his form from the Villa game last Monday night, the Baggies fans might ‘Boing, Boing-ing’ their hearts out at the top of the Leazes Stand come 7:20pm.

Spurs v Manchester United… this game is going to be incredibly tense as Tim Howard joins you for the call on Sunday, 7am ET on NBCSN. We spoke about Spurs’ lack of creativity last week… should Tottenham’s fans be worried?

This is a huge game for Spurs. Their capitulation at Manchester City was alarming, and it capped a body of work so far this season that has increased the scrutiny on AVB.

Before the Manchester mauling, Spurs had progressed steadily if unspectacularly, into the upper reaches of the Premier League. They weren’t scoring many goals, but the saving grace was that they weren’t conceding many either. It took 13 seconds, and then a woeful 90+ minutes to change that situation dramatically.

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Roberto Soldado couldn’t hit a cows backside with a banjo if he tried at the moment…

Spurs still lead the league in clean sheets with seven, but Spurs fans are generally not pragmatists. They want to see free flowing, attacking Football. They don’t want to add “1-0 to the Tottenham” to their match day repertoire, even if 1-0 wins would be a dramatic improvement on not scoring for three entire games for the first time since 2009.

But where will the goals come from? Roberto Soldado has managed one goal from open play in 945 minutes of Premier League Football. Was anyone else surprised to see him play 90 minutes in the freezing conditions in Tromso on Thursday night? Maybe that was a prelude to a spot on the bench in the Premier League, but with the freshly rehabilitated Emmanuel Adebayor struggling with injury and Jermaine Defoe toying with a move away from the Lane, that might be unlikely.

AVB said that he’d toyed with a new 4-4-2 formation before the City game, I wonder if Sunday might be the time to throw a bit of caution to a stiffening wind, in an attempt to give his season a timely jolt.

I also wonder if we might see Ryan Giggs start the first game of his 5th decade on Sunday. He was sublime in Leverkusen on Wednesday night in the Champions League. In the absence of Michael Carrick, Giggs provides David Moyes with experience and poise in the middle of the park, with a fine range of passing. He displays a composure which Fellaini and Cleverley sorely lacked at Cardiff last Sunday.  But can Giggs start two games in five days? Or will be be kept back for the home match against Everton on Wednesday? We shall see.

United are running into form, and aside from a Clint Dempsey-assisted win at Old Trafford last season, Spurs have suffered an horrific run of form against them in the Premier League era. AVB and Spurs need that run to change.

Finally, what else are you looking forward to?

The 10am Eastern games on Saturday are full of intrigue and six pointers. West Ham are desperate to halt their poor recent run of home form, against a vulnerable Fulham. But if the Hammers let another home game slip by without taking the points, they could lurch into the bottom three.

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Can Tony Pulis save Crystal Palace?

Tony Pulis takes charge of Crystal Palace for the first time, at Norwich. The Eagles could inflict a hugely damaging defeat on the Canaries, and if they do so, they’ll climb to within one point of them. Worrying times in East Anglia.

The Sunderland revival under Gus Poyet must gain some momentum soon before they are cut truly adrift in the bottom three. Can they overcome the recent trauma of a 6-1 defeat at Villa Park last season to gain three priceless away points at Villa Park?

Can Southampton get something at Stamford Bridge, or will their testing two game road trip at Arsenal and Chelsea yield nothing? Cardiff v Arsenal is a fascinating one as well. The Welshmen buoyed by their late equalizer against Manchester United, but now pit their energy and combativeness against arguably the silkiest side in the Premier League in Arsenal.

All in all, it’s another cracking Premier League weekend in prospect. Hope you all enjoy it on NBC Sports.

Oxlade-Chamberlain injury update

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Jurgen Klopp does not seem confident that Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain will play again this season.

The Liverpool and England midfielder suffered an injury to his right knee early on in Liverpool’s 5-2 win over Roma in their UEFA Champions League semifinal first leg, as he appeared to extend his right knee under his body when making a challenge on Aleksandar Kolarov.

Speaking to the media following Liverpool’s dramatic win, Klopp was downbeat about Oxlade-Chamberlain’s chances of playing again this season.

“We don’t know exactly but if the medical department are quite concerned without a scan, you can imagine it’s difficult. The season is not that long anymore. It doesn’t look good,” Klopp said. “I’m a very positive person and still hope it only feels bad, but is not that bad. We’ll see. We lost a fantastic player tonight. It’s not good news.”

This injury has come at such a bad time for The Ox.

He has been flourishing with Liverpool in a central midfield role and has delivered key goals and assists in big wins since arriving from Arsenal last summer. Most notably the Ox’s driving midfield runs have caused Manchester City all kinds of problems and he scored two screamers against them in wins at Anfield in the Premier League and UCL.

Georginio Wijnaldum stepped in admirably for Oxlade-Chamberlain against Roma and the Dutch midfielder will be used alongside James Milner and Jordan Henderson from here on out by Klopp, especially with Emre Can battling a back injury.

As for Oxlade-Chamberlain, he will now be focused on trying to be fit for the UCL final on May 26 (if Liverpool get there) and on making England’s 2018 World Cup squad. That seems like a big ask given Klopp’s gloomy assessment.

Wenger: Timing of departure “not really my decision”

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Arsene Wenger has been speaking about his Arsenal departure and there are some intriguing details emerging.

Wenger, 68, announced last Friday that he would be leaving Arsenal at the end of the current 2017-18 campaign after almost 22 years in charge.

But when asked about the timing of his decision during his press conference ahead of the Europa League semifinal first leg against Atletico Madrid on Thursday and whether or not that was helpful, Wenger said it was taken out of his hands.

“The timing was not really my decision, the rest I have spoken about already,” Wenger said. “I focus on what I have to do every day. At the moment, I work like ever.”

Wenger added that he will “for sure” continue to work beyond this season but wasn’t giving anything away on where he would go. The Arsenal boss also said he had a “high opinion of Luis Enrique” but that he didn’t “want to influence the next manager” of Arsenal with so many contenders mentioned as he also confirmed he will have no say on his successor.

What do we make of all this?

Wenger still has one more year left on his current deal at Arsenal and it appears he was keen to be in charge next season, but he could have simply been saying that he would have preferred an announcement at the end of the season rather than before a big European semifinal. His comments can be interpreted either way but many journalists in the room are all suggesting Wenger was talking about the overall decision to step down now.

The growing, and widely reported, notion that Wenger stepped down before he was sacked seems to be on point. After three Premier League titles and 10 major trophies in total in over two decades in charge, it appears Wenger didn’t get to decide when he called time on his Arsenal career.

The perfect end for Wenger at Arsenal would be to win the Europa League and then leave on a high, but these comments suggest the Frenchman may not be happy with some of the hierarchy at Arsenal.

These comments amid links to PSG and the French national team also suggest to rule out a role upstairs at Arsenal, at least for the foreseeable future, for Wenger. Intriguing times ahead.

Roma condemn violent scenes outside Anfield

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AS Roma have condemned an attack from some of its supporters on Liverpool’s fans before the game after a 53-year-old Liverpool supporter was injured outside Anfield before the UEFA Champions League semifinal first leg on Tuesday.

The Serie A side said that a “small minority of traveling fans brought shame on the club” as two men from Rome have been arrested on suspicion of attempted murder after the attack on the Liverpool fan who is in a critical condition after suffering head injuries.

Below is the statement in full from the Italian club.

AS Roma condemns in the strongest possible terms the abhorrent behavior of a small minority of traveling fans who brought shame on the club and the vast majority of Roma’s well-behaved supporters at Anfield after getting involved in clashes with Liverpool supporters before last night’s fixture.

There is no place for this type of vile behavior in football and the club is now cooperating with Liverpool Football Club, UEFA and the authorities. The club’s thoughts and prayers are with the 53-year-old Liverpool fan in hospital and his family at this time.

Salah’s sensational season in context

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Mohamed Salah is having a season on the same level as Lionel Messi.

Some* will even say it’s better.

[ MORE: LFC 2-1 Roma | Klopp reacts ]

There are few ways to overstate how well the Egyptian has performed for Liverpool this season, and few matches have been as strong as Tuesday’s destruction of AS Roma.

Make no mistake about it: Destruction is the right word. I Lupi isn’t dead thanks to the Reds right side of the defense and James Milner‘s arm, but it was fading out of consciousness when Salah departed the game.

It’s not crazy to draw the connection. Just ask Jurgen Klopp:

“If anyone wants to say it is my mistake that we concede the two goals because I change the striker, I have no problem with that,” he said. “Mo was running all the time and it would not have helped us if he gets an injury. What a player. If you think he is the best in the world, write it or say it. He is in outstandingly good shape, world-class shape, but to be the best in the world you need to do it over a longer period, I think. The other two are not bad.”

No, no they are not, but Salah is on their level.

The aesthetics of his first goal were first-class, dinging off the bottom of the cross bar like a vicious swish of a Steph Curry three. When the night ended, Salah had two more goals and two more assists to bring his total to 43 goals and 15 assists in 47 matches. In three more matches, the best player on the planet has 40 and 18 (Ronaldo has 42 and 7 in 39).

[ MORE: LFC supporter in critical condition after Roma attack ]

The reason not to overreact is Luis Suarez’s 2013-14, in which he posted posted 31 goals and 24 assists in 37 games and would’ve arguably made Salah’s season look just “pretty great” if the Reds were in European football (or, one could argue, Suarez wasn’t slowed by the demands of a more congested adventure).

And we also won’t know Salah’s path next season. Take Cristiano Ronaldo’s 2007-08 season, the closest thing we have to Suarez or Salah in this generation. The then-23-year-old posted 42+8 in 49, but took a step back the next season before exploding into space upon debut with Madrid the following season (His second Real campaign, 2010-11, was the first real otherworldly CR7 campaign, with 53+18 in 54).

Salah is the Premier League Player of the Year, and he’s the front-runner for the Ballon d’Or (which is likely to be determined by this summer’s World Cup in Russia, with Argentina and Portugal possibly on a quarterfinal collision course and Egypt in an very winnable Group A with Russia, Uruguay, and Saudi Arabia).

Jurgen Klopp deserves much credit for Salah’s explosion. Even if the Egyptian began his ascent in Italy, there’s been nothing like this. And if he can do it a few more years, he has the chance to land amongst the generational names in soccer (perhaps as the best African player in Premier League history with Yaya Toure and Didier Drogba).

He’ll almost certainly become the all-time single-season Liverpool league goal scorer this season barring rest for the UCL, and he’ll be their top all-time according to Opta if he nabs four or more goals across 4-5 matches (Roma again, Stoke, Chelsea, Brighton, and probably Real Madrid or Bayern Munich).

The Reds were unbelievably good for 80 minutes on Tuesday — 75 of which were Salah-led — and the praise would’ve been flowing like a waterfall had they not switched off for 10 (in which it must be said Liverpool was fortunate to only concede twice!).

*By the way, Messi fans, you’ll be relieved to count me as not one of those who’d say Salah is having a better season. It’s closer than you think. Messi is better than Salah in league play, while Salah is having a superior UCL campaign. Given the general consensus top-to-bottom on Premier League vs. La Liga and Barca’s UCL competition vs. Liverpool’s opponents — which is drawing level now — we’d say it’s even.

Messi vs. Salah league play (per 90, Squawka)
Assists: Messi 0.4-0.31
Key passes: Messi, 2.16-1.63
Chances created: Messi, 2.56-1.94
Attack score: Messi, 73.04-54.5
Possession score: Messi, 5.6 to minus-5.12
Pass completion (%): Messi, 81-77
Shot accuracy: Even (62%)
Tackles won: Salah, 0.24-0.2
Take-ons won (%): Messi, 69.47-64.96

Messi vs. Salah league play (per 90, Squawka)
Assists: Salah, 0.45-0.23
Key passes: Salah, 2.13-1.72
Chances created: Salah, 2.58-1.95
Attack score: Salah, 70.89-55.69
Possession score: Messi, 2.71 to minus-3.34
Pass completion (%): Messi, 81-73
Shot accuracy(%): Salah, 73-69
Tackles won: Messi, 0.69-.45
Take-ons won (%): Salah, 76.4-61.4