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.

Cristiano Ronaldo could face tax-fraud charges in Spain

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MADRID (AP) Spanish prosecutors are considering whether Cristiano Ronaldo should face charges over allegations by the country’s tax agency that he defrauded the authorities of 15 million euros ($16.7 million) between 2011 and 2014.

Prosecutors said Thursday they have until the end of June to decide whether to charge the Real Madrid star, based on evidence from an investigation by tax officials.

The alleged irregularities were mostly related to money that Ronaldo had in the Virgin Islands.

Tax officials said Ronaldo adjusted his tax declarations and paid an extra 6 million euros ($6.7 million) in 2014.

Prosecutors said that if they decided to charge him, and if the Portugal captain was subsequently found guilty by a court, he would face a prison sentence of at least 15 months. However, it would be unlikely he would go to jail as a first-time offender.

Barcelona’s Lionel Messi was convicted of tax fraud last year.

Terry: “I couldn’t care less” about 26th-minute farewell criticism

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John Terry is a man who… well, let’s just say, does things his way.

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For instance, remember the time Chelsea won the UEFA Champions League, by beating Bayern Munich, in penalties? Remember Chelsea’s post-game celebrations, which saw Terry, who was suspended for the final at the Allianz Arena, joyously jumping around with his teammates wearing his full kit, shin guards and all?

Was it over the top and a bit silly? Sure it was, but was anyone hurt or genuinely upset by it? Of course not. On Sunday, as Terry said goodbye to the only club he’s ever known (apart from a six-game loan spell at Nottingham Forest in 2000), he toed the line between what’s acceptable and what’s outlandish. Just like in 2012, Terry caused a minor uproar, and just like in 2012 he “couldn’t care less” — quotes from the Guardian:

“I couldn’t care less, I promise you. All I care about is celebrating with my Chelsea fans. Me and them have a wonderful rapport and have done for 22 years. Nothing that people write or say can ever get in the way of that.

“If that’s the way I want to go out, that’s the way I go out because I’ve been here 22 years, I’ve won so many trophies — so if I wanted to play one minute and come off, I would have done.

“I wanted to play 26 minutes because the shirt number means a lot to me and the supporters so as long as they are happy – and I was over the moon with the reception – I promise you I could not care less.”

“It was an unbelievable send-off from the supporters to help me to celebrate 22 years at the club.

“I’m very grateful to them, and it was something I will never forget. It was so emotional after the game, I was in bits.”

There’s something to be said about the success that Chelsea have had as a club, and the way its recency leads them to feel they are perceived by the outside world. Other clubs, “bigger,” most historic clubs — Manchester United, Liverpool and Arsenal, for example — have been winning trophies pretty regularly for decades, while 70 percent of the major trophies (14 of 20) won in the club’s history have come since Roman Abramovich bought the club 14 years ago, in 2003. Chelsea is a 112-year-old football club.

[ MORE: Pogba, Mkhitaryan fire Man United to Europa League trophy ]

Chelsea’s players and fans are so clearly away of their bought-and-paid-for status, thus everything is celebrated on the grandest scale, almost as if to legitimize their accomplishments (which stand up just fine on their own two feet) and standing within the hierarchy of English football. “Contrived” (and admittedly so) is the word that comes to mind and best describes Terry’s send-off.

No one in this space is saying there’s anything wrong with that, but everyone connected to Chelsea must realize and accept that it looks silly to supporters of the aforementioned long-time giants, and they’re going to be pointed at and laughed at every time they do it.

FA Cup: Three key battles between Arsenal, Chelsea

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The FA Cup final usually brings out terrific entertainment for the fans, and this Saturday’s finale should be no different.

When Arsenal and Chelsea take the field at Wembley Stadium, it will be the last chance this season for some of the Premier League’s stars such as Eden Hazard and Diego Costa for Chelsea and Alexis Sanchez and Mezut Ozil for Arsenal to bring glory to their club.

[ MORE: Follow all the FA Cup scores here ]

The match features two teams heading in different directions. Chelsea, the Premier League champions are in the ascendency after a one-year hiatus out of European competition, while Arsenal finished outside the top-four places in the Premier League for the first time in 20 years under manager Arsene Wenger.

In addition, there’s plenty of other storylines to watch on the field, from whether it’s Costa, Sanchez and Ozil’s potential last matches with their respective teams to how Arsenal will deal without two of its three regular centerbacks they’ve used this season.

Here’s a look at three key battles on the field ahead of the FA Cup final:


Arsenal’s centerbacks vs. Diego Costa

Diego Costa may be a thorn in Chelsea’s side off the field when it comes to the constant speculation of a move away from Stamford Bridge, but on the field this season he’s been brilliant. Costa scored 20 goals in the Premier League and another goal in FA Cup action, and he contributes off the ball as well, drawing the defense in towards him while opening up space for teammates including Hazard and Willian.

Heading into Saturday, it’s unclear who on Arsenal will be tasked with marking Costa. Laurent Koscielny was issued a straight red card in Arsenal’s 3-1 win over Everton and will miss the FA Cup final due to suspension while fellow centerback Gabriel left the field on a stretcher after suffering a knee injury. In addition, Shkodran Mustafi is still recovering from a concussion and is a doubt for Saturday.

That leaves Wenger with just Per Mertesacker and Rob Holding as healthy centerbacks, which could force Wenger to revert back to his usual four-man backline from the more recent three-man backline that’s been used.

Regardless of who Arsenal put out there, expect Costa to be at his best, attempting to physically dominate his opponent and get under their skin.


Nemanja Matic and N'Golo Kante vs. Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez

Arsenal are at their best when they play through the middle of the field before finding runners out wide, setting up crossing attempts into the middle or perhaps another chance to play through the lines in the center of the field.

Standing in Arsenal’s playmaking duo of Mezut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez’s way are Nemanja Matic and N’Golo Kante. Kante, as Riyad Mahrez saw last year, does so much of the dirty work defensively that he allows his teammates including Matic and Hazard to bomb forward and either create or finish goal-scoring opportunities.

Kante will have his hands full dealing with Ozil and Sanchez in midfield, and Matic may need to sit a bit deeper to cut off the passing lanes, potentially taking him out of Chelsea’s counter attack.


Eden Hazard vs. Hector Bellerin

For all the speed that Hazard possesses on the ball, there’s at least one player on Arsenal who can keep stride pace-for-pace.

With Hazard likely lining up on the left wing, Arsenal’s right wing back Hector Bellerin will likely face Hazard up one-on-one at both ends of the field, setting up a fun encounter. With Bellerin’s speed and ability to track back, he may be open to a few 40-yard springs into space down the right wing, knowing that Hazard probably won’t be in hot pursuit.

But if Bellerin doesn’t end up with the ball and there’s an Arsenal turnover, Hazard on his own or against a centerback on the left wing could be a nightmare for Arsenal to deal with.

Man United, Man City come together to support terror victims

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The Manchester derby is known as one of the world’s fiercest rivalries, but in the wake of a devastating terrorist attack this week, both sides are joining together to support the city of Manchester and victims of the attack.

Manchester United and Manchester City announced Thursday they pledged together nearly $1.3 million into the We Love Manchester community fund. The fund was set up to assist the families of the 22 people who died and 64 people who were injured in the attack.

“The barbarism of Monday evening’s attack has shocked everyone,” Manchester United executive vice chairman Ed Woodward said in a statement. “Our clubs are right at the heart of our local communities in Manchester and it is right that we present a unified response to this tragedy. The money will help of course but the work of the two clubs and their respective foundation and community scheme can build on the fantastic spirit that Mancunians have shown in the immediate aftermath.”

Folks who want to donate to the fund can visit http://www.redcross.org.uk/manchester or http://www.justgiving.com/campaigns/charity/redcross/ManchesterEmergencyFund.

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