NBC's lead soccer announcer Arlo White

Desperate times for Spurs, Newcastle flying high – View from the Booth, with Arlo White

2 Comments

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.

source: Getty Images
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.

source: Getty Images
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.

source: Getty Images
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.

Rafa Benitez to have total control at Newcastle, including player sales

NEWCASTLE, ENGLAND - MAY 15:  Rafa Benitez Newcastle United manager reacts during the Barclays Premier League match between Newcastle United and Tottenham at St James Park on May 15, 2016 in Newcastle, England. (Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty images)
Getty Images
Leave a comment

Usually, when teams are relegated to the Championship, squad salaries must be reevaluated to make ends meet, often meaning the axe for players who are deemed too costly.

That won’t be the case with Newcastle next season.

With manager Rafa Benitez back on board with the hopes of navigating the Magpies back to the Premier League as quickly as possible, owner Mike Ashley has handed Benitez the reigns.

Benitez confirmed he will have complete, unmitigated control of the squad roster in exchange for his services.

“What I have is the assurance that if I don’t want to sell any players I don’t have to,” Benitez said in his second unveiling as Newcastle manager. “We can keep all the players who we want to.”

But that’s not all. “For football business I will have responsibility. But the main thing is that I have had assurances we will have a strong team. We will have a winning team and the fans have to be sure I will try to build a strong squad. If I am sat here it is because I am sure we can do it. To clarify I am a person who likes to talk. But if I have to take responsibility I will, no problem.”

This is not only big news for anyone relegated to the Championship, but especially big news for a Mike Ashley club. Not even Sam Allardyce or Alan Pardew were given this type of total control of the club. Ashley knew he had little leverage with such a big name having fallen out of the Premier League, and he needed to make concessions to get his man.

Fernando Torres, back from the depths, can become a Champions League leader

VALENCIA, SPAIN - MAY 08:  Fernando Torres of Atletico de Madrid looks on during the La Liga match between Levante UD and Atletico de Madrid at Ciutat de Valencia on May 8, 2016 in Valencia, Spain.  (Photo by Manuel Queimadelos Alonso/Getty Images)
Getty Images
Leave a comment

His days in England are well past him. From Liverpool superstar to Chelsea flop, the unconventional route the 32-year-old’s career has taken has all led to this.

Yes, Fernando Torres has a Champions League winners’ medal, but it did not come in the fashion many believed he was destined for when he peaked at Anfield. A shell of his former self at Stamford Bridge, he was second-fiddle to fan-favorite Didier Drogba during the 2011/12 run Chelsea made through the competition. Ridiculed by plenty all across England for his YouTube-worthy misses and sleepy performances, Torres was run out of Stamford Bridge with just his medal to accompany him.

“This is the most important game of my life,” Torres emphatically claimed Wednesday morning ahead of Saturday’s final against Real Madrid in Milan. “A chance to write a page that has never been written in 113 years of Atlético’s history. I have the chance to make my dream come true, a dream I had as a kid, to win this cup with this club”.

Torres does not speak as if this is his team, because it is not his team. Despite his dominance at Liverpool, Torres will never be a standout player on a Champions League final caliber squad. Those days are well in the past. Now, Torres knows his place in the squad, an important cog in an engine with no one part more valuable than the other. Such is the way of Diego Simeone.

“I knew I was risking everything by coming back here to Atletico Madrid,” Torres said. “A lot of people thought it couldn’t get better for me here, but I knew the group I was coming into. I knew this group was destined for something big and I wanted to be part of it.”

For all the praises Simeone gets for his teams’ fitness, grit, and defensive prowess, bringing Torres back from the depths of obscurity might be one of his most underrated achievements. The ridicule Torres was forced to endure towards the end of his time in England can break a person. But Torres somehow managed to stay afloat despite the demons lapping at his ankles, and Simeone pulled him ashore. Now, reborn, Torres has finally shown flashes of his former self that only Anfield remembers. Across April and May, Torres bagged six goals and two assists in eight appearances – all starts – to close out the La Liga season. The Spaniard also fed the ball that sprung Antoine Griezmann free for the goal that won the semifinal against Bayern Munich.

No longer a star but still a valuable piece of the puzzle, Torres is right where he belongs. While his time with Chelsea brought him that medal so many legends in the game fail to achieve, he knows now is where his legacy will truly be judged. “The past can only help you get better,” Torres said. “We only think about Milan, which is the present.”

The key word being “we.” For his entire club career, the narrative surrounding Torres had always been about himself, from superstardom at Liverpool to the abuse he suffered after. Now with a “we” to fall back on, it’s time for Torres to play the most important game of his life.

Copa America 2016 preview, Group B: Brazil, Ecuador, Peru, Haiti

Brazil's Willian, left, and United States’ Alejandro Bedoya contend for the ball during the first half of an international friendly soccer match Tuesday, Sept. 8, 2015, in Foxborough, Mass. (AP Photo/Stephan Savoia)
AP
Leave a comment

Brazil

They’ve won five Copa America titles with the last in 2007, but in their previous two Copa campaigns Brazil hasn’t made it past the quarterfinal stage. Despite not having captain and talisman Neymar around they’ll be one of the favorites this summer.

Star player: Douglas Costa – The winger was in fine form for Bayern Munich this season and along with Willian he will be a real threat in support of Hulk.

They will sweep all before them because… They have a huge number of talented attacking midfielders who can rip teams apart on their own. Together it could get rather silly. Expect them to be in the final four.

Really, though, Dunga will be on the hot seat in July: The one thing that stands out about this team is the lack of goals. Only one player in the entire squad has double figures (Hulk, with 12) and anything less than winning a major title is always treated with despair by the Brazilian population. If they don’t win either Copa America Centenario or the gold medal at Rio 2016, Dunga will be under big pressure.


Ecuador

LOS ANGELES, UNITED STATES OF AMERICA - MARCH 28:  Miguel Layun of Mexico (L) fights for the ball with Antonio Valencia of Ecuador (R) during a friendly match between Mexico and Ecuador at Memorial Coliseum Stadium on March 28, 2015 in Los Angeles, United States. (Photo by Omar Vega/LatinContent/Getty Images)
(Photo by Omar Vega/LatinContent/Getty Images)

Man, Ecuador is due a good Copa America performance. They haven’t made it out of the group stage since 1997 and have finished in fourth place twice.

Star player: Enner Valencia – After returning from injury in the final 13weeks of the season we saw just how important he is for Manchester United. That was from right back. Valencia will play in a more advanced role for Ecuador and provides bags of experience.

La Tricolor will go far because of forwards: Goals. Goals. Goals. Ecuador has a ton of talented attackers in its squad. Enner Valencia and Jefferson Montero will be dangerous and through the first five 2018 World Cup qualifying games they’ve scored 12 times and sit second in the table.

Likely heartbreak warning: With top scorer from World Cup qualifying, Felipe Caceido, out injured, Ecuador has been dealt a huge blow. They seem to always be the nearly men.


Peru

Paolo Guerrero, Peru

They’ve won the tournament twice in their history and last summer they were the surprise semifinalists who finished in third place. Anchored by a strong defense, they’ll be hoping to cause another upset.

Star player: Paolo Guerrero – He is their main man up top with 26 goals in 67 appearances. If Peru has a chance in the box, they want it to fall to him.

They will be the darlings of the tournament: If they get off to a flying start against Haiti in Seattle then we can expect big things. Confidence will be key ahead of the final game against Brazil.

Goals will be the big problem: They scored just twice in three games during the group stage last summer and somehow made it through. They will have to do more than that this time out and if they don’t beat Haiti, it is curtains for their knockout stage hopes.


Haiti

Gyasi Zardes, Frantz Bertin
AP

This will be their first-ever appearance in the Copa America and after their successful Gold Cup campaign in 2015, who knows what’s possible? They will fancy their chances of advancing despite all the odds stacked against them.

Star player: Johnny Placide – He shone for Haiti during the Gold Cup last summer and their goalkeeper will be another busy man. A beast.

Beware of the underdogs, they’ll get you: As we saw last summer, we shouldn’t underestimate Haiti. They only lost to the USA 1-0 and beat Honduras on their way to a quarterfinal exit to eventual runners up Jamaica. They will keep it tight and try to grind out wins.

Tight isn’t good enough: As they’ve found out in World Cup qualifying, you have to do more than hang in there. They haven’t scored a goal through four games of 2018 World Cup qualifying in CONCACAF Group B and sit bottom of the table. Placide will have to come up big this summer if they’re going to produce something special.


Game schedule – Full schedule for Group B, here

Who’s going through, who’s going home: Brazil, Ecuador going through; Peru and Haiti going home

Marquee match: I’m going with Brazil vs. Ecuador on June 4 at the Rose Bowl. This two will go at it to try and take control of Group B. Should be a fun one. 

Top players to watch

1) Douglas Costa
2) Willian
3) Antonio Valencia
4) Paolo Guerrero
5) Johnny Placide

French security chief: Strikes won’t threaten sports events

MARSEILLE, FRANCE - OCTOBER 28:Tens of thousands of the French workers protest as the Unions in France launch new strikes against the pension reform plan on October 28, 2010 in Marseille, France. This is the seventh day of protest for French workers angry at the Government's proposed pension reforms. Nicolas Sarkozy, however, has not wavered in his plans to increase the state pension age from 60 to 62 and last night the National Assembly passed the bill.  (Photo by Patrick Aventurier/Getty Images)
Getty Images
Leave a comment

PARIS (AP) France’s interior minister says violent labor protests and strikes causing gas shortages won’t jeopardize the upcoming European Championship or other sporting events.

[ MORE: 5 things for Mourinho at United ]

About 1,500 people have been detained in recent weeks and hundreds of police officers have been injured in breaking up protests and dislodging protesters from fuel depots.

The tensions have added to concern about security for Euro 2016, already facing what Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve called the “double threat” of violent Islamic extremism and hooliganism.

[ MORE: What is USMNT’s best XI?

Cazeneuve told reporters Wednesday that the government respects the right to strike and does not see the labor movement as a “threat.”

He said it won’t disrupt protection of the June 10-July 10 championship, involving an unprecedented 90,000 people ensuring security.