Man United must get creative, City still title favorites, Hammers struggling – 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 Manchester United vs. Swansea, David Moyes’ struggles and what he should do in the transfer window. Plus we speak about Newcastle pulling off a shock against Man City at St. James’ Park and what on earth is going on at West Ham United.

(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.

Manchester United have lost three games in a row as their season of struggle continues. How significant is their game vs. Swansea for United?

It’s hugely significant, they’ve not lost four in a row since 1961. Back then Sir Matt Busby’s side were on a 10-game winless run which actually left the club in 21st place in December as they continued to rebuild after the Munich Air Disaster in 1958. The last time United had as few as 34 points from 20 games that actually went on to win the inaugural Premier League title by 10 points. But in 1992-93 it was a 42-game season and their rivals were no where near as well equipped as they are today. For me, it’s forget the title, forget trophies. Period (although one would be nice). It is operation fourth place for Manchester United and qualification for the Champions League. They start the weekend five points behind Liverpool with 18 games to go.

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More misery for Moyes and Manchester United. Arlo thinks this transfer window is massive for the Red Devils.

I’m not sure if the hierarchy at United expected the torrent of titles and trophies to continued to pour into Old Trafford after the immediate absence of Sir Alex Ferguson. But missing out on the Champions League is another matter entirely. It would be a financial hammer-blow, finishing fifth would compound the issue as it would bring a potentially debilitating campaign in the Europa League next season just as they’re rebuilding and trying to reclaim a top four spot. It is well documented that United have lost three on the spin to start 2014, but David Moyes has been nominated for Manager of the Month for December. Their 1-0 win over Norwich on December 28 wasn’t convincing but it was United’s fourth win in December, they need the spirit of the old Manchester United at Old Trafford to rip into Swansea. They also need the memory of a recent winning streak to grab a vital win in front of their own fans because it ‘s a huge and potentially season-defining task that awaits them the week after at Stamford Bridge against Chelsea.

WATCH MAN UNITED vs. SWANSEA LIVE ONLINE VIA NBC SPORTS LIVE EXTRA, 12:30pm ET ON SATURDAY

Lee Dixon and I cannot wait to get to Old Trafford, we were their together to see Everton defeat United and I was with Graeme Le Saux for the Tottenham defeat. Manchester United’s fans are being very fair and are heeding Sir Alex’s request to give the new man a chance and give him their full support. But they are growing a little more disgruntled. You can hear the first signs of boo’s at the final whistle as the away fans celebrate in the far corner. This is an absolutely vital afternoon for Manchester United, we can’t wait to sample the atmosphere at Old Trafford.

Plenty are expecting David Moyes to be handed a considerable war chest in the January transfer window. Which positions need strengthening the most?

United need to think outside the box here, in a way that perhaps they’ve never had to do in the last two decades. Champions League qualification is an absolute must for them so they need to get creative. Short-term loans, or maybe sign a player that’s ineligible for the Champions League this season but may help them enormously in the Premier League to help them get back into a top four spot. Their needs overall are plenty, long-term they need new full backs, they need at least one center back and they need to restock in the wide midfield areas, plus they need a central attacking midfielder.

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Only Rooney and RVP are worthy of a starting spot at United these days. Maybe De Gea too.

It’s only Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie who they desperately need to hold onto, who you can say are two definites in a staring XI in the future, with the possible exception of David De Gea who through it all is playing very well indeed.

In the short-term they need some dynamism in central midfield, some energy, aggression and some flair. Whether they’ll find that in January is another matter. But as I say they need to think outside the box, reappraise their approach and get some talent in whether they have to pay more for it at a premium in January and those players are ineligible for the Champions League. They’ve got to improve in the Premier League.

The atmosphere at St. James’ Park is often intimidating for visiting sides, how big a test is this for Manchester City against Newcastle?

It’s very big. Manchester United have a better away record than Manchester City. City have won all ten games at home, they have 30 points out of 30, but away they’ve won four out of 10 and have conceded 17 goals so they’ve accumulated 14 points out of 30. They’ve also scored double the amount of goals at home than they have on the road, the discrepancy between home form and away form for them is still too big although their away record has picked up in the last few games.

WATCH NEWCASTLE VS. MAN CITY LIVE ONLINE VIA NBC SPORTS LIVE EXTRA, 9:05am ET ON SUNDAY

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Newcastle are a tough nut to crack at home. Can a rampaging Man City side win at St. James’ Park?

Newcastle, as you say are a tough nut to crack at home. I can’t wait to get to St. James’ Park this weekend, we’ve been there once this season. 52,000 fans were there for the West Brom game and it’s a wonderful place to watch football. It’s a true football city with the history you breathe football in the air and you breathe Newcastle United when you walk up the road towards St. James’ Park on the hill. They’ve beaten Chelsea at home this season so far Newcastle, they have top four intentions themselves. They’ve just started to slide into midtable, so it’s a vital game for them. I’m fascinated and so impressed of the emergence of Alvaro Negredo as a striker in the absence of Sergio Aguero. He has got incredible power and has scored eight goals in the league, 18 in total.

I think it’s too soon for Aguero to come back but that’s one of the big decisions Manuel Pellegrini has to make. He often makes different decisions away than he would at home, will he start two up top with Negredo and Dzeko? Or will he go one up top and five in midfield? I think their approach to the game, you will be able to see it through the starting XI Pellegrini selects vs. Newcastle.

Are Man City still your favorites to win the title?

Marginally. This is the season of seasons, in terms of it being wide open. We’re still no closer to a definitive answer and that’s just the way we like it halfway through the season. City are clearly the most explosive, devastating team in the Premier League. When they’re at home their hard work and togetherness shines through, they buzz around in central midfield and work tirelessly to get the ball back. You watch Kolarov at left back and particularly Zabaleta on the right flank and those two tirelessly bomb up and down the flanks to help in attack and defense as well. Fernandinho and Toure at home are unstoppable, they give Manchester City a fantastic platform. If it went on just their home form there would be only one team in it. But it’s this nagging doubt of their away form which prevents me from saying that they’re the outright favorites.

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City’s supreme offense is still taking time for gel away from the Etihad. But recent signs are good for Pellegrini’s men.

Arsenal have recovered nicely from a little wobble before Christmas, they deserve to be where they are. And we will see what they do in the transfer window in January, it’s a big transfer window for Arsene Wenger. He went against his own policies by going out and spending a lot of money on Mesut Ozil in the summer, perhaps he might do the same seeing that Arsenal are in the box seat going into the second half of the season. But Chelsea are impressing me in a different way. It’s possible that in a season of high-scoring football, wide-open games and attack minded approaches that a team that can grind out results and be consistent in that way might just accumulate enough points that when the music stops at the end of the season, they could be the ones on the throne as Champions. So don’t rule Chelsea out at this stage, and I think out of the top four Liverpool are the outsiders but we will see what happens when they get their main stars back as well.

Finally, what else are you looking forward to?

The trials and tribulations of West Ham United under Sam Allardyce is making a big story in the Premier League. He made so many changes in the FA Cup tie versus Nottingham Forest, as Premier League survival was the priority and the semifinal first leg of the League Cup at Man City, and they got walloped 5-0 by Forest. They are injury ravaged and they then go and get absolutely torn apart by Man City, and they’ve now conceded 11 goals without scoring in their last two games. The Hammers now face a very difficult game away at Cardiff City under Ole Gunnar Solksjaer. They’re going to be rejuvenated I’m sure in the absence of Malky Mackay, they played very well in the game we did on NBC against Sunderland where perhaps they were unfortunate to concede a last minute equalizer. But West Ham have got to turn in a performance, they’ve got horrendous injury problems at the back and one or two of their players are going missing.

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West Ham are beleaguered and languishing towards the bottom. One more big defeat could spell the end for Big Sam.

Andy Carroll can’t get into that team quick enough just to give them a boost. There will be a lot of pressure on him to score goals immediately in a side that’s struggling. But another heavy defeat at Cardiff, I know the owners at West Ham have backed Sam Allardyce to the hilt, but the fans are starting to turn. They are a little bit embarrassed with what’s going on and they’re fearful for the future.

They’ve seen the short-term short in the arm that a managerial change can provide for them, so a hefty defeat for West Ham at the weekend and things could get extremely interesting.

Foul or flop? Player “headbutts” referee, is sent off

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Well, there must be something in the water down in Brasilia, because things got a little weird this evening.

Flamengo drew with Vasco da Gama 2-2, but that was just the start.

In the 54th minute, with Vasco da Gama leading 1-0 at Estadio Nacional Mané Garrincha, 36-year-old Luis Fabiano was sent off for “headbutting” the referee. Headbutting is in quotes because looking at the video, it certainly appears there was little to no contact, and the referee flops.

Yes, the referee flopped. Take a look:

To be fair, Fabiano was already on a yellow, so getting in the referee’s face even without the headbutt/pelvic thrust would likely still have seen him sent to an early shower.

So the former Porto and Sevilla man was sent off, and Vasco da Gama was down to 10 men. Immediately after the red card, Flamengo took advantage, powering in a pair of goals via Willian Arao and Orlando Berrio to take the lead 2-1. But Vasco wouldn’t quit, and they earned a penalty five minutes into stoppage time, which Nene buried for the 2-2 draw.

To top things off, a player named Yago Pikachu scored the opener for Vasco da Gama, which was followed by a delay in the game seven minutes later after a power surge in the stadium. Go figure.

Lletget diagnosed with foot sprain, escaping further damage

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Word has arrived from the LA Galaxy camp that will see USMNT fans feel relieved as Sebastian Lletget has escaped the news many feared.

The young attacker was impressive in the first 18 minutes of the United States’ 6-0 win over Honduras, but was injured minutes after scoring the opening goal and could not continue. Replays showed that Lletget got his foot caught underneath a defender in the process of a hard challenge on the right wing.

There was concern that Lletget would be out for a significant amount of time, but the Galaxy announced that after testing over the weekend, Lletget did not suffer any structural damage and was diagnosed with a left foot sprain.

[ MORE: USMNT adds Paul Arreola to roster, drops Lletget, Brooks, Morris ]

Lletget will visit a specialist on Monday to determine a plan for recovery, and it’s possible that he will still have to miss some time in the near future. The Galaxy visit Vancouver on Saturday, and his status for that match has to be considered up in the air. They then host Montreal on April 7.

While Lletget obviously misses out on the next USMNT game at Panama on Tuesday having already been dumped from the roster, he will most definitely be available for the June games against Trinidad & Tobago and Mexico, and will likely be an option for Bruce Arena given the manager’s history with Lletget at Los Angeles.

The United States have been struck with a collection of injuries that all occurred just before the international break, hampering the squad significantly. Bobby Wood, Jordan Morris, and Fabian Johnson all went down in the days before reporting for international duty, and the team lost Lletget and John Brooks in the Honduras win. Lletget’s departure could see Alejandro Bedoya into the starting lineup on Tuesday, with the Union midfielder having replaced Lletget in the Honduras match. Also in contention is Jermaine Jones, who could come in after his suspension and push Darlington Nagbe onto the wing.

Southgate can see Defoe in England squad long-term

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Gareth Southgate praised Jermain Defoe after his contributions to England’s 2-0 win over Lithuania on Sunday, but accidentally put a condition on his position in the squad.

The 34-year-old scored the opening goal and contributed heavily to the buildup of Jamie Vardy‘s score, and Southgate was happy that his decision to play an in-form striker paid off.

“If he scores like he is in the Premier League, there’s no reason why he wouldn’t be,” Southgate said. “We’re never able to pick a full cohort, so it’s important we can call upon the likes of Jermain and he can have the impact like he did today.

“I think we’ve got to look every time we get together as to who is in form. I don’t know if we can have a distinct pecking order because players who are playing well deserve the opportunity. If we are going to be successful, we have to have that competition for places. The reality is we will always lose players to injury.”

[ MORE: Defoe walks out Bradley Lowery before England game ]

A reporter asked him to clarify why he specified that Defoe should be scoring in the Premier League, and with his club Sunderland under heavy threat of relegation, Southgate admitted he let one slip.

“I walked into that,” Southgate said. “I guess the ideal world for all our players is they are playing regularly at a high level. The flip-side is we don’t have a huge pool of players to pick from.  We have to balance off a few different things. I can’t constrain myself on selection entirely, but I know ideally what I’d like to have. His performances and his goalscoring form this season have counted for him.”

Defoe has 14 goals in 28 Premier League appearances for Sunderland this season, but he’s proved the Black Cats’ only threat as they sit bottom of the league table with 20 points. Defoe has become the center of opposition game plans, and as a result he’s slowed down, with just two goals in his last seven games, and the club has little else to pick up the slack.

Still, at 34 years old, many wonder how much longer Defoe can contribute, and if he’ll be a viable option for next year’s World Cup.

Group F gets messy as Slovakia and Scotland grab wins

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England is in control at the top of Group F, but below them things are beginning to get complicated.

Despite the absence of Marek Hamsik due to a last-minute injury, Slovakia defeated Malta 3-1. They took the lead just 97 seconds in as Vladimir Weiss put the visitors in front with a beautiful curling strike from outside the box. Malta struck back through domestic striker Jean Paul Farrugia in the 14th minute, but that was all Malta could muster.

Slovakia would go ahead just before halftime as FC Copenhagen midfielder Jan Gregus put them in front in the 41st minute. The speculative shot from Gregus came from a great distance out, and as it skipped across the ground, it appeared Malta goalkeeper Andrew Hogg saw it late, as his dive was poor and it skipped off his hands and in.

Both teams ended with 10 men on the field, as Farrugia was sent off with 16 minutes to go for a second yellow, and Adam Nemec saw the same fate in injury time, but before he was sent off, Nemec was there to kill the game off in the 84th minute.

That put Slovakia up to nine points, and it moved them into second place thanks to late drama in Glasgow. Chris Martin gave Scotland all three points with an 88th minute strike as the home side won 1-0 over Slovenia, who dropped from second to third with the loss. The Fulham striker got a beautiful feed through the back line from Stuart Armstrong, and while his shot wasn’t terribly accurate, it was enough to win the game as Slovenia goalkeeper Matus Kozacik gave it a poor effort.

The win for Scotland pulls them above Lithuania and into fourth, a point back of Slovenia in third.