Chelsea vs. Man United, Suarez and Sturridge, Saints turmoil – 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 as Liverpool’s S.A.S striker partnership is reunited, Aston Villa’s relegation worries mount and the big match between Chelsea and Manchester United on Sunday takes center stage. Plus Arlo shares his opinion on the situation at Southampton, as turmoil off the field has put the South Coast club in turmoil.

(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.

Liverpool finally have Suarez & Sturridge back fit together. Is it vital those two stay fit for the rest of the season if the Reds want to make the top four?

source: Reuters
With the S.A.S. back together, Arlo believes Liverpool’s top four hopes rest on their shoulders.

Well I think at various times during this season Liverpool have proved they can get results without either of them in the side. But they are clearly better off with Suarez and Sturridge both in the starting XI. The eye-watering fact is that they’ve scored 32 goals between them in the Premier League but they also seem to have this intuitive, symbiotic relationship on the field, as we saw evidence of that after Sturridge came onto the field at Stoke in that enthralling 5-3 win at the Britannia Stadium last weekend. It’s interesting, Sturridge can quite often be very demonstrative, a lot of arm waving if he doesn’t receive the pass he wants, when he’s in a good position, from Suarez.

(MORE: Can S.A.S. destroy Villa at Anfield?)

I’ve looked very closely at the behavior and the body language between the two and you often wonder if the relationship will erode but their bond just seems to be very strong, it seems to be getting stronger and able to cope with the odd little disagreement or act of petulance at times. I think with Coutinho, Sterling, Henderson and Gerrard in support, this is a very potent Liverpool side but Suarez and Sturridge are the stars and they could be the two players that rubber-stamp their top four ticket this season.

As for Aston Villa, who are heading to Anfield on Saturday, do you think they will get sucked into another relegation battle?

It’s very possible. They are only five points off the bottom three, they’ve won one of their last seven, they’ve taken four points out of the last 21 points on offer. It just isn’t very good form. Although right now going into the weekend, they top of the bottom half of the table in 11th spot. I think the hopes that Villa fans will take to Anfield are that Benteke inspired 3-1 win last season at Liverpool, and the fact their away form is marginally better than their form at Villa Park, although that is not difficult. They’ve been woeful at home, and that’s a real problem for Paul Lambert and Aston Villa. I counted back and they’ve won seven of their last 43 games at Villa Park, you wouldn’t think they’d have a chance of survival over the last couple of seasons with form like that. It means they must be gathering points on the road and this season they’ve won four games away, that’s twice as many as they’ve won at home and it just gives them a glimmer of hope.

Maybe as a young side they’ve found it a little easier and a little less of a pressure environment when they’re on the road being supported by a group of away fans in the corner, rather than the stage-fright of a 35,000-40,000 crowd at Villa Park. So if Benteke, who scored against Arsenal on Monday, can go on a run then Villa have hope. That might need to happen for them not to get dragged into another relegation battle.

The big game of the weekend is at Stamford Bridge on Sunday, can Chelsea and Jose Mourinho pile more pressure on Manchester United and David Moyes?

source: AP
Who will win the battle of the dugout at Stamford Bridge? Mourinho is one short of 100 PL wins for Chelsea.

Yeah of course they can, Mourinho is searching for a 100th Premier League win and the coincidence is that his first came against Manchester United in 2004 and the century could be reached against the same opposition on Sunday. I am really looking forward to this game, which will be live on NBCSN at 11am ET as Gary Lineker and Lee Dixon will be hosting a pregame show live from the Bridge, while myself and Graeme Le Saux will be in the booth calling the game.

(MORE: Mourinho warns Chelsea players to not underestimate Man United)

We know that Stamford Bridge is an absolute fortress, 19 games unbeaten for Chelsea right now, the last team to beat them was QPR in the first home game of 2013 and of course Mourinho is unbeaten in 70 at home. What I think has characterized recent Chelsea performances is if you look at their body of work this season, they only kept four clean sheets in their opening 16 games. That wasn’t very Mourinho like. But they’ve kept five in their last six games, he’s found a formula to get results in a way and a manner that he enjoys.

There’s a little bit of the grind about it, a little bit of attrition at times. The front three midfielders, although they can be devastating in attack at times, are also working very, very hard when they don’t have the ball to win possession back as high up the field as possible. They are excellent at counter-attacking, these are the hallmarks of a Chelsea side. The classic performance was against Liverpool when they fell a goal back early on, they came roaring back and were scintillating for the rest of the first half to lead 2-1 at half time. Then the second half was anti-football, attrition and grind, lots of free kicks. Jose Mourinho warned us before the Arsenal game that it would be easy to win 1-0. The approach earned him a point at the Emirates, and they’ve won their last 4 games. So, it’ll be interesting to see their approach is against United on Sunday.

So then, will this match be different to the 0-0 bore draw at Old Trafford back in August between these two?

source: AP
Will a fired up Torres get Chelsea off to a flying start on Sunday? Watch live, 11am on NBCSN.

From a neutral perspective, from an NBC viewers perspective… I certainly hope so! Mourinho went to that game virtually without a striker, Andre Schurrle was loosely playing up top in that game. There was a period of 15-20 minutes in the second half when he threw Fernando Torres in and thought ‘well, I might be able to get a goal here and get that classic smash and grab victory at Old Trafford.’ That was before the dust had settled on the season and Mourinho didn’t know what to expect of Manchester United, so he might decide to have more of a go at them early and just have a feel out of Manchester United and see where they are at the moment. But United are in an interesting situation, they’ve won five out of six in the Premier League.

(MORE: RVP and Rooney both out for United against Chelsea)

And United have been pretty good away from home, if the table was based on away form they would be in third placed behind Arsenal and Spurs, with Chelsea in fourth. United have won their last three away matches, and since that famous 4-1 drubbing at Manchester City on September 22, they are unbeaten in seven on the road. That’s not a bad away record for a club in ‘crisis’. Their two road defeats have come at the fortresses of Anfield and the Etihad, and although their road wins have been at the likes of Swansea, Sunderland, Villa, Norwich and Hull, it’s evidence that United have displayed some form and mettle away from the pressure cooker of Old Trafford. This is a huge test for them, the odds are stacked against them, so let’s see their response.

Finally, what else are you looking forward to?

source: Getty Images
Pochettino has been placed in an unenviable position at Southampton, as Chairman and close ally Nicola Cortese walked out.

West Ham passed their big test last week didn’t they? Which was interesting. I am looking at Southampton away at Sunderland this weekend, Nicola Cortese leaving is a pretty profound loss for the Saints. It was his vision, his attention to detail, his eye for managerial talent that really raised Southampton from League One to the fringes of the top six in the Premier League. Mauricio Pochettino says he’ll stay until the end of the season, that’s encouraging and it’s absolutely vital for Southampton. They had gained only five points out of 27 before that win over West Bromwich Albion last weekend, so a crucial win before the drama during the week at St. Mary’s. But they face a desperate Sunderland side, that are coming off a terrific win at Fulham and could climb out of the bottom three with a win in front of their own fans.

(MORE: Pochettino will stay on as manager of Southampton)

It’s a huge test for Southampton. A test of their togetherness and where they are psychologically after the departure of Nicola Cortese. Pochettino has a big job on his hands to get them focused for what will be a very difficult game at Sunderland. I am looking forward to seeing if Southampton can pass the test.

MLS roundup: FCD win battle of unbeatens; POR rebound vs. VAN

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With seven MLS Saturday afternoons/evenings officially in the books, only 27 more to go…

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverage

FC Dallas 1-0 Sporting Kansas City

The only two remaining unbeaten teams faced off in Frisco on Saturday, and only one came out still unblemished. FCD dominated in the two most important facets of the game — chances created, and goals.

Maynor Figueroa scored the game’s only goal, a 77th-minute header to put home Michael Barrios’ floated cross toward the back post. If not for the (increasingly typical) heroics of Sporting KC goalkeeper Tim Melia (five saves), FCD would have already been 3-0 or 4-0 in front by that point. Sporting’s only shot on target didn’t arrive until the 47th minute, and it was far from a clear-cut chance, as Jimmy Medranda fired from the corner of the 18-yard box and hardly tested Jesse Gonzalez with the effort.

The win sees FCD move to six games unbeaten to start the season (three wins, three draws), while Sporting suffer their first defeat in seven games.


Portland Timbers 2-1 Vancouver Whitecaps

Darlington Nagbe and Darren Mattocks bagged goals for Portland, who wasted little time in bouncing back from last weekend’s home defeat to Sporting. Nagbe’s goal, a stunner from outside the penalty area (WATCH HERE) opened the scoring in the 18th minute, and Mattocks made it 2-0 five minutes before halftime.

Fredy Montero scored his third goal in two games to bring Vancouver back to 2-1 just before the hour mark, but that’s as close as the visitors would get.

Diego Valeri was carried off the field in the 80th minute, which is the worst scare that Timbers fans could have possibly imagined, though the Argentine superstar told reporters after the game that he was feeling much better.


Real Salt Lake 1-3 Atlanta United

The honeymoon period is over for Mike Petke who, after back-to-back wins to open his tenure as RSL head coach, suffered his first defeat since taking over for Jeff Cassar five games into the season.

A series of comedic errors doomed RSL just about from the start, as Hector Villalba (9th minute) and Yamil Asad (46th), two of Atlanta’s South American starlets, put the visitors 2-0 ahead a minute into the first half — the latter was set up by Miguel Almiron, another of the young, South American attackers at Gerardo Martino’s disposal. Albert Rusnak pulled RSL back to 2-1 in the 69th minute, but it would remain that way until second-half stoppage time, when Brandon Vazquez beat Nick Rimando for a 3-1 clincher.


New York Red Bulls 2-0 Columbus Crew SC

Columbus’s defeat away to New York went from bad, to worse, to worst, in 39 minutes’ time on Saturday. Midfield revelation Artur went off with a nasty arm injury in the 6th minute, Alex Muyl put the home side 1-0 up in the 11th minute Daniel Royer made it 2-0 from the penalty spot in the 38th minute, and defensive revelation (and rookie) Alex Crognale went off injured immediately thereafter.


Houston Dynamo 2-0 San Jose Earthquakes

Wilmer Cabrera’s side will live and die by the form of his young attacking quartet this season. On Saturday, Erick Torres and Alberth Elis delivered the goals (read: goals) as Houston picked up a rather comfortable him win over San Jose.

Torres opened the scoring in the 9th minute, and though Elis didn’t double the advantage for another 63 minutes, the result was rarely, if ever, in doubt. San Jose managed just two shots on target (Houston had just three, for what it’s worth), as Adolfo Machado, Tyler Deric and Co. kept their first clean sheet of the season.


New England Revolution 2-2 D.C. United

In a battle of bottom-half Eastern Conference sides, New England and D.C. drew 2-2 after Lee Nguyen and a Sean Franklin own goal stalemated tallies from Jared Jeffrey and Sebastien Le Toux.

Ligue 1: Cavani, Di Maria score as PSG win to leapfrog Monaco

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PARIS (AP) Striker Edinson Cavani scored his 44th goal of the season and created the second goal as Paris Saint-Germain beat Montpellier 2-0 to go top of the French league on Saturday.

Cavani thumped home a cross from midfielder Blaise Matuidi in the first half, with winger Angel Di Maria involved in the buildup. It took Cavani’s career-best tally to 31 league goals and he thought he had another later in the half, but his powerful header was ruled out for offside.

Three minutes after the break, Cavani back-heeled to Di Maria, who curled in from just outside the penalty area for his fifth goal in five games.

Defending champion PSG is three points ahead of Monaco, which has led for most of the season.

Monaco has played two games less and can return to the top on goal difference by winning at Lyon on Sunday.

Both sides are doing well in Europe.

Monaco reached the Champions League semifinals and Lyon got through to the last four of the Europa League this week.

PSG has won eight straight games in all competitions to keep the pressure on Monaco. They meet each other on Wednesday in the French Cup semifinals. PSG then faces a tough away trip at third-place Nice next weekend as the hard-fought title race heats up.

“Monaco’s had a great season and you have to congratulate them,” PSG left back Maxwell said. “But we’re still in it.”

Bordeaux beat last-place Bastia 2-0 at home to move up to fourth spot, with striker Malcom getting the first goal.

But Lyon needs only a draw at home to Monaco to regain fourth spot.

After struggling for most of the season, Lorient is suddenly playing like a team near the top.

The Brittany-based side moved out of the relegation zone and up to 16th place after thrashing Metz 5-1 at home for a fourth win in five games. Midfielder Jimmy Cabot scored two and striker Benjamin Moukandjo grabbed his 13th goal of the season.

Elsewhere, striker Yacine Bammou scored both as Nantes beat struggling Caen 2-0.

Two goals from center forward Lois Diony helped Dijon beat Angers 3-2 at home; while Nicolas De Preville scored a brace as Lille beat Guingamp 3-0.

In Sunday’s other matches, Nice is away to Toulouse and Saint-Etienne hosts Rennes.

La Liga: Griezmann scores no. 25 in Atleti’s win to stay 3rd

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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) Antoine Griezmann kept Atletico Madrid focused on a strong finish to the Spanish league on Saturday despite its looming Champions League semifinal with Real Madrid.

Griezmann struck late in the second half at Espanyol to earn a 1-0 victory that kept Atletico in third place, three points ahead of Sevilla, and on course for a return to Europe’s top competition next season.

Atletico moved within four points of second-place Barcelona, which visits leader Real on Sunday trailing the pace-setter by three points. Real also has a game in hand as it tries to win the domestic title for the first time since 2012.

On Friday, Atletico and Real were drawn to face each other for a third time in four seasons in the Champions League. Real won the other two meetings in the finals of 2014 and 2016.

While Atletico has two league matches against Villarreal and at Las Palmas over the next week, its hopes for silverware rest squarely on their European clash with Madrid beginning on May 2 at the Santiago Bernabeu.

“2017 is shaping up better than 2016,” Atletico manager Diego Simeone said. “We are defending well and finding the moments to win games. I am sure we could perhaps play better, but the team is winning. There is still a ways to go before the semifinals.”

At Espanyol, Simeone made only one change in his starting 11 from the team that drew at Leicester on Tuesday to advance in the Champions League on a 2-1 aggregate score.

His side, however, showed little signs of weariness against an Espanyol that won four straight at home.

Griezmann decided the contest in Barcelona dominated by both defenses in the 73rd minute when he used one touch of his left boot to volley home a rebound of a strike by Saul Niguez that came off a defender.

The goal was his team-leading 16th in the league and 25th overall.

“We knew we would have a difficult time against a team that is so good at home,” Griezmann said. “But we tried until the end and then held on.”

Cedric Bakambu scored twice, including the stoppage-time winner apparently with his hand, to ensure Villarreal strengthened its hold on fifth place and a Europa League berth.

Villarreal created several scoring opporunities but needed Bakambu to slot home the opener in the 68th.

Leganes was close to grabbing a late draw when Miguel Guerrero struck in the 90th, but Bakambu appeared to use his hand to redirect Jonathan Dos Santos’ cross into the net two minutes later.

The result left Leganes winless in seven matches and clinging to the final spot above the relegation zone.

“He scored with his hand,” Leganes goalkeeper Iago Herrerin said. “We are fighting for our lives. It was impossible not to see it.”

Villarreal coach Fran Escriba acknowledged Bakambu “touched the ball with his hand” after watching replays, but “I didn’t see it live.”

Sandro Ramirez continued his good scoring form, ensuring a third win in four rounds to dispel any relegation fears for Malaga. The former Barcelona forward has scored in all three of those victories.

Ramirez blasted in his own rebound from a free kick just minutes after Jose “Recio” Garcia headed the hosts in front in the 36th.

Before he scored, Ramirez’s powerful free kick struck Valencia’s Ezequiel Garay in the head, leaving him visibly groggy as he remained on the turf. The defender underwent tests at a hospital that indicated mild head trauma. He was released from the hospital soon after the tests.

Last-place Osasuna couldn’t have done much more to crush its fans’ spirits than go up by two goals only to concede twice in the final 11 minutes.

The draw left Sporting also in the drop zone at four points from Leganes and safety with five rounds left.

Serie A: Fiorentina, Inter Milan thrill in 9-goal instant classic

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MILAN (AP) Inter Milan lost at Fiorentina 5-4 in one of the most incredible Serie A matches of the season on Saturday and left its European hopes hanging by a thread.

Inter led 2-1 at halftime, Fiorentina led 5-2 after 79 minutes, Inter scored its fourth in stoppage time and watched its equalizer attempt cleared off the goal-line.

Just over a month ago, Inter was hoping to sneak into the Champions League after a 7-1 victory over Atalanta but two points from five matches has seen it slip to seventh, two points behind AC Milan, which occupies the last qualifying position for the Europa League.

Milan hosts Empoli on Sunday.

“We have to understand why what happened happened,” Inter coach Stefano Pioli said. “What we saw in the second half can’t be my team … we played for only 45 minutes. Then there was an inexplicable blackout.

“Since the Atalanta match we haven’t had the right mental attitude. We are Inter and we can’t play like this. We’ve reached the bottom. … We can’t throw away matches like we did in the second half today. Unfortunately this month we’ve thrown away everything we built.”

Fiorentina, which also missed a penalty, moved to within one point of Inter, which hosts third-placed Napoli next weekend.

Matias Vecino broke the deadlock for Fiorentina early but Inter appeared to swiftly turn the match around with two goals in five minutes.

First, Ivan Perisic slotted home Antonio Candreva’s low cross, then Mauro Icardi fired Joao Mario’s through ball across into the bottom left corner.

Fiorentina should have equalized after halftime when it was awarded a soft penalty after Danilo D’Ambrosio was adjudged to have pulled back Khouma Babacar, but Federico Bernardeschi’s weak spot kick saved by Samir Handanovic.

Davide Astori headed in the equalizer shortly after the hour mark, and Vecino again gave Fiorentina the lead two minutes later with his second of the match.

Babacar appeared to seal matters for Fiorentina with two strikes into the bottom right corner in the 70th and 79th minutes to make it 5-2.

But Inter wasn’t finished.

Icardi controlled Perisic’s pass in the area and fired in off the post two minutes from time, and headed in a corner in stoppage time to complete a hat trick.

Inter threw everyone forward and almost leveled from another corner which came out to Marcelo Brozovic, whose effort was cleared off the line by Astori.