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.

No China for Costa: It’ll be Chelsea or Atletico Madrid

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Blues striker Diego Costa offered some insight into his future following Chelsea’s FA Cup Final loss to Arsenal on Saturday.

The combustible striker was subject to a head-turning bid from the Chinese Super League this winter, but is only looking at two European locations for his future.

Those are his current club, Chelsea, as well as former home at Atletico Madrid.

[ JPW: Poignant FA Cup Final reflects English mood ]

The 28-year-old Costa has kept his scoring pace level since arriving in the Premier League. He scored 64 goals in 134 matches for Atleti, and has notched 58 goals for Chelsea in 120 appearances.

Costa reportedly said, “No, no, no” when asked about China, as well as the following:

More Messi wizardry leads Barca to Copa del Rey title (video)

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Sometimes, a match recap needs just a couple keywords instead of paragraphs.

For example: Messi, Barcelona, Cup Final, the best.

The greatest player on Earth was at it again on Saturday, scoring a deft goal before assisting a Paco Alcacer offering as Barcelona won another Copa del Rey with a 3-1 win over Alaves on Saturday.

[ MORE: Pulisic, BVB win German Cup ]

It’s a third-straight Copa del Rey for the Blaugranas, their 29th crown in the tournament’s history. Barca has also lost 10 Copa finals, the last in 2014 against Real Madrid.

Here’s the goal:

And the pass:

Sounders tip Timbers 1-0 in sloppy Cascadia Cup affair (video)

AP Photo/Ted S. Warren
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Cristian Roldan scored the lone goal of an arguably unofficiated match between Portland and Seattle on Saturday, as the Sounders picked up a much-needed win that was anything but pretty at Century Link Field in Washington.

Goalkeeper Stefan Frei scooped up his 50th clean sheet as an MLS backstop, and is the 11th player to reach that milestone.

[ MORE: Pulisic, BVB win German Cup ]

Referee Mark Geiger was equally offensive to both sides, denying Portland of a penalty kick via handball and allowing the Timbers’ Vytas Andriuškevičius to thoroughly inspect Jordan Morris’ arms during a second half breakaway.

Roldan turned a corner kick off a Portland defender and home for three points that leave the Sounders, Timbers, and Whitecaps all on three points after two matches played in the 2017 Cascadia Cup.

Poignant FA Cup final reflects current mood in UK

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LONDON — Arsenal beat Chelsea 2-1 to win the 2016-17 FA Cup on Saturday at Wembley Stadium, but this was about much more than a game of soccer.

“They just keep coming, no matter what, don’t they?” said a fellow journalist I bumped into surveying the scene outside Wembley before kick off as a wave of red and blue supporters inched towards the home of soccer while under armed police guard.

They certainly did.

The FA Cup final on Saturday, a 90,000 sellout, provided most of the UK with a slight distraction from a nightmare week where the worst terrorist attack since the 7/7 bombings in 2005 dominated the hearts and minds of a nation.

After watching on in horror as 22 people were killed and 116 injured by a suicide bomber outside Manchester Arena late Monday, the attention of everyone in the UK has been focused on the atrocity in Manchester.

That horrendous attack led to the UK being placed into the highest terror threat level of “critical” for just the third time since it was introduced in 2006 and things like soccer games, rivalries and trophies seemed somewhat meaningless as the threat of an “imminent attack” dominated the news.

It didn’t matter that this was a final being played between two Premier League teams from London. Everyone had Manchester on their minds.

A few hours before the game British Prime Minister Theresa May downgraded the terror threat level to “severe” rather than critical, but that didn’t stop armed policeman in abundance at Wembley as armored police cars replaced some of the burger vans which usually littered the roads near Wembley Way.

Arsenal fan Andy Calcutt stood on an elevated walkway outside Wembley having a cigarette as he pushed his sunglasses further up his nose.

The skyline of London was visible in the distance on a glorious early summer day and the message was clear: terrorists will never win.

“It is the British spirit to soldier on and go through it. It is fantastic today,” Calcutt said. “Nobody that I know has any issues about turning up to a big event. There is obviously more of a security presence, which gives you a bit of reassurance, but it’s not an issue for anyone here. We keep on going through our day to day. That’s how we get on.”

As the glorious sunshine beat down on Wembley two hours before kick off, there was a lingering sense of remembrance but celebration was in the air too.

On Friday the most senior counter-terrorism officer in the UK, Mark Rowley, urged citizens to “go out as you planned and enjoy yourselves” around the bank holiday weekend.

After the week the UK has had, it is easy to understand why that was the message following security measures being reviewed for over 1,300 events as the Aviva Premiership rugby final took place at Twickenham, the Manchester Great Run was scheduled and there were many huge events up and down the nation.

The FA Cup final was by far the biggest as the eyes of the world fixed itself on Wembley.

Chelsea fan Marcus Mays stood with his partner looking out on Wembley Way as the fans flooded in before the cup final.

“I was born in Manchester and I have a lot of friends from up that way and I think everyone was behind Manchester United for their Europa League win in midweek. It was lovely to see,” Mays said. “We have got to get on with our lives and I think everyone appreciates that. I can’t imagine anybody swerving a cup final because of the terrorist attack. Everyone has to crack on with their lives.”

That sentiment was echoed time and time again by everyone in and around Wembley. There was plenty more waiting in lines before you got into the stadium but nobody complained, nobody moaned. They queued and got on with it with a smile on their face.

As I walked out of Wembley Park underground station before the game, a guy in an Arsenal shirt went up to a policeman and shook his hand and thanked him, then walked off.

It has been that kind of week, to appreciate those around you and what you have.

At times like these you call your family and friends more often, you kiss your wife, husband or kids more. You reach out to strangers and offer a smile while sat on the subway train, or a polite nod, when previously the stresses of the modern world appeared to be too much to offer such niceties.

Even in a major cup final between bitter rivals there was respect.

Sure, there was chanting back and forth between Chelsea and Arsenal fans beforehand, laughter and jokes as groups of friends met up in among policeman armed with semi-automatic rifles, but just before kick off it became apparent how reflective the mood was.

There was an immaculately observed minute’s silence to remember the victims as both teams stood united around the center-circle, linked to their teammates. 90,000 fans stood in silence as some began to chant “Manchester!” but quickly stopped.

Fans held up signs reading “I love MCR!” and on the large TV screens at either end of Wembley messages simply read “We Stand Together” as the vast three-tier venue stood perfectly still.

Following a week like this it easy to brush off the insignificance of sport. So often fans, and even players and managers, watch or get involved in the action to try and forget everything else in life for a few hours a week.

Speaking after the game, Antonio Conte reinforced that message, one he had shared before the game.

“It was an important game but don’t forget the tragedy in Manchester,” Conte said in the aftermath of defeat.

He was right. This was no place to forget.

Chelsea and Arsenal’s fans held banners up saluting Manchester and the victims of the attacks and before the game both clubs canceled plans for a trophy parade in London on Sunday, out of respect for Manchester and also to not put a further burden on the already-stretched police force as they continue their huge investigations.

Everyone in the stadium and everyone at home hoped they’d never have to live through seeing scenes like this again. Children and their families killed as they left a music concert.

At times like these sport can provide a distraction and helps some to heal, but there’s so many more important things going on in the UK, and across the globe, right now.

The overall message portrayed at Wembley on Saturday was a poignant one: this was no time to hide.

Now, even in one of the darkest moments for the UK in recent history, was the time to face the world and stand tall.

“It’s just another day. You can’t live in fear, can you?” Arsenal fan Ryan Kilburn said. “There’s no point in hiding.”