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?

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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.

“This game belongs to the players” Wenger downplays Guardiola success

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Arsene Wenger has stressed that Pep Guardiola has not changed the game of soccer over the last decade or so, maintaining that the players are the ones who make a team truly great.

Asked if Guardiola has “raised the bar” of managing in his time at the top, Wenger said, “No, because you look at Barcelona and they are still the best team in Europe. You have to accept that the modern game has changed with the recruitment of the best players in a short number of clubs.”

[ MORE: EFL Cup final preview ]

“We, as managers, can maybe impart our philosophy but this game belongs to the players because the importance of the players has become bigger than ever before.”

In fact, Wenger showed a twinge of jealousy at all the attention Guardiola is getting with the team blowing out the rest of the Premier League this season, referencing trophies in the recent past Arsenal has hoisted. “We are maybe underdogs but we have to believe in our quality. The history, the fact we have done it before, shows why not do it again?”

“At the end of the day, you have to be cool,” Wenger said, “because Manchester City is dominating the league in the head of everybody and so maybe we are more underdogs than in the FA Cup semi-final [last season when Arsenal beat Man City].”

Deportivo wastes penalty kick, remains winless under Seedorf

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MADRID (AP) — Clarence Seedorf remained winless as Deportivo La Coruna coach after a 0-0 draw with Espanyol in the Spanish league on Friday.

Deportivo squandered chances including a second-half penalty kick taken by Lucas Perez. Its winless streak reached 10 games in all competitions.

It was the third game in a row without a victory since Seedorf took over to try to avoid relegation. Deportivo was 18th in the 20-team standings, in the relegation zone.

In addition to the missed penalty, Deportivo twice hit the posts in front of a supportive crowd at Riazor Stadium. The players left the field applauded by the local fans despite the setback.

Perez’s penalty attempt was saved by Espanyol goalkeeper Diego Lopez in the 65th minute. Lopez, who earlier this season stopped a penalty taken by Lionel Messi, dived to his right to stop Perez’s low shot.

The match marked the Deportivo debut of veteran Ghanaian midfielder Sulley Muntari. He played alongside Seedorf at AC Milan, and was signed this week after a trial period.

Espanyol, 15th in the standings, hasn’t won in seven matches, since it ended Barcelona’s 29-match unbeaten streak in the first leg of the Copa del Rey quarterfinals. Espanyol’s last league win was in January, seven rounds ago.

Barcelona defends its seven-point lead in the standings when it hosts Girona on Saturday. Second-place Atletico Madrid visits Sevilla on Sunday.

Conte says he believes in his selection regarding Willian

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Antonio Conte has lashed out at anyone questioning why Brazilian winger Willian hasn’t played regularly until recently, saying

“Do you think that I am stupid when I put Willy on the bench?” Conte fired back at reporters when he was asked about Willian’s earlier lack of playing time at his pre-match press conference ahead of Chelsea’s match on Sunday against Manchester United.

[ MORE: Heynckes squashes Lewandowski to Premier League rumors ]

“I have to try and make the best decision for the team, no? Maybe last season we won the title, or did I forget something?”

The 29-year-old has made 29 Premier League appearances, but only 13 starts. He started in the midweek Champions League match against Barcelona and not only scored Chelsea’s only goal but also proved their most incisive player, prompting questions about his selection.

“Now he is playing because he deserves to play, not because there is some regret from the past,” Conte said. “For what? If a player deserves to play, and shows me during the training session that he is on top of his form, and wants to work defensively, he plays. If not, [he will] stay on the bench, stay in the stands.”

Instead of saying he wishes Willian had played more earlier in the season, he praised himself for giving the Brazilian the start at the appropriate time.

“He is playing now and I am very happy with my choice. Willian deserved to start in the previous game, and played well. I did a fantastic choice, and I want to take credit for that.”

EFL Cup Final preview: Arsenal, Manchester City fight for different types of glory

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  • These two clubs have never met in a major Cup final
  • With a win, Arsene Wenger would become the 8th PL manager to win all 3 major English trophies
  • Sergio Agüero has scored in all of his last 4 appearances against Arsenal

For Manchester City, it’s the first step of a potentially record-setting season. For Arsenal, it’s the Gunners’ best chance at securing a trophy.

The two teams are fighting for very different levels of glory as the two meet at Wembley Stadium on Sunday at 11:30 a.m. ET. Manchester City, despite losing to Wigan in the FA Cup just a week ago, would still be on track for a Double this season with a win against the Gunners. Meanwhile, Arsenal is outside the Premier League top four, and – as they have done each of the past two seasons in the FA Cup – could salvage an otherwise disappointing league season with a major Cup trophy.

Both teams will be struggling with selection in certain areas. Manchester City is likely missing Raheem Sterling, who could sit out due to an unspecified muscle injury according to Pep Guardiola in his pre-match press conference, while Fabian Delph is suspended after his sending off against Wigan in the FA Cup. That means either Danilo or 21-year-old Oleksandr Zinchencko would start at wing-back. Zinchenko is the likely candidate there, having appeared in four of City’s five EFL Cup games this season so far and playing almost every minute of those four matches. Gabriel Jesus, who missed more than two months with a knee injury, could be ready to make his early return. Claudio Bravo will continue to play in goal for the domestic Cup competitions.

Arsenal, meanwhile, is without new signing Henrikh Mkhitaryan who is cup-tied to his previous club Manchester United, while Alexandre Lacazette is not yet recovered from his knee injury suffered in the North London derby, and Mesut Ozil could miss out with an illness. The Gunners are likely, however, to get Aaron Ramsey back in midfield after recovering from a groin injury, while Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang can return to the lineup after his own cup tied absence in the Europa League midweek.

What they’re saying

Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola on playing Arsenal twice in a week: “We will be happy if we win, sad if we don’t but after the game we have another match against Arsenal. We are going to try and maintain our level, but finals are different, it is not what you have done in the past.”

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger on playing Manchester City: “Manchester City have so many players that you think you have to stop that it is better to focus on the team plan than rather than on any individual. It’s true that I always used to use this competition with a youth team. For us it’s an opportunity. We’ll play with all the regular players.” 

Prediction

Arsenal has often come up big in hotly contested Cup matches, despite poor form in the surrounding competitions, so it would not be surprising to once again see Arsene Wenger hoist a trophy on Sunday to temporarily distract the fanbase and media from larger struggles. However, picking against this Manchester City team would be selection suicide, even after their disappointment against Wigan and considering the absence of under the radar star Raheem Sterling. Manchester City wins 3-1 with a pair of late goals to sink the Gunners, with a newly healthy Gabriel Jesus providing an influential injection off the bench in the final 20 minutes. Pep Guardiola raises another trophy at the site where he won the 2011 Champions League.