NBC's lead soccer announcer Arlo White

Manchester United’s tricky test, Liverpool firing, UCL hangover – 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 Crystal Palace’s battle with Manchester United, Swansea’s trip to face Liverpool, Champions League hangovers and much more.

(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.

On Saturday you are at Selhurst Park to see Palace take on Manchester United. Given the Eagles superb home form and United’s struggles, are Palace the favorites? And how difficult will this be for United?

Palace can’t be favorites for a game against Manchester United, but I’m sure Tony Pulis has them brimming with belief that they are capable of pulling out a first league victory since 1991.

Since the former Stoke boss was appointed in late November, their revival has been nothing short of remarkable. In fact, I’d argue that it is one of the great success stories of this Premier League season, albeit over shadowed by a thrilling title race, the big personalities at the top of the table and the regular managerial casualties around the league.

If the Premier League season started when Pulis was appointed, the Eagles would be in 8th place, only two points behind Manchester United.  It’s an incredible renaissance considering they only earned 7 points from their opening 12 games. Hands up who predicted Palace to stay up?  If you have your hand up, I don’t believe you, or you are a Palace season ticket holder!

source:
Wayne Rooney has signed a lucrative new deal with United. Source: manutd.com

Palace don’t score many goals, but they have become much harder to beat, and are far more resilient against their fellow relegation strugglers. They’ve won three out of their last four in the Premier League, but more tellingly, they’ve turned Selhurst Park into a very difficult place for traveling teams to visit. Pulis has only tasted defeat once in seven at home. Palace had a terrific transfer deadline day.  I’m looking forward to watching Tom Ince against Manchester United. Scott Dann brings experience to the heart of their defense and Joe Ledley has seen plenty of Champions League action at Celtic.

We’ve talked endlessly about United’s troubles in this column this season, so let’s just say that they are capable of winning handsomely at Selhurst Park, but are also vulnerable to a demoralizing defeat similar to the one they suffered at Stoke recently. Wayne Rooney’s new contract announcement is a boost to the club, let’s see if David Moyes’ side can carry that bounce onto the field.

Either way, Rooney can afford to buy a round of sandwiches for the trip back north.

With Liverpool playing after the other title contenders this weekend, the Reds have a chance to go within one point of top spot. What can they expect from Swansea?

Yes, but they could also find themselves chasing by Sunday afternoon. For their Champions League aspirations, they could use a big Chelsea win over Everton on Saturday. For their title hopes, which are slowly growing, they could use the exact opposite.

Brendan Rodgers’ side have been incredible at home this season. Since their only defeat against Southampton, they’ve taken 28 out of the 30 points on offer. Rodgers declared himself tactically culpable for the two points they dropped against Aston Villa, which was another smart piece of man management.

Incredibly, Liverpool have continued their high scoring unbeaten run whilst Luis Suarez has cooled off in pure goalscoring terms. The Uruguayan scored 22 in his first 16 Premier League games this season, but has only found the net once in the last five. He’s still playing well, and it’s a testament to Liverpool’s attacking prowess that Sturridge, Coutinho, Sterling and Steven Gerrard have filled the scoring void.

source: AP
Suarez’s goals have dried up a little of late.

Sturridge has scored a goal in the last seven Premier League games. Only Ruud Van Nistelrooy has managed to score in eight straight in Premier League history. Will this be only the 4th game in 19 that he’ll fail to find the net in the Premier League this season?  It’s doubtful.

Liverpool haven’t had too many chances to break their lengthy title drought. After their defeat at Arsenal last week in the FA Cup, they are now free to concentrate solely on the Premier League. This opportunity doesn’t occur too often, can they grasp it and mount a serious title challenge? We’ll know more after Spurs, Chelsea and Manchester City have visited Anfield.

Do you expect the Swans to survive? Garry Monk seems to have settled them down since taking charge. Is he the right man, long-term?

I think Swansea will survive but if I were a Swans fan, I’d be a little bit concerned about this game, and it’s timing. Liverpool have scored 43 first half goals this season, more than 16 Premier League teams have managed in total. Swansea have managed just seven.  Can the visitors withstand an early hurricane from the Reds, because they know it’s coming?

The game is nestled awkwardly between the two legs of their Europa League tie against Napoli. They earned a valiant 0-0 draw at home on Thursday night against a side lying 3rd in Serie A, but will their minds wander to the 2nd leg in the Stadio San Paulo next Thursday?

Swansea need to give a good account of themselves at Anfield and in Naples, and then gather points against their fellow strugglers like Palace, West Brom and Norwich in the month of March. As for Monk, he’s enjoyed a terrific start, not least a 3-0 win in the South Wales derby. This is his audition. If Swansea continue to improve then he could be their man long term, but it’s very early days.

With disappointment for both English teams in the Champions League, do you think Arsenal and Man City will be suffering a hangover this weekend?

It’s possible. Both managers will have to tinker a little as both sides played big chunks of time with 10 men, against arguably the best two club sides in the world during the week. That will surely lead to some tired legs in either squad.

source: AP
Champions League woe continues for City, will that impact their performance vs. Stoke?

Both will be delighted to be at home against sides from the bottom half of the table. The challenge for Arsene Wenger is whether to give Mesut Ozil a break. Will Manuel Pelligrini give Demichelis a break and integrate Lescott or Nastasic ahead of the 2nd leg in the Nou Camp?  We’ll see.

It’s simple, if Arsenal and Manchester City are hurting, which they should be, they need to get over it and ensure three points each on Saturday afternoon.

Finally, what else are you looking forward to?

West Brom vs. Fulham will be fascinating. Pepe Mel has failed to win any of his five games in charge of the Baggies, but they have managed draws at the Hawthorns against Chelsea, Liverpool and Everton, so there is something to build on.

But what about Fulham? It’s a Premier League bow for the 60-year-old German Felix Magath, the Cottagers third manager this season.  He’s a task master, but he gets results. Whether Fulham’s players will stand for a boot camp atmosphere at this stage of the season is unknown, but they showed against Manchester United and Liverpool (where they were only outscored 5-4 but managed a solitary point) that they do have a resilient streak. They’ll need it with Magath in charge, and the challenge they face to avoid the drop.

Klopp, Liverpool still consulting lawyers over in-limbo Matip

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 11: Joel Matip of Liverpool and Andre Ayew of West Ham United compete for the ball during the Premier League match between Liverpool and West Ham United at Anfield on December 11, 2016 in Liverpool, England.  (Photo by Jan Kruger/Getty Images)
Photo by Jan Kruger/Getty Images
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Few footballing sagas will ever reach heights of absurdity comparable to that of the Joel Matip/Liverpool versus Cameroon/FIFA battle currently raging, as the Reds defender finds himself “ineligible” to play for his club due to an international call-up 18 months after announcing his international retirement.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

PST’s Joe Prince-Wright summed up the situation quite well, in full, right here. An excerpt:

Matip, 25, was called up by the Cameroon national team for the 2017 African Cup of Nations which is currently taking place in Gabon. However, the former Schalke defender has previously stated that he did not want to play for them and he had retired from international duty.

Cameroon called him into their initial 35-man squad for the competition anyway but did not include him in their final 23-man squad once it became clear Matip, along with six other players, had no interest in playing for them at AFCON.

FIFA has confirmed that Liverpool has been in touch regarding Matip’s status and it now appears that he will not be able to play in any other competition while Cameroon is still in AFCON action under Article 5 of FIFA’s rules.

[ MORE: Monday’s transfer rumor roundup | Sunday | Friday | Thursday ]

Fast forward a few days, and Jurgen Klopp and Co. have no further clarity regarding the situation. It’s so unclear, in fact, that Klopp said on Tuesday he may select the 25-year-old during one of two remaining games this week, and hope for the best — quotes from the Guardian:

“As you can imagine, we are in a lot of talks. We’ve done transfers quicker than this. It’s already long term but now it’s getting really tense on our side. We’ve tried everything but at the end I have to make the decision. Of course I have to ask [Liverpool’s lawyers] but the decision is for me to make. I could put him in the lineup. I don’t think the referee is going to say: ‘Stop, stop, you cannot go on the pitch.’ But I will do it when it’s OK from our point of view. Of course I need advice — I’m not a lawyer.”

“Most of the time in life you know if you do this, then you get this. But it’s not 100 percent clear what happens [if Matip plays]. We try everything to win football games. If this can happen — out of the tournament or whatever — then we have to decide about the risk. He’s ready to play for us and that makes it difficult.”

What an utter disaster of a situation Cameroon have intentionally created here.

VIDEO: Jeison Murillo’s incredible bicycle from a corner kick

MILAN, ITALY - JANUARY 17:  (R-L) Jeison Murillo of FC Internazionale celebrates his first goal with Geoffrey Kondogbia during the TIM Cup match between FC Internazionale and Bologna FC at Stadio Giuseppe Meazza on January 17, 2017 in Milan, Italy.  (Photo by Pier Marco Tacca/Getty Images)
Photo by Pier Marco Tacca/Getty Images)
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Look away now, Andy Carroll. Take a bow, Jeison Murillo.

[ VIDEOS: All in a week’s work — Messi free kick no. 1 | Messi free kick no. 2 ]

Just three days after Carroll scored the bicycle-kick goal of the year (so we thought), here comes Murillo, Inter Milan’s 24-year-old Colombian striker, to steal his thunder (below video). The fact he did it directly from a corner kick, with the ball traveling roughly 40 yards before flinging his body into the air and striking the ball so cleanly, (somehow) trumps Carroll’s accomplishment from Saturday.

[ MORE: PL Power Rankings — Tight at the top… and bottom ]

Sensational goals come in twos now, apparently, as Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Olivier Giroud scored stunning scorpion-kick goals (WATCH HERE and HERE) just days apart earlier in the season.

FA Cup roundup: Burnley, Crystal Palace advance to 4th round

LONDON, ENGLAND - JANUARY 17: Christian Benteke of Crystal Palace (C) celebrates scoring his sides first goal with Andros Townsend of Crystal Palace (L) during the Emirates FA Cup third round replay between Crystal Palace and Bolton Wanderers at Selhurst Park on January 17, 2017 in London, England.  (Photo by Ian Walton/Getty Images)
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A roundup of all of Tuesday’s action in FA Cup third-round replays…

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Burnley 2-0 Sunderland

Sam Vokes and Andre Gray grabbed goals for Burnley, who opted for a largely first-choice lineup in Tuesday’s replay. Sunderland, meanwhile, went with a mix-and-match bunch and slumped to six games without a win (all competitions), meaning they can focus solely on Premier League survival from here on out. Burnley will host Championship side Bristol City in the fourth round next Saturday, Jan. 28.

[ MORE: Monday’s transfer rumor roundup | Sunday | Friday | Thursday ]

Crystal Palace 2-1 Bolton Wanderers

Sam Allardyce picked up his first win as Palace boss, courtesy of a Christian Benteke brace scored nine minutes apart in the second half, as the Eagles came from behind to beat League One side Bolton at Selhurst Park. James Henry put the visitors three minutes into the second half, but Benteke hit back in the 68th and 77th minutes to improve Allardyce’s record to one win, two draws and three losses (all competitions). Palace will host Manchester City in the fourth round next Saturday.

Tuesday’s FA Cup scoreboard

AFC Wimbledon 1-3 Sutton United
Barnsley 1-2 (AET) Blackpool
Fleetwood Town 0-1 Bristol City
Lincoln City 1-0 Ipswich Town

AFCON: Ayew propels Ghana to victory; Egypt struggle vs. Mali

FORTALEZA, BRAZIL - JUNE 21:  Andre Ayew of Ghana celebrates scoring his team's first goal during the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil Group G match between Germany and Ghana at Castelao on June 21, 2014 in Fortaleza, Brazil.  (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)
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A roundup of all of Tuesday’s action in the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations…

Ghana 1-0 Uganda

PORT-GENTIL, Gabon (AP) Andre Ayew scored a penalty as Ghana beat Uganda 1-0 on Tuesday in a lackluster opening to the four-time champions’ bid for a first African Cup of Nations title in 35 years.

Ghana took control of Group D after seven-time champion Egypt struggled in a 0-0 draw with Mali in the other group match.

Ghana has three points, Egypt and Mali one each and Uganda zero.

Ayew, a West Ham winger, netted in the 32nd minute after Asamoah Gyan was held back by Isaac Isinde in the penalty area in Port-Gentil.

Avram Grant, a former Chelsea manager, is looking to lead Ghana to a second successive final but go better than 2015 when his team lost to Ivory Coast.

Uganda has also finished runner-up in the continental championship but the trip to the final in 1978 was the last time it qualified until making the Gabon event.

[ MORE: Monday’s transfer rumor roundup | Sunday | Friday | Thursday ]

Mali 0-0 Egypt

Later, 44-year-old Egypt goalkeeper Essam El Hadary became the oldest player in tournament history when he came on for injured Ahmed El Shenawy midway through the first half.

El Hadary, who celebrated his birthday two days ago, is participating in his seventh African Cup, having picked up winners’ medals in 2006, 2008 and 2010.

Egypt’s standout forward Mohamed Salah struggled and was replaced midway through the second half.

Mali, looking to improve on its third-place finishes in 2012 and 2013, produced many more chances.

Egypt failed to qualify for the last three editions of the tournament.

Wednesday’s AFCON schedule

Gabon vs. Burkina-Faso — 11 a.m. ET
Cameroon vs. Guinea-Bissau — 2 p.m. ET