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!

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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.

MLS Snapshot: FCD lose 2nd in a row; Fire win 4th straight

AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh
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The game in 100 words (or less): After starting the 2017 season nine games without a loss, FC Dallas, the longest-lasting unbeaten team in MLS, has lost two straight. Saturday saw their unbeaten start come to an end, against the San Jose Earthquakes, just as Wednesday’s trip to Toyota Stadium saw Oscar Pareja’s side drop all three points to the Chicago Fire. All three of the game’s goals were scored during the opening nine minutes, as FCD fought back from 1-0, but couldn’t find a second equalizer on the night. Nemanja Nikolic bagged the opener, his 11th goal in 13 games to extend his lead in the Golden Boot race to two, in the 3rd minute. Roland Lamah brought FCD back to level terms three minutes later, but David Accam restored the home side’s advantage after three more minutes. Nikolic had every opportunity in the world to take his goals tally to a dozen during second-half stoppage time, but Chris Seitz denied the Hungarian international from the penalty spot. For the first time since Sept. 2012, Chicago have won four straight league games, and sit just two points back of Eastern Conference-leading Toronto FC (26 points).

[ WATCH: Chicharito-to-MLS in doubt due to $10M contract demands ]

Three moments that mattered

3′ — Nikolic redirects past Seitz for 1-0 — Nikolic ran 15 yards straight ahead without a single FCD player picking him up or impeding his path to the near post, and they paid for it.

6′ — Lamah taps it in to make it 1-1 right away — Lamah has been quite the disappointment since arriving in Dallas this winter, but he happened to eb in the right place at the right time in this one, as a failed clearance fell to the five-times-capped Belgian international for an easy tap-in, and his first MLS goal.

9′ — Accam cuts inside to make it 2-1 just as quickly — At some point, Accam will be properly rated by the wider MLS audience, as he’s been Chicago’s best player for two full seasons, and has only hit a new high with capable attackers all around him.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverageStandings | Stats | Schedule ]

Man of the match: Dax McCarty

Goalscorers: Nikolic (3′), Lamah (6′), Accam (9′)

Report: Chicharito-to-MLS in doubt due to contract demands

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While Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez has the feel of the player most clearly destined to play in MLS since Thierry Henry, we might have to wait a little while longer before the 28-year-old Mexican international ditches Europe in favor of a return to North America.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverage ]

According to a report from ESPN FC on Thursday, Hernandez is seeking an annual salary “way north of $10 million,” which would shatter the current record contract for an MLS player (Kaka — $7.2 million per year).

Hernandez has one more season left on his contract with Bundesliga side Bayer Leverkusen. During the summer of 2018 he’ll be available for any club in the world to sign on a free transfer. With Los Angeles FC, the team Hernandez has reportedly been negotiating with for months now, set to debut in MLS in March 2018, chances are they’d like the centerpiece of their squad (and the largest annual investment in MLS history) to be involved on opening day, thus a fee will be required, very likely pushing the club’s total investment (salary plus fee) into the neighborhood of $50 million.

[ WATCH: Giovani dos Santos’ jaw-dropping volley vs. MIN ]

You can see pretty quickly why LAFC might balk at such demands.

With that said, 1) LAFC shouldn’t be surprised by this recent development, given Hernandez’s otherworldly allure within the LA market; 2) to piggyback on no. 1, a player should be paid every cent he’s worth to the club, on and off the field, and there might not be a player in the entire world (this side Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo) who’d make LAFC a bigger hit in LA from day one.

Enrique “more than satisfied” with Barca tenure, eyes one more trophy

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MADRID (AP) Luis Enrique is finally saying goodbye to Barcelona, with one last chance at a trophy.

The Luis Enrique era in Barcelona ends after the Copa del Rey final against Alaves on Saturday, when the coach could cap his three-year stint with a ninth trophy out of a possible 13.

It would be a fitting farewell for him nearly three months after his surprise announcement that he was leaving.

“It would be a special title,” Luis Enrique said.

The former Barcelona midfielder has won nearly everything as the coach, since replacing Gerard Martino in 2014.

He led the team to the treble of the Spanish league, Copa del Rey, and Champions League in 2015. He achieved the league-Copa double in 2016, and began this season with the Spanish Super Cup title, their only trophy so far.

It hasn’t been Luis Enrique’s best season with Barcelona, which was eliminated in the quarterfinals of the Champions League, and lost the Spanish league to Real Madrid last weekend.

“I’m happy and more than satisfied for all the years that I’ve enjoyed with this club,” the 47-year-old Luis Enrique said.

He announced in March he was leaving so he could get some rest.

“I came here to be a leader and I’ve been one. I’m leaving when I think it’s the best time to do it.”

His other titles included the 2015 European Super Cup and the 2015 Club World Cup.

Barcelona has yet to lose a Copa del Rey home-and-away series since he took over, a run of 12 straight triumphs.

“We are all thankful for these three years (with Luis Enrique),” captain Andres Iniesta said. “We have to win one last title to finish the best possible way.”

Barcelona has been in the Copa final in seven of the last nine seasons, including the last four. It has won it a record 28 times, including the last two.

Alaves will be playing in the final of a major tournament for only the second time in its 96-year history. The other was the UEFA Cup 16 years ago, when it lost to Liverpool 5-4 in extra time.

Alaves’ only winner’s trophy is for Spain’s second division. It was a promoted club in Spain’s top division this season after 10 years in the lower divisions, including four in the third tier. It finished ninth in the Liga.

Alaves enters the Copa final boosted from having beaten Barcelona 2-1 at Camp Nou at the beginning of the season.

The coach touted to replace Luis Enrique at Barcelona is Ernesto Valverde, who left Athletic Bilbao this week. An official announcement is expected next week.

Marco Silva leaves Hull; Premier League clubs lining up

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Marco Silva came to the Premier League, he saw the PL, but he didn’t conquer the PL — at least, not yet.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

It was announced on Thursday that the 39-year-old Portuguese manager, who took over last-place Hull City in January, has left the club after succumbing to relegation from the PL. Silva, whose stock rose quickly during his brief stay in England, signed a contract that ran only through the end of the season should they be relegated, thus he’s not sure on options these days. Hull would have undoubtedly welcomed him back for a run at promotion from the Championship next season.

As recently as Wednesday, Silva was expected to be named the new boss at Porto, though various reports stated that talks between the manager and club had broken down.

[ MORE: Terry “couldn’t care less” about criticism of his farewell ]

Watford and Crystal Palace, both of whom are manager-less after Walter Mazzarri was fired and Sam Allardyce resigned, respectively, are said to be extremely interested in Silva’s services.