Tottenham and Liverpool battle for fourth, Southampton’s youngsters shine – 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 some way to helping with that.

In the latest edition of “View from the Booth” we chat with NBC Sports’ lead soccer announcer Arlo White Tottenham’s top four challenge, what is holding Liverpool back from being title contenders, how Southampton have fared, the woes of Cardiff City and much, much more.

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You can hear Arlo calling live games every 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.

Tottenham have slipped of late, as Tim Sherwood’s side have looked a little jaded. Is this the Europa League curse striking again? And is a top four spot out of the question?

A top four place is not out of the question for Tottenham, but we will know more about their credentials after a busy and very difficult March period.  Following Sunday’s game against Cardiff at White Hart Lane, they face Chelsea away, Arsenal at home in the north London derby, Southampton at home and then Liverpool away. All extremely tough matches. Their midweek heroics against Dnipro in the Europa League may provide a huge boost in confidence and momentum for the rest of the season, but it has also handed them a tough Last 16 tie against Benfica. Playing a big European game on a Thursday night is not the ideal preparation for a big Arsenal match on Sunday, but as Sherwood has said, they can’t be picky. They need some silverware because the trophy room “echoes.”

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Tim Sherwood’s Spurs are in danger of falling off the pace for a UCL spot, can they pick things up this weekend?

We spoke to Tim Sherwood during the week. He has a very simple, no nonsense approach to management. At least that’s the approach which he projects to the Football world. He wants his defenders to defend, his attackers to attack, and his midfielders to do a bit of both. Simple! He promised us a very attacking line-up against Cardiff, so we’ll see if he perseveres with his 4-4-2, and whether Roberto Soldado will get another opportunity to bag the goal from open play that he, his team mates, Tim Sherwood and all Spurs fans crave.

WATCH SPURS vs. CARDIFF, 11:30am ET, SUNDAY

Sherwood has been boosted with the return of Sandro and Andros Townsend for the run in. Kyle Walker should return at right back as well. If Liverpool win at Southampton, the gap between the 4th placed Reds, and Spurs, will be 9 points. But a Spurs win against Cardiff, will put 8 points between themselves and Manchester United in 6th. Is a 5th place finish looking more likely? Perhaps so, but at least Spurs would have two avenues into the Champions League to explore next season.

We spoke about Cardiff and how well they did in the transfer window… but just one win for Ole Gunnar Solksjaer sees them in all kinds of trouble. What do the Bluebirds need to do to survive?

The air of chaos continues to hang over Cardiff City. Ole Gunnar Solksjaer has been chastened by his opening seven games in charge, managing just one win, and suffering five damaging defeats. Cardiff have failed to score in 15 of their 27 Premier League games, and defensively they were shocking against Hull in a 4-0 home defeat last week. Does Solksjaer know his best XI yet? It doesn’t look like it, which is not a good situation heading into March. Over the last three games, 21 Cardiff players have seen action in the League. His response to a 0-0 draw with Aston Villa, was to change three of the back four against Hull, with catastrophic results.

Solksjaer thinks his side need to win five of their last 11 games to stay up. They still have to play Spurs, Liverpool, Everton, Southampton and Chelsea, so they simply must beat the likes of Fulham, West Brom, and Crystal Palace to stand any chance at all. Cardiff will be boosted by the return of Craig Bellamy from suspension and Jordon Mutch from injury, but with owner Vincent Tan making yet more incendiary statements this week, anything other than a Cardiff defeat at White Hart Lane would be a major surprise.  

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England international Lallana and Rodriguez have led the way, as Saints’ youngsters can finish the season strongly.

Southampton have had a funny season. It started so well, then tailed off, then they went on a long unbeaten run before being battered at West Ham. How do you assess Mauricio Pochettino’s first full season in charge?

To spin the cliche ‘it was a game of two halves’, Southampton have put together a season of ‘three thirds’. They were a wonderful surprise in the opening 11 games of the season. They won six, lost only one and conceded a paltry five goals. The Saints were riding high in 3rd place. Then came a spate of injuries to key midfielders, such as Victor Wanyama, and the departure of their popular and visionary Chairman Nicola Cortese. What followed was a run of one win in nine, and a slide down to mid-table. The Saints capitulated at West Ham last week having taken an early lead, but they have only lost one of their last seven games, and appear to be back on track.

WATCH SAINTS vs. LIVERPOOL, 12:30 pm ET, SATURDAY

Pochettino’s first season in charge has been an unqualified success. Not just because of the results on the field, but the way he has brought on some exciting young talent from the club’s production line. Luke Shaw’s call up to the England squad this week has been greeted with universal positivity in England.  Adam Lallana and Jay Rodriguez have enjoyed break out seasons. Just below Southampton’s new flock of England senior internationals are the likes of Calum Chambers, Nathaniel Clyne, Sam Gallagher, Harrison Reed and James Ward-Prowse. All eager, confident and technically gifted young professionals.

You wonder why Pochettino treated their FA Cup tie at Sunderland with such apparent disdain, but it would be a shame to see Southampton’s League season peter out. Hopefully they can provide a statement of intent with an energetic and committed performance against Liverpool.

With Liverpool joining the title race, have the top four now pulled away? How pivotal is it that the Reds defend better, starting against Southampton on Saturday?

Brendan Rodgers has enjoyed a magnificent season in charge of Liverpool. He exudes calm authority and tactical intelligence. His free scoring side are right up there in the title race, they just need a little help from elsewhere like a Chelsea defeat or an Arsenal draw. With Manchester City in Capital One Cup Final action this weekend, the Reds could leap over them into 3rd place with a win at St Mary’s. Sure, City have games in hand, but their fixtures are piling up, and Liverpool could play the role of clubhouse leader if they continue to win. They need to carry on putting pressure on their rivals, and make a virtue of the fact that they only have 11 Premier League games left in their season. It’s a massive advantage in this title race.

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In recent weeks Liverpool have torn teams apart going forward. But it’s at the back where Arlo thinks they could falter.

Defensively there are clearly issues. For someone who has approached things with such clarity this season, Rodgers’ thinking could be questioned in terms of his defense against Swansea last Sunday. Martin Skrtel had a torrid afternoon. He was booked, he conceded a free kick in a dangerous area, and then conceded an own goal from it. He also gave away a penalty at the start of the 2nd half which Bony dispatched to make it 3-3. But when Rodgers made a center back substitution, it was Daniel Agger that made way for Kolo Toure. Perhaps Agger is getting back to full fitness, or maybe he was carrying a knock. If not, it was odd to burn a substitution on a center back, and then leave the guy on who was struggling.

Also, Glen Johnson played at left back, with John Flanagan, who has seen plenty of action on the left, over at right back. I wouldn’t be surprised if they switched positions at St Mary’s. But let’s not take anything away from Liverpool, who have been an absolute pleasure to watch for long stretches this season. Can they carry on playing like they have nothing to lose, now that they have forced their way onto the top table?

Finally, what else are you looking forward to?

Stoke vs. Arsenal. Even with the slightly more refined approach of Mark Hughes, Stoke City can still produce destructive, whirlwind performances against the big boys at the Britannia. Just ask Jose Mourinho and David Moyes. Arsenal have been known to wilt in the face of physical intimidation, so this is a massive test of their credentials. It would be a huge boost for Arsene Wenger if they come away from the Potteries with the three points in the bag. After all, Liverpool, and a nation of journalists, are waiting to pounce on any mistakes.

Mexico captain Guardado suffers hamstring injury

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With the World Cup still half a year away, there’s plenty of time to heal from injuries and get the body right after tweaking things during the club season.

And yet, there will still be some concern among Mexico fans.

Team captain Andres Guardado suffered a hamstring tear, his club Real Betis confirmed on Monday, and is expected to miss 3-4 weeks. That’s nothing to write home about when it comes to preparing for the big tournament, but with Guardado 31 years old and struggling with injuries in recent years, Mexico fans will be keenly aware that hamstring injuries can return with a vengeance if not given the right time to heal.

Guardado has shown his age in recent times, not necessarily with his play on the field, which has been critical to his country, but with his fitness. Guardado has just four full 90 minute performances for Mexico dating back to October of 2016, missing time with ankle, leg, and now hamstring injuries in that span.

The 31-year-old has had a fine season so far for Real Betis, scoring one goal and assisting six while appearing in all 15 La Liga matches for the club thus far. The club sits 12th in the La Liga table with 18 points.

Guardado will be fine with plenty of time to spare, but if not fully healed properly, there’s always the risk that muscle injuries can flare back up, and Mexico fans will hope that their captain’s club gives him plenty of rest to recover.

Mark Hughes wants Stoke City to “suck it up”

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Mark Hughes is under fire at Stoke City with the Potters firmly entrenched in the relegation battle, and with that he’s charging his players, staff, and himself to gut the rest of the season out.

With Stoke heading to Turf Moor to take on Burnley, they sit just three points above the drop. The players were faced with jeers from angry fans at the train station following this past weekend’s 5-1 disaster against Tottenham. The fiery Hughes is hoping to use this jarring moment to jolt his squad.

[ PREVIEW: Tuesday’s Premier League action ]

“That is still resonating. It’s good we have a game because it is still fresh in their ears probably, and they can use it as a motivating factor,” said Hughes during his pre-match press conference.

“You either suck it up and do ­something about it or you go under, and we can’t accept players like that. I don’t feel we have players like that.”

With managers nowadays often reaching into the excuses barrel as they hope to save their own skins, Hughes refuses to do just that, instead placing the decision firmly on the players shoulders, telling them they are the only ones who can save the club.

“Maybe some hadn’t ­confronted that before – but sometimes you need a reality check, and understand how our results and ­performances affect people,” Hughes said. “When people criticize you, you have to grow a thick skin in this industry. If you don’t, you’re in the wrong place.”

Louis van Gaal calls Mourinho’s United “far more boring”

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Louis Van Gaal has picked just the right time to pipe up.

The former Manchester United manager, who took flak while in charge for his side being hideous to watch, has now taken shots of his own at his successor Jose Mourinho, kicking Manchester United while they’re down after a 2-1 derby defeat at home.

The Dutchman told Fox Sports Netherlands, “If you ask me how did I do at United, I will say it was my best year ever, given the circumstances I was working under. We played football that was quite alright. But it’s not football that is appreciated in England. And yet, right now, looking at United, I have to conclude Mourinho is not being criticized while it’s far more boring football.”

[ PREVIEW: Premier League Tuesday matches, including Chelsea vs. Huddersfield ]

Van Gaal was blasted consistently for playing a boring style, especially in front of the home crowd, and now Mourinho is being criticized for the same concept. Mourinho was denounced for similar reasons while in charge of Chelsea, but with the club winning multiple titles under his leadership, the noise was always less while the team was winning. With Manchester United still unable to crack the top 4, Mourinho is feeling the heat.

“What United produce now is defensive football,” van Gaal said. “I always played attacking football. The proof is that the opposition were always parking the bus. They don’t do that now because Jose Mourinho plays so defensive.”

To van Gaal’s point, Manchester United is seventh in the Premier League in possession, holding 51% possession this season. They were out-possessed by Manchester City 65-35 at Old Trafford over the weekend. Meanwhile, van Gaal’s last full season with Manchester United, the 2015/16 season, saw the Red Devils hold 54%, which ranked third in the Premier League, just a percentage point behind leaders Arsenal. However, van Gaal’s United ranked 15th in the Premier League in total shots, while Mourinho’s United this season ranks sixth at this point.

Van Gaal made sure to point out he prefers their cross-town rivals.

“I would rather watch City play than United. You need quality in a squad and it’s clear City have a better squad.”

Conte blames fatigue for dip in Chelsea form

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Antonio Conte has figured out what is plaguing his Chelsea side as they sit 14 points back of Premier League leaders Manchester City.

“I think when you play every three days, it is impossible to have a training session and to work on the physical aspects,” Conte said in his pre-match press conference as the Blues get set to play Huddersfield Town on Tuesday. “It’s impossible. It’s impossible because you have to prepare with the players for a game every three days.”

Chelsea has yet to find itself eliminated from a single competition, drawn against Barcelona in the Champions League while navigating fixtures across all four competitions.

And yet, this is nothing new for Conte. The Blues boss is more than familiar with fixture congestion, having taken charge of Juventus and regularly competing at a high level on multiple fronts. In 2012/13, he won the Serie A title, won the Supercoppa Italia, and reached the quarterfinals of the Champions League.

However, this is new for Conte at Chelsea. Last season, the Blues did not take part in a European competition thanks to their disastrous season the previous year. While they reached the FA Cup final, they were knocked out of the EFL Cup in the 4th round.

“We have to try to do our best,” Conte said. “For sure, some players can be tired, that’s normal because some players are playing from this summer and our tours in China and Singapore. It’s normal. But I repeat we have to find the best solution. We have to find more rotations. I’m doing this, we will try and do our best with hunger and desire. We will fight.”

As an example, Conte said Alvaro Morata will miss the match on Tuesday against Huddersfield Town due to fatigue, with the Spaniard battling a slight back injury. “Morata is out. He is a bit tired and he has a problem in his back.