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.

source: AP
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.

Pique: For first time in career, Barca star feels “inferior to Madrid”

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Gerard Pique does not have the sort of personality that makes admitting defeat an easy proposition.

The longtime Barcelona center back is raging after his side was beaten 5-1 over two legs by rivals Real Madrid in the Spanish Super Cup.

[ MORE: Barca releases statement on terror attacks ]

And for the first time in his life, he thinks Barca is a step behind its El Clasico enemies. From The Telegraph:

“This is a long process and there is room for improvement but in the nine years that I have been here, it is the first time that I feel inferior to Madrid,” Piqué said. “We are not in the best moment, either as a team or as a club. We must stay as close as possible and keep moving forwards.”

Barcelona looked very poor in the second leg of the Super Cup, though the club did hammer the woodwork on multiple occasions. Real is the best team in the world, which makes being its rival a real hassle.

In fact, both clubs have been 1-2 in the world for some time, which has to make it extra perplexing when you’re No. 2 to only the club you despise more than any other.

Bundesliga preview: Schalke, BVB chase Bayern Munich

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The last time Schalke spent a season outside of European football, the celebrated German club finished second in the league en route to a Champions League semifinal the following campaign.

That’s one of the only silver linings from last season’s disappointing 10th place finish, 19 points behind fourth place Hoffenheim.

[ MORE: Schalke’s teen American impact ]

“Naturally, nobody is happy about not playing international this year,” center back Benedikt Howedes told ProSoccerTalk. “During the week we currently have more time to focus on the next opponent. We will battle the European positions with many teams this season. I think, the race is up in the air. The Bundesliga is very balanced.”

World Cup winner Howedes has 334 appearances for Schalke (Getty Images).

Schalke’s tumulutous 2016-17 season started poorly and never really found its footing. The club lost its first five league matches under Markus Weinzierl, who was fired in June, and saw marquee transfers Naldo, Breel Embolo, and Coke miss a lot of time through injuries.

Enter 31-year-old Domenico Tedesco. Don’t let the age fool you, he’s the boss not a player, and youth will be part of the team as well. Schalke still has Embolo, Max Meyer and Leon Goretzka, American teen Weston McKennie has been promoted to the first team, and Amine Harit has arrived from Nantes.

From the outside, that puts an emphasis on veteran leadership. Fortunately for Schalke, it has living club legend Howedes and ex-Man City defender Matija Nastasic amongst others in the fold.

“The spirit, if you could be in the locker room, it’s amazing,” McKennie told PST. “It doesn’t matter how old you are.”

[ MORE: Guide to two promoted Bundesliga teams ]

In the case of Nastasic, who won the Premier League with Manchester City in 2013-14, his 24 years carry a lot of experience. He’s thrived at Fiorentina, become a staple of the Serbian national team, and rebounding from his injury-hit time at City and is a leader at Schalke.

And those young guys can learn from Nastasic, who’s seen it all at 24.

“When I just arrived in Italy I was only 18 and it was the first year out of my country,” Nastasic told PST. “I didn’t expect at the beginning that I would play that much. Then I changed to England, and it was totally different. Italy is more tactical. Football in England is physical with a lot of tempo and running. I was young also without so much experience but when I was fit I think I played good.”

Schalke will need its young attack to find more goals. Its defense was Top Five in goals conceded last season, but its 45 goals was mid-table.

“Everyone knows that last season was not as good as we had expected,” Howedes said. “With our new coach, we want to improve our game and make our fans happy again. We are training hard and I am sure, that we will be more constant and improve our performances this season.”

[ MORE: First female ref to make Bundesliga debut ]

“From the team I expect a much better season than last year,” Nastasic adds. “We are not playing international games so maybe that’s an advantage for us. We can concentrate on the Bundesliga.”

Both Nastasic and Howedes heaped praise on McKennie, as well as American teammate Haji Wright, who will spend the season on loan to Sandhausen, and the game overseas in general.

“Haji Wright started spectacular,” Howedes said. “For young players the most important thing is to play. On loan in Sandhausen the chance is greater than here. I rejoice for him he get this opportunity. The step in the 2.Bundesliga can be a good beginning of his career.

“The American soccer is really developing the last years. It is no coincidence that a lot of great players like Kaka and Gerrard joined Major League Soccer. And who knows, I also can imagine to play there some day in the future.”

Different champs (but probably not different champs): Bayern Munich will neither have Xabi Alonso nor Philipp Lahm this season, but that doesn’t mean they are runaway favorites to claim its 27th title and sixth-straight since Borussia Dortmund’s two-year reign ended with the 2011-12 crown. Carlo Ancelotti has reloaded with James Rodriguez and Corentin Tolisso, and will be favored to hold off BVB for the crown.

Here’s to the new Bosz: USMNT phenom Christian Pulisic is already making an impact in the mind of his new coach, Peter Bosz, and the manager will be pleased to note that reports say Pulisic has no interest in looking into his future until after the 2018 World Cup.

Sleepers? Eintracht Frankfurt dropped into 11th last season, and may benefit from not finishing in a European place. The club has added Mexican national teamer Carlos Saucedo, Dutch star Jetro Willems, and well-traveled Jonathan De Guzman for its new season.

Americans Abroad:
John Brooks (Wolfsburg)
Julian Green (Stuttgart)
Christian Pulisic (Borussia Dortmund)
Fabian Johnson (Borussia Monchengladbach)
McKennie (Schalke)
Timothy Chandler (Eintracht Frankfurt)
Bobby Wood (Hamburg)
Aron Johannsson (Werder Bremen *expected to be sold)
Caleb Stanko (Freiburg)

Old faces, new places:
Serge Gnabry (Hoffenheim, on loan from Bayern Munich)
Mahmoud Dahoud (Borussia Dortmund, from ‘Gladbach)
Mathew Leckie (Hertha BSC, from Ingolstadt)
Sven Bender (Bayer Leverkusen, from BVB)
Marcel Heller (Augsburg, from Darmstadt)
Kyriakos Papadopoulos (Hamburg, from Bayer)
John Brooks (Wolfsburg, from Hertha)
Paul Verhaegh (Wolfsburg, from Augsburg)
Holger Badstuber (Stuttgart, from Bayern)

New faces, new places:
James Rodriguez (Bayern Munich)
Jonathan Klinsmann (Hertha BSC)
Reece Oxford (Gladbach, on loan from West Ham)
Harit (Schalke)
Jonathan de Guzman (Eintracht Frankfurt)
Jetro Willems (Eintracht Frankfurt)
Carlos Salcedo (Eintracht Frankfurt)
Viktor Fischer (Mainz)

Opening weekend
Bayern Munich vs. Bayer Leverkusen — Friday
Hamburg vs. Augsburg — Saturday
Hertha Berlin vs. Stuttgart — Saturday
Hoffenheim vs. Werder Bremen — Saturday
Wolfsburg vs. Borussia Dortmund — Saturday
Mainz vs. Hannover 96 — Saturday
Schalke vs. RB Leipzig — Saturday
Freiburg vs. Eintracht Frankfurt — Sunday
Borussia Monchengladbach vs. Koln — Sunday

FC Barcelona releases statement after terror attack

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FC Barcelona found tragedy at home on Thursday when a terrorist plot unfolded in Las Ramblas, killing 13 and injuring more than 100.

Las Ramblas is just a 20-minute ride from the Camp Nou, and the Catalan club hosts Real Betis on Sunday.

[ MORE: Another American teen making Bundesliga name ]

A terrorist-driven rental van was driven at 50 mph through a crowded plaza. As of post time, two men had been arrested but the driver remained on the loose.

Saying it was sickened by the attack, FCB announced it will fly flags at half-mast, wear black arm bands during the match and hold a minute’s silence.

Here’s the full statement:

FC Barcelona wants to express its profound sorrow and utter disgust at the terrorist attack that has hit the heart of our city, la Rambla de Barcelona. The Club wishes to send our support and thoughts to the victims, their families and friends as well as the people of Barcelona and its visitors.

As a mark of respect, the flags will fly at half-mast at the Club’s facilities and the players from both teams will wear black armbands in all the Club’s matches this weekend.

On Sunday, before the 2017/18 La Liga opener against Betis, the Camp Nou will hold a minutes silence in recognition and memory of the victims.

AC Milan and Napoli likeliest challengers to Juve’s crown

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MILAN (AP) Juventus’ six-year Serie A domination could end this year.

AC Milan has reinforced its squad, Inter Milan has had some much-needed stability after four managerial changes last season, while Napoli looks set to mount an even stronger challenge this time around.

Lazio could also be surprise contenders after Simone Inzaghi’s side withstood a late comeback to beat Juventus 3-2 and win the Italian Super Cup on Wednesday.

[ MORE: Another American teen making Bundesliga name ]

However, Juventus coach Massimiliano Allegri has warned the rest of Serie A that it will be a very different performance from his team in Saturday’s season opener at home to Cagliari.

“We cannot and must not play like that in the league,” he said. “This defeat brings us back to earth. Some of the players aren’t fully fit yet, so I knew it wasn’t going to be easy … but starting on Saturday you’ll see a different Juve.”

Allegri also took encouragement from the last time Juventus played Lazio in the Super Cup, in 2015.

“We beat Lazio in Beijing for the Super Cup two years ago and then had a bad start to the Serie A season, so hopefully we’ll do it the other way round this time,” he said.

Juventus has dominated Italian soccer for nearly a decade, winning three successive league and cup doubles and it will be tricky for anyone to prevent the Bianconeri from extending their league record to seven straight Serie A titles.

Milan was the last team other than Juventus to win the title and, despite having last finished in the top three in 2013, it looks the likeliest to depose the Turin-based club.

The Chinese-led consortium that purchased Milan from Silvio Berlusconi for $800 million in April has infused the club with cash and splashed out more than 200 million euros ($234 million) in the offseason.

[ VIDEO: Giovanni Reyna’s MOTM job for USYNT ]

As well as signing Italy’s top defender Leonardo Bonucci from Juventus, Milan also brought in forward Andre Silva from FC Porto; midfielders Ricardo Rodriguez (Wolfsburg), Franck Kessie and Andrea Conti (Atalanta), Hakan Calhanoglu (Bayer Leverkusen) and Lucas Biglia (Lazio); and defender Mateo Musacchio (Villarreal).

Fourth place in Serie A now guarantees qualification to the Champions League and that will be the minimum requirement for Vincenzo Montella’s team. But, if the new team gels quickly, there is the feeling that Milan could make a strong challenge for the title.

Bonucci was playing down his new side’s chances.

“Juve remains favorite and Napoli has a great chance of fighting for the title,” Bonucci said in interview with Gazzetta dello Sport. “As we are now we’re still a step below both, but we shouldn’t put limits on ourselves. After those two, I see Milan, Inter and Roma as equal.”

Napoli has finished in the top three in four of the past five seasons but even a record number of points last campaign still left it third, five points behind Juventus.

However, talk of the `scudetto’ is no longer a taboo for Napoli, which hasn’t won the title since 1990.

But, while it didn’t make any big signings in the transfer window, its biggest success of the offseason has been in keeping its band of talented players together.

It sold Ezequiel Lavezzi in 2012 and Edinson Cavani the following year – both to Paris Saint-Germain – while Gonzalo Higuain moved to Juventus in 2016.

This year Dries Mertens and Lorenzo Insigne have signed new contracts, while Marek Hamsik is just three goals away from breaking Diego Maradona’s scoring record for the club.

Mertens was reportedly pursued by a number of clubs – both in Italy and abroad – but the Belgium international, who scored more than 30 goals for Napoli last campaign, opted to extend his stay with the southern side.

“I stayed here because the team plays very beautiful football and doing that we can get a lot of joy,” said Mertens, who scored again as Napoli beat Nice 2-0 in the first leg of its Champions League playoff on Wednesday.

Napoli played arguably the best soccer in Italy last season and its attacking flair saw it score 94 goals, but it faltered against teams in the lower half of the table and coach Maurizio Sarri is hoping to have corrected that by the time it kicks of its Serie campaign at Hellas Verona on Saturday.

More AP Italian soccer coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/SerieA