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.

Oxlade-Chamberlain injury update

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Jurgen Klopp does not seem confident that Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain will play again this season.

The Liverpool and England midfielder suffered an injury to his right knee early on in Liverpool’s 5-2 win over Roma in their UEFA Champions League semifinal first leg, as he appeared to extend his right knee under his body when making a challenge on Aleksandar Kolarov.

Speaking to the media following Liverpool’s dramatic win, Klopp was downbeat about Oxlade-Chamberlain’s chances of playing again this season.

“We don’t know exactly but if the medical department are quite concerned without a scan, you can imagine it’s difficult. The season is not that long anymore. It doesn’t look good,” Klopp said. “I’m a very positive person and still hope it only feels bad, but is not that bad. We’ll see. We lost a fantastic player tonight. It’s not good news.”

This injury has come at such a bad time for The Ox.

He has been flourishing with Liverpool in a central midfield role and has delivered key goals and assists in big wins since arriving from Arsenal last summer. Most notably the Ox’s driving midfield runs have caused Manchester City all kinds of problems and he scored two screamers against them in wins at Anfield in the Premier League and UCL.

Georginio Wijnaldum stepped in admirably for Oxlade-Chamberlain against Roma and the Dutch midfielder will be used alongside James Milner and Jordan Henderson from here on out by Klopp, especially with Emre Can battling a back injury.

As for Oxlade-Chamberlain, he will now be focused on trying to be fit for the UCL final on May 26 (if Liverpool get there) and on making England’s 2018 World Cup squad. That seems like a big ask given Klopp’s gloomy assessment.

Wenger: Timing of departure “not really my decision”

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Arsene Wenger has been speaking about his Arsenal departure and there are some intriguing details emerging.

Wenger, 68, announced last Friday that he would be leaving Arsenal at the end of the current 2017-18 campaign after almost 22 years in charge.

But when asked about the timing of his decision during his press conference ahead of the Europa League semifinal first leg against Atletico Madrid on Thursday, Wenger said it was taken out of his hands…

“The timing was not really my decision, the rest I have spoken about already,” Wenger said. “I focus on what I have to do every day. At the moment, I work like ever.”

Wenger added that he will “for sure” continue to work beyond this season but wasn’t giving anything away on where he would go. The Arsenal boss also said he had a “high opinion of Luis Enrique” but that didn’t “want to influence the next manager” of Arsenal with so many contenders mentioned.

What do we make of all this?

Wenger still had one more year left on his current deal at Arsenal and it appears he was keen to be in charge next season, but he could have simply been saying that he would have preferred an announcement at the end of the season. The growing notion that Wenger stepped down before he was sacked seems to be on point. After three Premier League titles and 10 major trophies in total in over two decades in charge, it appears Wenger didn’t get to decide when he called time on his Arsenal career.

The perfect end for Wenger at Arsenal would be to win the Europa League and then leave on a high, but these comments suggest the Frenchman may not be happy with some of the hierarchy at Arsenal.

These comments amid links to PSG and the French national team also suggest to rule out a role upstairs at Arsenal, at least for the foreseeable future, for Wenger.

Roma condemn violent scenes outside Anfield

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AS Roma have condemned an attack from some of its supporters on Liverpool’s fans before the game after a 53-year-old Liverpool supporter was injured outside Anfield before the UEFA Champions League semifinal first leg on Tuesday.

The Serie A side said that a “small minority of traveling fans brought shame on the club” as two men from Rome have been arrested on suspicion of attempted murder after the attack on the Liverpool fan who is in a critical condition after suffering head injuries.

Below is the statement in full from the Italian club.

AS Roma condemns in the strongest possible terms the abhorrent behavior of a small minority of traveling fans who brought shame on the club and the vast majority of Roma’s well-behaved supporters at Anfield after getting involved in clashes with Liverpool supporters before last night’s fixture.

There is no place for this type of vile behavior in football and the club is now cooperating with Liverpool Football Club, UEFA and the authorities. The club’s thoughts and prayers are with the 53-year-old Liverpool fan in hospital and his family at this time.

Salah’s sensational season in context

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Mohamed Salah is having a season on the same level as Lionel Messi.

Some* will even say it’s better.

[ MORE: LFC 2-1 Roma | Klopp reacts ]

There are few ways to overstate how well the Egyptian has performed for Liverpool this season, and few matches have been as strong as Tuesday’s destruction of AS Roma.

Make no mistake about it: Destruction is the right word. I Lupi isn’t dead thanks to the Reds right side of the defense and James Milner‘s arm, but it was fading out of consciousness when Salah departed the game.

It’s not crazy to draw the connection. Just ask Jurgen Klopp:

“If anyone wants to say it is my mistake that we concede the two goals because I change the striker, I have no problem with that,” he said. “Mo was running all the time and it would not have helped us if he gets an injury. What a player. If you think he is the best in the world, write it or say it. He is in outstandingly good shape, world-class shape, but to be the best in the world you need to do it over a longer period, I think. The other two are not bad.”

No, no they are not, but Salah is on their level.

The aesthetics of his first goal were first-class, dinging off the bottom of the cross bar like a vicious swish of a Steph Curry three. When the night ended, Salah had two more goals and two more assists to bring his total to 43 goals and 15 assists in 47 matches. In three more matches, the best player on the planet has 40 and 18 (Ronaldo has 42 and 7 in 39).

[ MORE: LFC supporter in critical condition after Roma attack ]

The reason not to overreact is Luis Suarez’s 2013-14, in which he posted posted 31 goals and 24 assists in 37 games and would’ve arguably made Salah’s season look just “pretty great” if the Reds were in European football (or, one could argue, Suarez wasn’t slowed by the demands of a more congested adventure).

And we also won’t know Salah’s path next season. Take Cristiano Ronaldo’s 2007-08 season, the closest thing we have to Suarez or Salah in this generation. The then-23-year-old posted 42+8 in 49, but took a step back the next season before exploding into space upon debut with Madrid the following season (His second Real campaign, 2010-11, was the first real otherworldly CR7 campaign, with 53+18 in 54).

Salah is the Premier League Player of the Year, and he’s the front-runner for the Ballon d’Or (which is likely to be determined by this summer’s World Cup in Russia, with Argentina and Portugal possibly on a quarterfinal collision course and Egypt in an very winnable Group A with Russia, Uruguay, and Saudi Arabia).

Jurgen Klopp deserves much credit for Salah’s explosion. Even if the Egyptian began his ascent in Italy, there’s been nothing like this. And if he can do it a few more years, he has the chance to land amongst the generational names in soccer (perhaps as the best African player in Premier League history with Yaya Toure and Didier Drogba).

He’ll almost certainly become the all-time single-season Liverpool league goal scorer this season barring rest for the UCL, and he’ll be their top all-time according to Opta if he nabs four or more goals across 4-5 matches (Roma again, Stoke, Chelsea, Brighton, and probably Real Madrid or Bayern Munich).

The Reds were unbelievably good for 80 minutes on Tuesday — 75 of which were Salah-led — and the praise would’ve been flowing like a waterfall had they not switched off for 10 (in which it must be said Liverpool was fortunate to only concede twice!).

*By the way, Messi fans, you’ll be relieved to count me as not one of those who’d say Salah is having a better season. It’s closer than you think. Messi is better than Salah in league play, while Salah is having a superior UCL campaign. Given the general consensus top-to-bottom on Premier League vs. La Liga and Barca’s UCL competition vs. Liverpool’s opponents — which is drawing level now — we’d say it’s even.

Messi vs. Salah league play (per 90, Squawka)
Assists: Messi 0.4-0.31
Key passes: Messi, 2.16-1.63
Chances created: Messi, 2.56-1.94
Attack score: Messi, 73.04-54.5
Possession score: Messi, 5.6 to minus-5.12
Pass completion (%): Messi, 81-77
Shot accuracy: Even (62%)
Tackles won: Salah, 0.24-0.2
Take-ons won (%): Messi, 69.47-64.96

Messi vs. Salah league play (per 90, Squawka)
Assists: Salah, 0.45-0.23
Key passes: Salah, 2.13-1.72
Chances created: Salah, 2.58-1.95
Attack score: Salah, 70.89-55.69
Possession score: Messi, 2.71 to minus-3.34
Pass completion (%): Messi, 81-73
Shot accuracy(%): Salah, 73-69
Tackles won: Messi, 0.69-.45
Take-ons won (%): Salah, 76.4-61.4