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.

VIEW FROM THE BOOTH ARCHIVE

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.”

source: Getty Images
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.  

source: Getty Images
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.

League Two game restarted in empty stadium after fans storm field

Photo credit: BBC Sport / Twitter: @BBCSport
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LONDON (AP) An English soccer game restarted in an empty stadium after a pitch invasion led to the crowd being told the fixture had been abandoned.

There were five minutes remaining in Leyton Orient’s fourth-tier game against Colchester on Saturday when a sit-down protest was staged on the pitch by Orient fans against Italian owner Francesco Becchetti.

It forced the referee to take the players off the field. The protests lasted for more than an hour before the crowd was told the game had been abandoned and the stadium eventually cleared. The teams came out and finished the game.

Leyton Orient lost 3-1 a week after its relegation from the English Football League was confirmed after 112 years.

“A decision was taken with the police to announce that the game had been abandoned as it was felt this would help clear the pitch, which proved correct,” the EFL said in a statement. “However, it was deemed appropriate that the game needed to be played to a conclusion in order to maintain the integrity of the competition.”

La Liga: Barcelona, Real Madrid hold serve in tight title race

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A roundup of Saturday’s action in Spain’s top flight…

[ MORE: Super-duper Sunday preview — North London derby, plus 6 of top 7 ]

Espanyol 0-3 Barcelona

Barcelona are doing all they can do — win — in their bid to usurp Real Madrid in the race for the title. While they entered the weekend — and still are — ahead of their El Clasico rivals based on head-to-head results this season, Los Blancos still have a game in hand which will surely decide whether Madrid claim their 33rd top-division title, or a 25th for Barca.

On Saturday, Luis Enrique’s side had more than just the title at stake — also at stake: the Derbi Barceloni, against fellow Catalan side Espanyol.

For 45 minutes, the home side held firm and refused to break, but once Luis Suarez put the Blaugrana ahead in the 50th minute, that was all she wrote. Ivan Rakitic doubled the advantage in the 76th minute, and Suarez completed the scoring 11 minutes later.

Real Madrid 2-1 Valencia

By the time the derby kicked off, Madrid had already applied the pressure and gone three points clear with a 2-1 victory that was a whole lot closer than the final score indicates.

Cristiano Ronaldo opened the scoring just before the half-hour mark, and Zinedine Zidane’s side was well on its way to victory. Ronaldo followed up his opening goal with a missed penalty kick 10 minutes into the second half, and Daniel Parejo pulled the visitors level with a sensational free kick just eight minutes before the end of regular time. Points looked sure to be dropped, and the door opened wider for Barca, but Marcelo was prepared to play the part of hero on the day, and the Brazilian left back bagged one of the season’s more improbable goals, a right-footed strike from the top of the box, in the 86th minute.

Elsewhere in La Liga

Las Palmas 0-5 Atletico Madrid
Real Sociedad 2-1 Granada

Sunday’s La Liga schedule

Osasuna vs. Deportivo La Coruña — 6 a.m. ET
Real Betis vs. Alaves — 10:15 a.m. ET
Eibar vs. Leganes — 12:30 p.m. ET
Celta Vigo vs. Athletic Bilbao — 2:45 p.m. ET

Monday’s La Liga schedule

Malaga vs. Sevilla — 3 p.m. ET

Championship Focus: It’s all about the playoff places now

Photo by Ben Hoskins/Getty Images
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With Brighton & Hove Albion and Newcastle United having already clinched the Championship’s two automatic promotion places, all eyes turn to the four teams behind them still jockeying for playoff positioning…

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s coverage of the Championship ]

3rd — Reading — 82 points, +2 GD
4th — Sheffield Wednesday — 81 points, +16 GD
5th — Huddersfield Town — 81 points, +1 GD
6th — Fulham — 77 points, +27 GD

First of all, the Championship remains the least sensible league in the world. Disagree? Just try to explain the above wildly varying points totals and the corresponding goal differentials. Go ahead, I’ll wait

As for the weekend’s results, Reading and Wednesday did themselves major favors in the race for third with victories over Wigan Athletic (1-0) and Ipswich Town (1-0), respectively, while Huddersfield, who entered the weekend in that top playoff place, played 67 minutes with a man advantage against Birmingham City, and lost 2-0. All three of Reading, Wednesday and Huddersfield have clinched their place in the promotion playoffs, which begin two weeks from Saturday, on May 13.

[ MORE: PL Sunday preview — North London derby, plus 6 of the top 7 play ]

Given Leeds United’s 3-3 draw with Norwich City, a win would have clinched the fourth and final playoff place for Fulham, but the Cottagers dropped a pair of points themselves in a 1-1 draw with Brentford at Craven Cottage. Still, Fulham are all but into the playoffs with a three-point lead on Leeds, and a goal differential that’s 13 goals better.

PL Sunday preview: North London derby; clarity for the top-four?

Photo by Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images & Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images
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There’s Super Sunday, and then there’s this Sunday, when six of the top seven sides in the Premier League will be in action…

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

Manchester United vs. Swansea City — 7 a.m. ET, on CNBC and NBCSports.com

Injury crisis — noun: see, also: United, Manchester

With five games to go in the PL season, and a top-four place very much within reach — as well as the Europa League trophy — Jose Mourinho is without a half-dozen players whom would have been considered automatic first-choice starters at the season’s start (see below). Fortunately for him, he’s got players like Marcus Rashford, Anthony Martial and Henrikh Mkhitaryan beyond anxious for additional playing time.

Following a 0-0 draw with Manchester City on Thursday, Man United have climbed to within two points of third-place Liverpool (with a game in hand), and control their own destiny as far as finishing in the top-four goes. Following three straight defeats to Swansea in 2014 and 2015, order has somewhat been restored with the Red Devils winning the last two meetings between the sides. As badly as United need three points to qualify for the UEFA Champions League, the Swans need them more in their bid to stave off relegation from the PL (they currently sit three points back of 17th-place Hull City, with a better goal differential).

INJURIES: Man United — OUT: Zlatan Ibrahimovic (knee), Paul Pogba (leg), Marcos Rojo (knee), Juan Mata (groin), Marouane Fellaini (suspension), Chris Smalling (knee), Phil Jones (toe) | Swansea — OUT: Angel Rangel (foot), Nathan Dyer (achilles), Wayne Routledge (hernia)

Everton vs. Chelsea — 9:05 a.m. ET, on CNBC and NBCSports.com

Sunday’s trip to Goodison Park, where they are winless in their last two visits (PL and FA Cup), looks to be Chelsea’s toughest remaining fixture as Antonio Conte‘s side seeks to lift the club’s fifth PL trophy (sixth in all eras). After a pair of losses in four games’ time saw their lead cut from 10 points to four, the Blues reasserted themselves as the team to beat with an FA Cup semifinal victory over Tottenham Hotspur, their last remaining challenger, and a convincing 4-2 victory over Southampton in league play on Tuesday.

INJURIES: Everton — OUT: Seamus Coleman (leg), Ramiro Funes Mori (knee), James McCarthy (hamstring), Yannick Bolasie (knee), Muhamed Besic (fitness) | Chelsea — OUT: None

[ MORE: Sunderland officially relegated to Championship ]

Middlesbrough vs. Manchester City — 9:05 a.m. ET, on NBCSports.com

Following that 0-0 draw in the Manchester derby, Man City remain fourth in the league table, a single point back of Liverpool (with a game in hand). Given the mathematics involved, their margin for error is greater than any of the three sides fighting for the final top Champions League places. With that said, a loss away to 19th-place Boro would be horrendous, season-defining result — one that would take their destiny out of their own hands and see them rely on results elsewhere to finish top-four in Pep Guardiola‘s first season.

INJURIES: Boro — OUT: Victor Valdes (ribs); QUESTIONABLE: Grant Leadbitter (hamstring) | Man City — OUT: John Stones (knock), Ilkay Gundogan (knee); QUESTIONABLE: Sergio Aguero (back), David Silva (ankle), Gabriel Jesus (fitness)

Tottenham Hotspur vs. Arsenal — 11:30 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

It was confirmed on Friday that Sunday’s North London derby would be the very last meeting between Tottenham and Arsenal ever played at White Hart Lane, as the 118-year-old stadium will be demolished this summer as construction on Spurs’ brand new, 61,000-seat stadium continues. As fate would have it, not only can Spurs round out the White Hart Lane era with another famous derby when at the Lane, but Sunday also offers Mauricio Pochettino‘s side the chance to do something the club has failed to do in each of the last 22 seasons: clinch a finish above Arsenal in the league table.

Everything is in Spurs’ favor, too, as they’ve won eight straight league games for just the third time in club history (the first time in the PL era), by a combined score of 23-4. Following back-to-back 4-0 wins, over Watford and Bournemouth, their title hopes were kept alive by a brilliant, late strike from Christian Eriksen on Wednesday at Selhurst Park. At the same time, Arsenal were fortunate to top Leicester City courtesy of a comical own goal scored by Robert Huth. If any of those things — stadium nostalgia, form, or current standing in the league (Spurs sit second, 14 points clear of the Gunners — mattered, we’d hand Spurs the three points now. But, this is still Spurs we’re talking about, and why would we ever skip out on the North London derby?

INJURIES: Tottenham — OUT: Erik Lamela (hip), Harry Winks (ankle), Michel Vorm (knee); QUESTIONABLE: Danny Rose (knee)| Arsenal — OUT: Santi Cazorla (achilles), Shkodran Mustafi (thigh); QUESTIONABLE: Laurent Koscielny (knee)