Liverpool, Manchester City continue to 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 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 Manchester City’s massive clash against Arsenal, Liverpool’s title credentials, some massive matches in the relegation zone and much, much more.

(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.

After Arsenal’s midweek draw with Swansea, does Saturday’s match with Man City now become a must win if the Gunners are going to win the title?

It has to be, and Arsene Wenger has admitted as much. What a difference a week makes. Last Saturday, they went to Stamford Bridge knowing a win would place them one point behind Chelsea at the top, with a game in hand.  A 6-0 dubbing and a midweek draw with Swansea later, and they are clinging onto the fringes of the title race by their finger tips.

I said during the call last Saturday that teams who ship 17 goals in three visits to their top four rivals can’t be considered legitimate title contenders, and I stand by that. Arsenal’s failure to adapt their approach after previous thrashings is very concerning for Arsenal fans. If they lose to City, then another concern is the form of Everton right behind them. The Toffees are six points behind the Gunners with a game in hand.  Arsenal visit Goodison Park next weekend, which could be vital in deciding who finishes in 4th place.

What about Man City… were you impressed with their derby day demolition of Man United in midweek? Are they the Champions elect?

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City ran rings around United all night long, as they’re timing their title change masterfully well.

They are one of the favorites, four has definitely become three. They were clinical in their dismantling of United at Old Trafford. Much of the press has been about how poor United were, but you have to look at City and the way they got after United from the very first kick of the game. They had a couple of opportunities very early on and they were camped in the United half. Then they took the lead after 40 seconds, which was a great start. Graeme Le Saux, who called the game alongside me, his concern is that City have to put a consistent 90 minutes together and not have these spurts of activity and then sit back a little. They have players on terrific form, Vincent Kompany was excellent, Joe Hart hasn’t conceded a goal for 508 minutes, Yaya Toure is in dominant form and is scoring bags of goal, David Silva is at his ghost like best. Even though they aren’t getting the best out of Alvaro Negredo at the moment, Edin Dzeko filled in brilliantly at Old Trafford.

It looks like they are the favorites for the title, as Jose Mourinho has been saying all along. If they can get a fit and firing Sergio Aguero back into the side, they are looking very good indeed. But they still have to go to Liverpool and Everton, they will be big trips after this tricky encounter vs. Arsenal at the Emirates.

Let’s look at Liverpool vs. Spurs, both teams need the win for different reasons, Liverpool in their title charge and Tottenham to make the top four. What do you expect from this?

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With the S.A.S. in form, Arlo believes the title could well be on its way to Anfield.

On paper you’d expect a Liverpool victory, they’ve won seven in a row, the S.A.S. are firing on all cylinders and they were cruising to victory against Sunderland on Wednesday. But that late goal seemed to instill a few nerves into Liverpool in the closing stages. Whether that was because they realize the enormity of the situation they’ve got themselves into, or just that they aren’t used to being in tight games at the end of matches, I’m not sure. There was a slightly nervy crowd at Anfield, but I wouldn’t be too worried about it as they still played their natural game for 75 minutes of that encounter. Liverpool are very much in the title race.

We now know Tim Sherwood is able to rouse his troops to get decent results, that comeback against Southampton last weekend was a big result for Spurs and Sherwood after some recent disappointments. We will see what happens in this one, but you’d expect Liverpool to make it eight in a row… however Spurs are capable of causing an upset.

One game that stands out at the bottom is West Brom vs. Cardiff. Simple question: which way do you see this going?

This one is very hard to call, but teams are desperate for the win. You have to say, with West Brom at home, they should be the slight favorites. Despite being very well liked, their new manager Pepe Mel has come in and struggled to get results for the Baggies. I do look back to the sacking of Steve Clarke earlier this season and how big of a decision that was for West Brom. Okay, they weren’t doing fantastic, but they weren’t doing too bad either, so you still have to question why they would get rid of him, especially if Mel can’t turn things around.

As for Cardiff, it really is do or die for them. They need to start winning games, and fast, if they’re going to dig themselves out of trouble. This is a classic example of a relegation six-pointer, this time of the season it is vital to pick up points at the wrong end of the table.

Finally, what else are you looking forward to?

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Ross Barkley and Everton are on a roll.

The game on Sunday between Fulham and Everton at Craven Cottage is a very intriguing game. For the home side, they must start winning if they are going to survive, but they come up against a very strong and in-form Everton unit. The Toffees have won four on the spin, and everyone thought their season would peter out after a sensational start saw them in the top four for most of the season. However coupled with Arsenal’s recent poor form, if Everton can win on Sunday and Arsenal lose against Manchester City on Saturday, all of a sudden Everton welcome Arsenal to Goodison Park on April 6 in a massive clash where a win could see them regain fourth spot.

In Ross Barkley they have a real talent who is a making a concerted push towards England’s World Cup squad for this summer, and his stunning midweek goal against Newcastle was reminiscent of Paul Gascoigne in his prime. The way he picked the ball up on the halfway line, slalomed past several players and finished superbly, he’s a real gem and if he keeps performing well for Everton then he could well be on the plane to Brazil. If Roberto Martinez’s men somehow finish in the top four this season, it would be a monumental achievement for the Toffees.

Mourinho: Mkhitaryan “disappeared” during games, got dropped

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It would appear that Henrikh Mkhitaryan has become the new Luke Shaw, who not so long ago became the new Juan Mata, who had become the new Iker Casillas, Sergio Ramos and Pepe, who all previously become the new Kaka and Mesut Ozil — players previously perceived to be undroppable, only to fall out of favor and be dropped from Mourinho’s side.

[ MORE: Carrick back in training after operation to fix irregular heartbeat ]

Similarly to many of the aforementioned stars of Manchester United, Chelsea and Real Madrid sides of the not-so-distant past, Mourinho recently singled out Mkhitaryan for not working hard enough for the team and failing to meet expectations with his performances.

Mkhitaryan last featured in Man United’s 1-0 loss to Chelsea on Nov. 5, prior to the most recent international break. He played just 62 minutes, to follow an UEFA Champions League appearance of just 45 minutes against Benfica. Mkhitaryan was then absent from the substitute’s bench for a victory over Newcastle United and a defeat to Basel.

[ MORE: Pochettino sees Sanchez as one of world’s best defenders already ]

In Mourinho’s mind, Mkhitaryan hasn’t merited a place in the team — quotes from the Guardian:

“I was not happy with his last performances. I’m not speaking about one or two, I’m speaking about three, four or five. He started the season very well and after that, step by step, he was disappearing. His performance levels in terms of goalscoring and assists, pressing, recovering the ball high up the pitch, bringing the team with him as a no. 10, were decreasing.

“That was enough [to drop him] because the others worked to have a chance. Everybody works to have a chance. It’s as simple as that.”

“I don’t know if Mkhitaryan will start but, for sure, he will be back in the group. For him to be back to the group, it means that somebody is going to leave the group.”

Davinson delights Pochettino, who predicts “massive” strides

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It’s still very early days for Davinson Sanchez as a Tottenham Hotspur player, but the early returns are extremely positive as the Colombian center back has featured in 14 of the club’s 17 games in the Premier League and UEFA Champions League this season.

[ MORE: Spurs beat Dortmund again to win group with Real Madrid ]

What’s more encouraging than Sanchez’s initial performances? The 21-year-old’s “massive” room for improvement and the expectation he’ll one day soon be one of the world’s best defenders, according to manager Mauricio Pochettino.

After signing for Spurs in August, Sanchez went straight into Pochettino’s starting lineup, slotted in between stalwarts Toby Aldeweireld and Jan Vertonghen, who together last season led the defense with the PL’s best record (26 goals conceded in 38 games), as part of a back-three. Sanchez has taken to Tottenham like a duck to water, in Pochettino’s estimation — quotes from ESPN FC:

“You saw against against Dortmund how many times he was with [Pierre-Emerick] Aubameyang one-versus-one. How many central defenders can play one-versus-one and escape and go, be tight and press? If you run, I run because I am so confident when running. I think not many center backs in the world can do this.

“Or against Swansea against Tammy Abraham: how many times he was one vs. one and the ball was behind him, he was on the halfway line and running was not a problem? And against Cristiano Ronaldo, too?”

“We expect more from him, but I am so happy with him. He is doing well, very well. He’s only 21 years old, but he shows more maturity [than that], and he’s so aggressive when he’s marking, his concentration [is good] and then with the ball he’s good, but I think he can improve.

“There is massive scope to improve potentially, it’s massive for him. In only a few months, he’s showing he’s doing a fantastic job for us. [He can improve in] every single aspect, tactic, physical condition, technique.

“We need with him one and a half months or two months preseason every day, and then I’m sure he’s going to show a different level. I think he’s one of the best today, but has potential to improve a lot more.

“Because he’s so clever, and he’s very humble, and he’s very open to learn, he’s a player when you tell something his reaction is to be open, and be critical with himself, and that is a massive skill from a player, when he’s so open to improve, and then the conditions he has are amazing to be one of the best center halves in the world.”

To state the completely obvious, Pochettino was wise to utilize Aldeweireld and Vertonghen as training wheels for Sanchez, if you will, upon his arrival. His athleticism and pace make him 1) the ideal complement to a pair of players who read the game so well; and, 2) perfectly positioned to operate as the last-man, emergency defender on the rare occasion either Belgian is breached.

[ MORE: Liverpool host Chelsea in massive top-four clash ]

For the first time all season, Sanchez started out wide in Alderweireld’s absence (hamstring) against Arsenal last weekend, and for the first time since his arrival, he appeared a flawed — which is to say, human — defender. To his credit, Sanchez gave a quality account of himself on the whole, and finished the game much stronger than he’d started.

No one was more aware of this than Pochettino, though, as he slid Eric Dier into Aldeweireld’s spot for Tuesday’s Champions League triumph over Borusia Dortmund, again deploying Sanchez in the middle. With Aldeweireld expected to miss a couple more weeks at minimum, the Tottenham teamsheet should routinely read Vertonghen-Sanchez-Dier from left to right until he returns.

Lille appoint four interim managers to replace Bielsa

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LILLE, France (AP) A four-man coaching team will take provisional charge of French soccer club Lille in the wake of Marcelo Bielsa’s dismissal.

Lille says Fernando Da Cruz, Joao Sacramento, Benoit Delaval and Franck Mantaux will be in charge of the team until further notice.

Lille announced earlier this week that Bielsa had been suspended “as part of a procedure started by the club” following a 3-0 loss at Amiens.

The northern side is in 19th place and next travels Saturday to Montpellier, which has the best defense in the league.

Bielsa joined Lille this season but failed to make the club competitive. After finishing a disappointing 11th last season, Lille hired the coach – affectionately known as El Loco Bielsa (Crazy Bielsa) – with the aim of returning to the Champions League.

Irregular heartbeat the cause of Carrick’s recent absence

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Manchester United captain Michael Carrick hasn’t played for his club since Sept. 20, a confounding period of more than two months now, and the reason for the 36-year-old midfielder’s absence has finally come to light: an irregular heartbeat.

[ MORE: Mourinho slams critics (again), gives injury updates ]

The condition, which Carrick announced himself on Friday, was first detected after Man United’s League Cup victory over Burton Albion. He has since undergone a cardiac ablation, a procedure to scar or destroy tissue in your heart that’s allowing incorrect electrical signals to cause an abnormal heart rhythm, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Carrick was named the new United captain this summer following the departure of Wayne Rooney. As told in the above statement, he is working toward full fitness and once again being available for selection in Jose Mourinho’s side.

Hooray for modern technology and medicine, which allow otherwise baffling medical conditions to be diagnosed, treated and recovered from in a matter of weeks or months.