Q&A with NBC Sports’ Arlo White, Lee Dixon and Rebecca Lowe

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Today a conference call was held with three key figures in NBC Sports’ coverage of the Barclays Premier League, lead announcer Arlo White, commentator Lee Dixon and presenter Rebecca Lowe. The panel were asked a variety of questions from reporters across the nation. Here is a paraphrased sampling of the questions and their responses.

With the title race likely coming down to three clubs, Chelsea, Manchester City and Manchester United, how would you intrigue the casual fan to watch the Premier League? 

Arlo White: While a limited amount of clubs may challenge at the top there are so many more subplots at play that may interest the causal fan. Finishing in a Champions League spot, a Europa League spot, and avoiding “the dreaded trap door” of relegation all make for exciting storylines. For the American fan I like to ask –  can you imagine what kind of drama would ensue if the New York Yankees had a bad season and were relegated to Triple A?

The competition for soccer broadcast rights has resulted in more soccer on television than ever before. Do you see this as the tipping point for soccer in the U.S.?

Arlo White:  I don’t think it’s ever been this popular in the United States. I spent time here in the ’80s and then again in 1991. I can remember sitting in the home of my relatives outside of Chicago and flipping through what seemed like hundreds of television channels in search of some football. Somewhere in the 300s or something I managed to find a channel showing Manchester United and there I saw a 17 year old Ryan Giggs thrashing a volley into the net against West Ham.

Things have come a long way since then but are we at a tipping point? We’ll have to wait and see. I just know there is a huge following and even if you’re the 6th, 7th or 8th most popular sport, in a country of 350 millions you’re still quite viable.

Who are your predictions to win the league and the scoring title? Also, who do you think will be the signing of the season?

Lee Dixon: It’s simply too tough to call at this point. I think there are 3-4 big transfers that have yet to go down and only when those do will we really have a feel for who can take the title.

Arlo White: It is difficult but I think City will win the league and Wilfried Bony will be the signing of the season. A lot of players have a difficult time adapting to the Premier League but Bony possesses the physical attributes to succeed and comes into England having scored 31 goals in 24 Eredivisie appearances last season.

Rebecca Lowe: So tough to call but I think Chelsea will win the league with City, Spurs and United in that order. I think Roberto Soldado will be the top scorer while West Ham’s Ravel Morrison will be the find of the season. He comes from a great pedigree at Manchester United and is finally coming into his own as a player.

What are the challenges you face trying to connect to American audiences? 

Lee Dixon: The general preparations will be the same. There are challenges for different audiences but the biggest thing is to give respect to the audience. The game is the most important thing and we won’t be dumbing it down. My strength is analytical but I try to convey my analysis as simply as possible. I think the key to is to say what’s in your head and that will translate to all audiences. No matter what country you’re from, the game takes care of itself.

Rebecca Lowe: A lot of the preparation is very similar. For me, there will be the slight difference between how I speak of the game in England and how the people in the U.S. want to hear it. So I need to be very aware of that. The other challenge is to concentrate on 10 games. I came from ESPN UK where we concentrated on just a single match. Most important for me is that I adapt to a new country, system, network and that I engage with the viewer.

What are your thoughts on the Wayne Rooney situation? Will he leave United? 

Lee Dixon: I don’t think he should leave but I think he will. He’s been quiet of late. I don’t see Rooney going abroad so that means he’ll need to be sold to a competitor, which could take the title away from United. If they sell to Chelsea it will be a huge double blow, not only losing him but losing him to a title competitor as well.

Arlo White: We’ll have to wait and see. It’s a game of cat and mouse, once one player goes then there’s money injected into the transfer market and they all go. At the end of the day, however, players generally get their wish.

Rebecca Lowe: It’s probably not even his decision to make but I don’t see how Moyes can let Rooney go. It’s hard enough for Moyes in his first year at Old Trafford, I just don’t know how United can put their manager in that position. If they do sell Rooney and end up finishing second Moyes will be left angry but it won’t be his problem.

Everton’s Gbamin undergoes surgery, out 3 months

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Everton’s lack of scoring prowess has stolen the headlines as Marco Silva‘s men have wasted a wonderful opportunity to start the season off in style.

But it’s been easy to forget that the Toffees have been without the man they bought to help offset the loss of Idrissa Gana Gueye, perhaps their best player two years running, in the form of Jean-Philippe Gbamin.

[ MORE: Pogba, De Gea out ]

The Ivorian cost a reported $30 million this summer when he arrived from Mainz, and Everton won his only start before an injury sent him to the sidelines.

Gbamin has not suitably improved, and is now set for another three months on the sidelines thanks to surgery on his hamstring.

It’s a sock to the gut for a team already wallowing in misfortune. Now sitting 18th, as close to 20th as they are to 10th, it’s difficult to imagine things getting much worse for a team that held so much promise.

Everton hosts West Ham to kickoff the Premier League weekend at 7:30 a.m. ET Saturday.

Pogba, De Gea ruled out for Man United v. Liverpool

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According to our partners at Sky Sports, Manchester United’s David De Gea and Paul Pogba will not play against Liverpool this Sunday (Watch live, 11:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

This is far from ideal for a United side already low in confidence after a dreadful start to the season.

De Gea injured his groin while on international duty with Spain on Tuesday as he injured an abductor while kicking a ball against Sweden in a EURO 2020 qualifier. He is expected to have a full assessment in Manchester on Thursday but isn’t expected to be available to play against Liverpool.

As for Pogba, he suffered a reoccurrence of his foot injury before the international break and has been training in Dubai on his own during the past week to try and speed up his recovery.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has already been without Pogba, Luke Shaw, Anthony Martial and Aaron Wan-Bissaka for large chunks of the season so far, as Man United sit in 12th place in the Premier League table.

“No chance,” Solskjaer said of Pogba’s availability for the weekend. “Paul had an injury, then came back, worked really hard, played a couple of games. Maybe played through the pain barrier. We had a scan after the Arsenal game and he needed a few weeks rest in the boot. Hopefully he won’t be too long but he won’t make this game, no.”

Not having their star goalkeeper and central midfielder available for this clash with bitter rivals Liverpool is another huge setback for Solskjaer, as Sergio Romero and Fred will likely start in their place.

Martial, Shaw and Wan-Bissaka are all expected to miss the game against Liverpool too as Solskjaer will at least have a valid excuse if the Premier League leaders give United a hiding on Sunday.

Bulgaria’s coach apologizes to England; Popov slams racists

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Bulgaria’s coach Krasimir Balakov has apologized to the England national team after they were subjected to racist chants during their EURO 2020 qualifier in Sofia on Monday.

Balakov was previously bullish about racism in Bulgaria, stating before the game that England had a bigger problem with racism than Bulgaria.

Initially after the game he said he didn’t hear any racist abuse and during the match he got into a heated debate with Jordan Henderson about why the game was halted for a second time.

In a post on Facebook, Balakov apaolgized to the England players and offered his views on the racist incidents plaguing Bulgarian soccer as three of their EURO 2020 home qualifiers have now seen racist abuse from their home fans.

“I condemn unconditionally all forms of racism as unacceptable behavior that contradicts normal human relationships. I think that this form of prejudice should be buried deep in our past, and nobody should ever be subjected, Balakov said. “I trained many Bulgarian teams with players of different backgrounds and never judged anyone about the color of their skin. In addition, I have always actively participated in all initiatives involving unprivileged people or the needy.”

“My comments before the game against England that Bulgaria had no problems with racism are based on the fact that the local championship has not seen such a problem on a large scale. There may have been isolated cases, but it’s definitely not something you see in the stadium. The majority of football fans do not take part in such chants, and I believe that was also the case in the game against England. One thing I would like to say very clearly is that as the stadium in Sofia has reported cases of racial discrimination, I sincerely apologize to the English footballers and those who feel offended.”

That is what Balakov should have said right after the game.

The cynics out there may also say he is only issuing this apology now after Bulgaria’s prime minister, Boyko Borissov, asked for the president of the Bulgarian Football Union, Borislav Mihaylov, to resign.

Mihaylov, who had previously complained to UEFA England boss Gareth Southgate sharing his concerns over previous racist incidents in Bulgaria, resigned on Tuesday.

After Bulgaria’s goalkeeper said England’s players “overreacted” in regards to the racist abuse hurled their way, their captain, Ivelin Popov, handled himself remarkably well throughout this sorry situation for Bulgaria.

Popov was seen remonstrating with home fans at half time in order to get them to stop the abuse, and he was praised by Marcus Rashford and others for his reaction.

“Of course I feel embarrassed. We are 11 v 11, it doesn’t matter your color, it’s no problem, we are all the same, we are one very big family in football, everybody and only we, if we are together, can we stop these bad things,” Popov said. “It was important that I spoke like this because it’s a very big problem for everybody, for our federation, for England and if they said more bad words, even one more time, then maybe they would finish the game.

“We would have such a big punishment and this is no good for Bulgarian football because if some other players want to come here, they hear what is said and how they speak bad, then this is no good for everybody. But when you start to speak to them, afterwards they understand. I think in the second half was better.”

Sergio Aguero unhurt after car crash

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Manchester City and Argentina star Sergio Aguero has escaped a car crash unscathed.

Aguero, 31, was involved in the incident on Wednesday morning but didn’t need to go to hospital and instead reported for training as usual with Man City.

Photos showed Aguero’s Range Rover badly damaged, as he posted photos of his car on his own Instagram page later on Wednesday.

The reigning Premier League champions head to Crystal Palace on Saturday (Watch live, 12:30 p.m. ET on NBC and online via NBCSports.com) as they aim to momentarily reduce Liverpool’s eight-point lead atop the table.

Aguero will likely be leading City’s line at Palace, as the Argentine striker has been in sensational form this season (even if City’s defensive line hasn’t) with eight goals in the opening eight games of the PL campaign.

Man City’s all-time leading goalscorer was previously involved in a car crash in Amsterdam in 2017, something which Pep Guardiola didn’t seem too pleased about at the time as Aguero had travelled to the Netherlands to attend a music concert.

This incident was a minor one and City will be thankful that Aguero is fine and able to lead what they hope is a very successful few months to put themselves back in contention for a third-straight Premier League title.