Week 2: “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 our new series “View from the Booth” NBC Sports’ lead soccer announcer Arlo White will be joining us each week to talk about the hot topics in the beautiful game and preview the weekends upcoming Premier League action.

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In Week 2, the leading voice of soccer in the USA talks about the two huge games he’s covering this weekend, Aston Villa vs. Liverpool and Manchester United vs. Chelsea, the newly promoted teams and discusses Arsenal’s situation as the transfer window deadline nears.

Ready? Here’s my Q&A with Mr. White, just imagine his dulcet tones responding to these questions… Magnificent.

Have Manchester United silenced the doubters and do you expect them to push on against Chelsea on Monday?

I wouldn’t say they silenced the doubters, what they did was remind everyone that they are the Premier League Champions and are well capable of producing ruthless performances. It was fascinating to be at the Liberty Stadium on Saturday to witness the start of the David Moyes era. I watched Wayne Rooney warm-up before the game and his body language didn’t scream enthusiasm and delight at being there. But when he came on in the 2nd half he was terrific and set up two United goals. OK, he didn’t celebrate with his team mates, and plenty has been read into that, but it was a demonstration that he still loves playing the game and is prepared to be professional when called upon by Moyes to perform. Of course, that is the least he can do whilst he’s still a United player on massive wages, but the eyes of the world were on him, and anything less than giving his all for the cause would have been a huge story.

source: Reuters
The Wayne Rooney saga still hasn’t been solved. But Arlo was impressed with his application vs. Swansea.

Can they kick on against Chelsea? They are very capable of doing so. Robin Van Persie and Danny Welbeck appear to be in excellent early season form.

I think Jose Mourinho has been as canny as usual. Saying that Chelsea will be ethical and won’t bid for Rooney before Monday’s game is savvy, but then hinting that they will bid after the game still created a potentially de-stabilising situation for Rooney and United, ahead of such a huge early season game.

Before the Manchester United vs. Chelsea game, you are at Aston Villa v Liverpool on Saturday. What can we expect from that match?

I’m really looking forward to this one. It could be a terrific open game.

Villa have had a busy first week, but a fruitful one. To open the season with trips to Arsenal and Chelsea inside five days and come away with 3 points (which could have been 4, as Jose Mourinho acknowledged) is a huge achievement for a young team who struggled so badly last season. I know most of the transfer talk during the off season has centred around Bale, Rooney and Suarez, but one of the greatest signings of recent Premier League history has been Villa securing Christian Benteke’s signature on a new contract.  It was a stunning turn around, as many assumed he was going to a bigger club. His goal at Chelsea on Wednesday was terrific, striking a left foot shot inside the near post took tremendous poise and skill.

It’s also great to see Gabby Agbonlahor firing on all cylinders at the start of the season.

As for Liverpool, I think things are looking really encouraging.  It may sound remarkable given how many goals Luis Suarez has scored over the last couple of seasons, but Liverpool’s win percentage is far better without him (64%) than it is with him (39%). It goes without saying that he is a tremendous player, but it’s equally obvious that Liverpool have learned to cope without him in the short term. Daniel Sturridge got off to a flier against Stoke, he’s now scored 7 goals in his last 6 Premier League games. I can’t wait to watch Coutinho.  As former Liverpool great Peter Beardsley said this week, “he could be the new Kenny Dalglish.”  That is praise indeed.

Can any of the newly promoted teams get off the board this weekend? They have some pretty tough games. 

All games are tough in the Premier League, and I wonder which newly promoted team will find their feet first.  Hull manager Steve Bruce told the NBC commentary team last week that he sees the Norwich game as very significant for his side. It is sandwiched between the opener at Chelsea and a visit to Manchester City, so they must get something from the game.  Bruce called that sort of game Hull’s ‘bread and butter’, and told us his side need 10 wins to stay up this season. I’m sure their new signings Tom Huddlestone and Jake Livermore will start the game, and they must build on their 2nd half performance at Chelsea, where they passed the ball with much more confidence.

source: Getty Images
Arlo predicts another tough weekend for the newly promoted teams.

As for the other two, Crystal Palace may fancy themselves to get something at Stoke, who are revamping their style of play under Mark Hughes. The atmosphere at Cardiff will be magnificent, but they face an incredibly tough task against a Manchester City side who looked very slick in their opening victory over Newcastle.

How has the situation at Arsenal affected their chances of reaching the top four? Mounting pressure on Wenger, but surely it’s too early to panic? 

I am a believer that in life, nothing occurs in a vacuum. I’m sure Arsenal’s reticence in the transfer market has convinced other sides (Spurs anyone?) that they are more vulnerable than ever, and that it’s time to spend big and pounce on the opportunity. Arsenal enjoyed a soothing win at Fenerbache during the week which has all but secured their place in the Champions League group stage, and perhaps that will be the final trigger for them to go out and spend some of their massive war chest. Of course, Spurs can wield enormous spending power because of Bale’s value, but I’m equally sure that Arsenal’s wobbles have convinced them to spend big right now to seize the moment.

Mourinho’s men have got off to a flying start, do you expect them to be clear at the top this time next month? 

Did you see Manchester United and Manchester City last weekend? If Chelsea are clear in a months time then they will have enjoyed a magnificent start to the season (including a win at Old Trafford next Monday) and City must have wobbled early on (with a defeat v United?) Chelsea have 6 points out of 6.  Hazard, Oscar and De Bruyne played very well together in the 1st half against Hull, but they were perhaps fortunate to take all 3 points against Villa on Wednesday.  Chelsea are going to be a major power this season, but clear  at the top in a months time? I doubt it.

source: Getty Images
Arlo tips Sam Allardyce’s men to keep on improving.

Out of Southampton, West Ham and Aston Villa… which team is most likely to make the top 10 this year? Early form shows all 3 teams are much improved. 

On the early evidence, all three clubs can feel very optimistic.  Villa have been impressive. We’ll know more about them after Liverpool’s visit on Saturday. Southampton pulled off a major coup by signing Osvaldo from Roma.  He’s a real live wire both on and off the field, so much will depend on Mauricio Potchettino’s ability of focussing his mind on Football and getting the very best out of him. It’s always interesting when small to medium sized clubs start spending unprecedented amounts of money. It really could go either way, but Pochettino seems to be an intelligent, level headed manager.

Big Sam is delighted with life at West Ham. They enjoyed a great opening day win and have Striker Andy Carroll returning from injury. With Downing on one flank, and Jarvis on the other, they have the skilled wide men to deliver the ammunition for Carroll. Kevin Nolan started with a really nice goal.  Sam told us last week that Nolan is in great shape and in good form, so thats big news for the Hammers.

To answer your question, why not all three?

Big shock results this weekend? Fulham piling more misery on Arsenal? Palace to beat Stoke?

I’m not sure that there is a major shock in store this weekend. I just can’t see Cardiff beating Manchester City, but they will give it a real go.

I think it’s a massive weekend for Newcastle United, who host their former manager Sam Allardyce and West Ham. The Magpies were very poor on Monday night at Manchester City. Sure, they were de-stabilised with Arsenal’s untimely bid for Cabaye, but their performance was listless and the most worrying of any Premier League team on the opening weekend (including Arsenal). The Toon Army will walk up to St James’ Park full of their usual enthusiasm but with plenty of trepidation too. They will be desperate to see a response from their side, but will fear that another unconvincing defeat will act as the prelude to a long season fighting relegation.

That shouldn’t happen with the squad they have and they don’t have the disruption of Europa League Football this season, but the omens weren’t great on Monday Night.

Enjoy the weekend everyone!

Maradona: Argentina drawing Iceland is “a disgrace”

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It’s been a pretty trying and criticism-filled 36 hours for Lionel Messi and Argentina, and that was already true before the World Cup hero that is Diego Maradona weighed in.

[ MORE: Where to watch Monday’s games, feat. England and Belgium ]

No longer are La Albiceleste simply known as the side that drew tiny Iceland — the smallest nation to ever qualify for the World Cup — but now their efforts on Saturday have been dubbed “a disgrace” by Maradona.

It’s not so much the players whom Maradona, manager of the national team for the 2010 World Cup (quarterfinals appearance, beaten 4-0 by Germany), has gone after, but current boss Jorge Sampaoli for his lack of a proper gameplan befitting the opponent. As for Messi, who failed to convert a critical penalty kick, Maradona has absolved the Barcelona superstar of much of the blame — quotes from the BBC:

“It’s a disgrace. Not having prepared for the match knowing that Iceland are all [6-foot-3] tall.”

“I get the feeling there’s an anger at the heart of the team.”

“I don’t blame the players. I could blame the lack of work rate. But I can’t blame the players, much less Messi, who gave it all he had,” said Maradona.

“I missed five penalties on the spin and I was still Diego Armando Maradona. I don’t think that they dropped two points because Messi missed a penalty.”

England squad reconnects with fans with image makeover

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VOLGOGRAD, England (AP) — Whatever happens to England at the World Cup, at least the reception facing the squad should be less brutal than it was in 2014 after its exit following the group stage.’

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For once, the players can’t be accused of hiding away, retreating behind their headphones. The hallmark of England’s preparations for Russia has been shedding the past reticence to engage with the public, a calculated move by the team leadership to reconnect with a public disaffected by years of failure at tournaments and uninspiring performances.

“They appear more relaxed. They appear more normal,” supporter Gavin Hughes said, overlooking the Volgograd Arena where England opens its World Cup campaign against Tunisia on Monday. “They appear human. They are just lads playing football at the end of the day. That’s been the problem in the past. There’s more of a togetherness.”

A defining clip of the 2010 World Cup was Wayne Rooney bellowing down the barrel of a camera after a 0-0 draw with Algeria: “Nice to see your home fans booing you, that’s what loyal support is.”

That disconnect with the public has been bridged by the 23-man squad facing the media in a 45-minute, Super Bowl-style session before leaving for Russia. The English Football Association’s approach is in a marked contrast to club duty where they are largely closeted away, save for appearances with paying broadcasters or often in controlled appearances.

[ MORE: Where to watch Monday’s games, feat. England and Belgium ]

“We’ve done a lot for the fans on social media so they can see what we are up to, which has not always been the case,” captain Harry Kane said Sunday. “It’s important while we have free time is to try to let the fans know what we are up to.”

The public is seeing a new side of the players. Not only are they more relatable but painted in a more sympathetic light, beyond the caricatures of millionaire mercenaries just chasing more money.

“That connection with the supporters is really important,” coach Gareth Southgate said. “There have been perceptions about our players for a long time … so it’s been really good for our public to see how much it means to the players to play, to see a different side of their personality.”

In a move unthinkable in years gone by, when a since-departed FA official blocked Rooney talking about his Christianity, defender Danny Rose recently opened up on his problems dealing with depression. Publicly praised by Prince William for raising awareness of health issues, Rose realizes how players can use their new platform to show their human side and inspire others.

“A lot of people messaged me to say thank you, that they know someone who is going through this or has been through that and that I’ve helped them and given them the confidence to express themselves,” Rose said. “We have a lot of down time and I’m going to think of something to help others when I get back. I’ve got time to think while I’m here and when I get back from the World Cup about how I can go forward and help people.”

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It’s not just about the players feeding a voracious traveling media pack with material. Kieran Trippier, who is also Rose’s club teammate at Tottenham, told the left back he appeared no longer burdened by a private plight in England’s last World Cup warm-up game.

“I was playing with a bit of freedom,” Rose said of the victory against Costa Rica. “I think he’s got a point.”

Southgate is credited with encouraging the warmer environment, far removed from the controlling regimes under Fabio Capello and Gary Neville, who was Roy Hodgson’s assistant for the dismal 2014 World Cup and 2016 European Championship last-16 humbling to Iceland. A bemusing, running theme in the British papers at Euro 2016 in France was the players’ refusal to divulge any details of a darts tournament. The squad has been overhauled by Southgate and it has even been playing darts with the media at the World Cup base near St. Petersburg.

Southgate has been playing his part, going to fan forums in the buildup to the tournament to recognize the commitment and cost involved watching England abroad.

“Sometimes those really good people who follow us are overlooked at the expense of some who have caused problems in the past,” Southgate said.

Ultimately, results dictate the public mood and England hasn’t won a knockout game at any tournament since 2006.

“It’s about how we perform,” Southgate said, “but there’s a bigger picture.”

WATCH: World Cup, Day 5 — England, Belgium enter the fray

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The weekend might be all but over, but that doesn’t mean that 2018 World Cup action is slowing down anytime soon.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

Monday, in fact, will be quite the opposite, as Group G giants — and a pair of popular dark horse picks — Belgium and England make their debut in Russia, taking on Panama and Tunisia, respectively.

Following Germany’s 1-0 loss to Mexico on Sunday, Group F is currently turned upside down on its head. Sweden and South Korea, who’ll face off in the day’s opener, are even more hopeful now than prior to the start of the tournament.

Below is Monday’s schedule in full.

Click here for live and on demand coverage of the World Cup online and via the NBC Sports App.


2018 World Cup schedule – Monday, June 18

Group F
Sweden vs. South Korea: Nizhny Novgorod, 8 a.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE

Group G
Belgium vs. Panama: Sochi, 11 a.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE
Tunisia vs. England: Volgograd, 2 p.m. ET –LIVE COVERAGE

Petkovic: Time to “take Switzerland seriously” after Brazil draw

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While much of the talk about Sunday’s 1-1 draw between Brazil and Switzerland will focus on the former, the Swiss would like their share of credit for frustrating — and matching — one of a handful of favorites to win the 2018 World Cup in Russia.

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Switzerland manager Vladimir Petkovic is chief among those who believe it’s time those on the outside “start taking notice of us and taking us seriously.” As for the insinuations that his side roughed up Neymar, who suffered 10 of the 19 fouls committed by Switzerland, most of them were “very clean” — quotes from the BBC:

“Sometimes if there is a lack of recognition that is a pity because we have played very well. We showed and demonstrated that this team always believes in itself and can achieve results.

“Most of the duels (with Neymar) were won in a very clean way. It was one of the key ingredients to neutralize Neymar.”

“I’m very proud and pleased with the discipline with the way we played. We worked collectively and cohesively.”

“When we are able to play forward and press higher up we were able to do it well and it is an excellent starting position for the rest of our group matches.

“We had real difficulties in the first 40 minutes, I said ‘let’s remain calm, focused and believe in ourselves, push up higher up the pitch and create opportunities to score.'”

Having secured a point in far and away their toughest group game, Switzerland now have eminently winnable games against Serbia (Friday) and Costa Rica (Wednesday, June 27) remaining. Four points from those two games would just about guarantee progression to the knockout rounds.