Liverpool on fire, Chelsea stumbling – 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” NBC Sports’ lead soccer announcer Arlo White talks about Chelsea in trouble, Liverpool staying top of the table and much more Premier League news.

(MORE: View from the Booth Archive)

You can hear Arlo calling live games this weekend on CNBC and NBC Sports Network, and watch every single game available live online via NBC Sports Live Extra,

Let’s get to it.

After two-straight defeats to Everton and Basel, how crucial is Saturday’s game versus Fulham for Chelsea? Jose Mourinho has been talking about his ‘young eggs’ and protecting the young stars he has… but the average age of the side that lost to FC Basel was 27. Is Mourinho covering up for his sides lack of talent? Or just failing to get the best out of them?

Jose Mourinho will always seek to protect his players from criticism by taking the load onboard himself, whatever their age.  The ‘young eggs’ metaphor was certainly a red herring on Wednesday night against Basel. The only truley young players he sent out were Marco Van Ginkel, Oscar and Hazard and the last two are very well established in the Premier League.

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Following defeat to Basel in the Champions League, Mourinho still doesn’t have a settled lineup.

But I think Mourinho was making a broader point. For his 4-2-3-1 system to be successful, the ‘3’ behind the striker need to create and score goals. That is where his squad is most inexperienced, if you add Kevin De Bruyne and Andre Schurrle to the list.

Will Jose settle on a more consistent line-up so that his side can gel in an attacking sense, or will he persevere with this current approach that will lead, he hopes, to any of his six attackers fitting into those three slots inter-changeably?  It’ll be fascinating to see who he sends out against Fulham, as he protects his unbeaten home record in the Premier League at Stamford Bridge.

One team we haven’t spoken much about so far is Aston Villa. Following that great opening day win against Arsenal, they’ve lost three straight, so is it vital they don’t continue on that slippery slope with another loss at Norwich?

Villa have very happy recent memories at Carrow Road, which I’m sure will help them on Saturday.  Their 2-1 win there in May came a few days after the 6-1 thrashing of Sunderland, which effectively saved Villa from a nerve shredding last day survival match against Wigan.

Norwich will be a good test for a Villa side who have lost three on the bounce since that terrific opening day win at Arsenal.

Obviously, there’s one game that stands out on Sunday, Manchester City vs. Manchester United. Who do you think will win? And what impact, psychologically, will victory have for either side?

It will give either side a huge lift, as the loser faces having just 7 points from their opening 5 games.  United will want to replicate their 3-2 win at the Etihad last season (although perhaps not after giving up a 2-0 lead) while City will be desperate to cement their title credentials after a somewhat unconvincing start to the season.  Here’s a decent omen for the blue half of Manchester; they have scored in their last 52 home Premier League games, and since the start of last season they have the most clean sheets in the Premier League with 21.

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David Moyes and Manuel Pellegrini both make their derby debut this Sunday, 11:00 am ET on NBCSN.

With some tricky games to negotiate this weekend, which team will be top of the table on Sunday evening; Arsenal? Liverpool? Or Tottenham?

I think Liverpool have a great chance of retaining top spot. Unless Southampton hit their stride with immediate effect, Liverpool will win at Anfield tomorrow and move onto 13 points. It’s their last Premier League game without Luis Suarez available, but one nagging doubt I have is how they cope without Coutinho who was brilliant before getting injured at Swansea on Monday.

Out of all the new transfer deadline day signings we’ve now seen in action, is there anyone that has really stood out for you?

Mezut Ozil is the obvious choice. Arsenal seem to have gone from pretenders to contenders with one swish of a pen on a rather large check. Gareth Barry was superb on his debut for Everton against Chelsea last Saturday. Perhaps he can use his loan move to force his way back into the England squad.

Finally, what storylines are you most looking forward to this weekend in the full slate of games?

A side from the games I am involved in at Stamford Bridge and the Etihad Stadium, I’d say the game between Cardiff and Tottenham could deliver the goods. Spurs are looking very good indeed and Christian Eriksen could be the steal of the transfer window, but as we saw on the second weekend of the season when they shocked Manchester City, Cardiff are no slouches at home and will really go after the North Londoners. Could be a cracker.

Giroud upset with reserve role at Chelsea

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Olivier Giroud does not look back on his transfer to Chelsea and wish he had done things differently, but that doesn’t mean things are all sunshine and roses for the 33-year-old.

Giroud, who moved to Chelsea from Arsenal in the winter of 2018 after six years with the Gunners, has played just 43 times in the Premier League, averaging just 35 minutes per appearance. That has him frustrated, hoping to prove his loyalty to the club and work harder than the other options up front.

“I had competitors in attack – [Alvaro] Morata, [Gonzalo] Higuain, who ended up leaving,” Giroud said. “I won at the end: I played the final of the FA Cup in 2018 and the [Europa League] final in 2019. Once again, I’m starting the year in a difficult situation. But as my brother says, I have always built myself in the face of adversity.”

Girou is trying to be smart about how he approaches the competition for time with the likes of Tammy Abraham and Michy Batshuayi, but he says it is emotionally taxing.

“You do not have to be fatalistic in certain situations,” Giroud says about keeping a level head. “I have always been respectful and humble. Even if I do not agree with the coach, I do not criticize him. But in myself, I cannot accept it because I know what I’m worth on a pitch.”

The French international has made just three league appearances this season, mostly thanks to Abraham’s scalding form. Abraham, still just 22 years old, has snatched his opportunity for first-team minutes with eight goals in eight games to start the campaign. That has left Giroud on the sidelines for each of the last five league games, missing out on a spot in the matchday squad altogether for the last three.

Despite his struggles at the club level, Giroud has maintained his place in the French national team, missing just five matches of France’s last 64 games, including 37 of the last 39.

James says he was not knocked unconscious in Wales draw

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Head injury awareness again rose to the forefront in the 1-1 draw between Wales and Croatia in Cardiff when Daniel James went down after colliding with a pair of opponents.

The Manchester United winger looked to almost sure have been knocked unconscious when Domagoj Vida’s knee appeared to tap the back of his head while challenging for a ball in the air. Vida went toppling over the back of teammate Borna Barisic who ducked out of the way, but it was James who many were concerned for as he lay motionless on his back with his eyes closed.

Yet James was allowed to come back onto the field and completed the full 90 minutes, sparking criticism from injury advocates and fans who were concerned for James’ safety on the field, at potential risk for even more serious consequences should he indeed have suffered a concussion.

After the game however, despite what fans saw as James lie on the turf, the 21-year-old insisted he was not knocked unconscious. “I’m fine,” James claimed after the match, speaking to Sky Sports. “I think he just caught me in the head but I didn’t get knocked out fortunately.”

Wales boss Ryan Giggs backed up the decision as well, calling James’ motionless display “a bit of acting.”

“The medical staff went over, he was compos mentis and we did all the checks at half-time and he was fine,” Giggs said, referring to the latin phrase for “of sound mind.”

If James was indeed faking unconsciousness, it’s natural to wonder if he should face a fine from UEFA for looking to con referees, and in the process possibly confusing the independent neurologists on site assigned to assess head injuries.

ESPN broadcaster Taylor Twellman, who has been outspoken over the past few years advocating for head injury awareness after his career was cut short by concussions, took to Twitter to criticize Wales for allowing James back into the game. Twellman, who was on the ESPN call of the broadcast with Ian Darke, said more needs to be done to prevent players from being able to force their way back onto the field, lest someone be killed by second impact syndrome.

Former Hull City player Ryan Mason, who was forced to retire after a serious skull fracture saw him fighting for his life, was also seriously concerned about the incident.

Interestingly enough, later in the match just seconds after the second half restart, young Wales midfielder Ethan Ampadu was whalloped from behind by Croatia’s Bruno Petkovic in a wild and reckless aerial challenge. Petkovic’s elbow went clattering into the back of Ampadu’s head, and the was left writhing on the ground holding his head. The Chelsea youngster was taken off the field and immediately replaced by Joe Morrell, while Petkovic was lucky to escape with just a yellow card.

Kane reflects on Tottenham, England struggles

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Harry Kane keeps finding the back of the net, but his teams keep losing.

The 26-year-old striker has bagged five Premier League goals in eight games for Spurs thus far, plus another seven goals for England in five Euro 2020 qualifiers this cycle. Yet Tottenham sits ninth in the table after three losses already this season, while England slumped to its first Euro defeat last time out, putting its seeding at the Euro finals next summer in jeopardy.

Kane is hoping to be a leader through the tough times for both club and country, wearing the armband for both as it currently stands.

“I think you need to lead by example,” Kane said ahead of England’s visit to Bulgaria on Monday. “Not getting too down when you lose a game, not getting too high when you win games. It is a long, old season for club and country ahead – a lot of games to be played so there are going to be tough periods.”

Kane has taken over the England captaincy on a permanent basis, and is filling in for the injured Hugo Lloris at Tottenham. “I am still the same person,” he said. “I still try and lead by example on and off the pitch and I will continue to do that. I have been in high pressure situations before in my career, whether that is going through goal droughts, playing in high-pressure games or not playing well as a team. It is something I will take in my stride and improve on.”

Leading by example includes finding the back of the net, while also supporting teammates both on and off the pitch. He knows even if he’s in good personal form on the stat sheet, there’s always ways to improve and help the squads through tough times.

“I am scoring goals but can I get more assists, create more chances? So yeah, I always look at little things I can get better at. Yes, the England form has been good but as ever, it can be better. We will see if I can continue scoring. It has been a good campaign but important I do not stop now.”

Euro qualifying: Gundogan saves 10-man Germany, Bale earns Wales draw

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Germany played for much of its visit to Estonia with 10 men as Emre Can was sent off for a bad last-man tackle just 14 minutes in, but Ilkay Gundogan‘s second-half brace saw Germany slide through with all three points on a 3-0 win to jump back on top of Group C. The all-important first came on a deflected effort from just outside the box to the right of center, while his second came minutes later with a shot from nearly the same place but just inside the area. Timo Werner added the third with under 20 minutes to go.

Wales secured a 1-1 draw at home against Croatia, but both sides will have greivences with the refereeing. Daniel James was taken out by Dejan Lovren on the edge of the box eight minutes in and likely should have been a penalty kick as the Liverpool defender barged James over without playing the ball. After Nikola Vlasic put Croatia ahead moments later, Gareth Bale would equalize just before halftime one a silky play through the Croatian defense, but a foul in the buildup wasn’t called that would have stopped play before the goalscoring moment.

There were also a pair of scary moments that involved nasty-looking head injuries. James came together with a pair of Croatians in the first half, and while it looked initially like Borna Barisic and Domagoj Vida had taken the brunt of the clash, James appeared to lose consciousness thanks to a knee in the back of his head. Despite the appearance of a clear distressing head injury, James was allowed to continue. Just second after the halftime break, Ethan Ampadu settled under the ball for a header until Bruno Petkovic blasted through his torso from behind, sending the Welsh midfielder to the ground awkwardly, holding his head in agony. Petkovic came in so hard that he earned a yellow card and maybe could have even seen red on another day. Ampadu was not allowed to continue, replaced immediately by Joe Morrell. Also notable in the match, Mateo Kovacic was taken off at halftime after appearing to pick up a muscle problem.

Austria held on for a 1-0 victory over Slovenia to temporarily jump into the lead in Group G, ahead of Poland on goal differential. Hoffenheim defender Stefan Posch scored the game’s only goal, a 21st minute effort off a corner. The back line did the rest, holding the hosts to just two shots on target in Ljubljana.

Poland secured qualification to the finals with a 2-0 win over North Macedonia behind goals from Przemyslaw Frankowski and Arkadiusz Milik, both which came in the final 20 minutes. The first was a messy finish from Chicago Fire winger Frankowski, collecting a flubbed Robert Lewandowski shot and poking it through past goakeeper Stole Dimitrievski. The second goal was much prettier, with the referee playing advantage after Lewandowski was fouled, and Milik delivered a delicious looper into the far corner.

Click here to see a roundup of the action from the early slate of games, including wins by Belgium, the Netherlands, and Russia.

Full Sunday Euro 2020 qualification scoreboard:

Kazakhstan 0-2 Belgium
Belarus 1-2 Netherlands
Cyprus 0-5 Russia
Hungary 1-0 Azerbaijan
Scotland 6-0 San Marino
Estonia 0-3 Germany
Poland 2-0 North Macedonia
Slovenia 0-1 Austria
Wales 1-1 Croatia

Teams who have secured guaranteed Euro 2020 qualification:

Italy
Belgium
Russia
Poland