Manchester City title favorites, Arsenal surging – 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 Tottenham vs. Chelsea, Manchester City and Arsenal’s title credentials and much more Premier League news.

(MORE: View from the Booth Archive)

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

Let’s get to it.

Are you still in shock after Manchester City comprehensively dismantled Manchester United? And do you think Manuel Pellegrini’s side can sustain that level of play throughout the season?

The thought crossed my mind after 50 minutes, when Samir Nasri put City 4-0 up, that we might see the sort of seismic, once in a generation result that Manchester United achieved themselves in thrashing Arsenal 8-2 a couple of seasons ago. City were tearing United apart and had achieved a level of performance beyond anything we’ve seen in the Premier League so far this season. To United’s (and Wayne Rooney’s) great credit, they displayed defiance in the face of humiliation and great pride in playing for such a successful and significant club. In addition however, Yaya Toure took a bit of a breather in the center of the park after his hitherto awesome display, which did let United off the hook.

Vincent Kompany was incredible. An absolute rock at the back. Did you see his lung busting run into the United penalty area before Navas crossed for Nasri’s goal? It distracted me on the call, and clearly upset the United defense. It was an incredible display of desire and athleticism, and it was a finger in the eye to the convention of center backs knowing their place.

source: Reuters
Can Manuel Pellegrini bring Premier League success to the Etihad?

I could reel off a list of City names who excelled, but to Kompany and Toure I would add Aguero, Kolorov, Navas and Negredo as those having stupendous games.

Can they keep it up? They won’t play like that every week that’s for sure. I have a theory that teams who carry a genuine threat in wide areas (pace, guile, touchline hugging wingers) have a wonderful chance of success this season, as the trend seems to be to play more narrow in the attacking third of the pitch, which is clogging up the space. City have width (Navas is fantastic) and that is part of the reason they have to be favorites to regain their Premier League title this season.

With Arsenal now winning eight on the bounce in all competitions since that opening day loss to Aston Villa, are they the title favorites? That vibe has started to gather momentum in the past few days, but do you expect that game at Swansea to be their biggest test yet?

No, I think City are favorites, but Arsenal are in the mix for sure. Whilst prepping to call the Swansea v Arsenal match, I was reminded of just how much attacking talent Arsene Wenger has at his disposal in his midfield alone. Mesut Ozil is world class. Aaron Ramsey has scored 7 goals in 7 matches this season, and not only that, he is second in the Premier League in touches (behind Yaya Toure) and equal first in tackles (with Lucas of Liverpool). Santi Cazorla and Mikel Arteta will see Premier League action again soon. Jack Wilshere will be the best English midfielder of his generation. Tomas Rosicky it still a talent. Then there’s the injured duo of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Theo Walcott. It’s an embarrassment of riches.

However, it’s a different story up front.  Olivier Giroud has produced the goods so far, but there has been recent talk of a knee problem.  If he succumbs to that issue, another injury, or just a simple barren run of form, then the Gunners are in a spot of bother. Niklas Bendtner played his first Arsenal match for 767 days at West Brom on Wednesday in the League Cup. In Niklas Bendtner’s mind, Niklas Bendtner is the greatest player that ever walked the planet, so let’s see if his talent can eventually break the shackles of the reality that he’s been decent, full of promise, but ultimately disappointing so far. Arsenal might need him.

The big game this weekend is of course Tottenham vs. Chelsea early on Saturday. Will this match act as a measuring stick to see if both teams can challenge for the title, like they think they can? 

source: Getty Images
Jose Mourinho vs. Andre Villas-Boas… who will come out on top?

I’ve seen more of Chelsea (3 games) so far this season, than I’ve seen of Spurs (0 games). Chelsea’s squad is packed with talent, but it is taking time for Jose Mourinho to mold them into the team he wants, and the process is producing as much selection controversy as it is Premier League points. I cannot wait to see if Juan Mata features in this game. He had a good run out at Swindon in the League Cup, but it’s the Premier League that matters, so is Jose ready to give him another go? We shall see. It’s an issue that is beginning to dominate the agenda with Chelsea, and not in a positive way.

Mourinho has his ‘anointed one’ in Oscar. The young Brazilian responded very well to his elevation with a good performance against Fulham. He was always keen to receive the ball and also worked hard when Chelsea didn’t have it. I thought Fernando Torres looked lively and confident when he came on in that match. I wonder if he is about to embark on a decent run of goals?

Look at Spurs. Bale has gone but they have won 8 of their 9 matches so far this season, scoring 22 goals and conceding just 1. But that ‘1’ was a crucial goal to give away. It was scored by Olivier Giroud and it won the North London derby for Arsenal. Can Spurs win the big one? History suggests not, they’ve only beaten Chelsea three times in 42 Premier League encounters, but this is the time for them.

Their squad is packed with talent.  Soldado, Paulinho, Lamela, Eriksen etc have added a different dimension to the club. If they can beat Chelsea, and look convincing in doing so, it’ll set tongues wagging that perhaps they might be involved in the title race down the stretch.

Are you sad to see Paolo Di Canio exit the Premier League? Do you think he was given a fair crack of the whip? And who would you like to see replace him? 

I wouldn’t say that I’m sad and I certainly wouldn’t say that I’m surprised. We spoke to Jozy Altidore before the season started and when I asked him about Di Canio’s methods he replied “Err, it’s different.” Jozy was extremely diplomatic, but I read between the lines that Di Canio’s idiosyncratic methods might lead to trouble ahead.

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Paolo Di Canio’s departure wasn’t a huge surprise. What now for Sunderland?

His reaction after the final whistle at the Hawthorns was simply bizarre. It was his Phil Brown moment. I just didn’t understand what he was trying to achieve. Was he thanking the fans for their support? If so, why didn’t he approach them closer? Was his posture defiant or actually quite aggressive? If it was intended to placate a disgruntled away end it failed catastrophically. Sunderland came out of the game with more concern about their form and more evidence that their manager was a loose cannon, so they acted.

Do you remember last year when Brian McDermott and Nigel Adkins lost their jobs at Reading and Southampton at relatively early stages of the season?  There was uproar. In contrast, the sacking of Di Canio just 5 games into the season was greeted with a collective and knowing nod that said we all expected it.

After going through Roy Keane, Ricky Sbragia, Steve Bruce, Martin O’Neill and now Paolo Di Canio since the start of the 2008/09 season, Sunderland need a period of stability.  Their next appointment is absolutely vital.

What about Martin Jol at Fulham, he must be worried? It is ridiculously early to talk about sackings, but the Cottagers have looked pretty woeful in recent weeks. Is there now too much pressure to start the season well, what with the even bigger financial incentives?

There is pressure that’s for sure. We’ve already seen one ‘MJ’ removed from Craven Cottage this week, but thankfully for Jol, it was the Michael Jackson statue from outside the stadium.

It’s far too early to really assess Fulham this season. They were beaten at home by Arsenal, who we now know are a terrific side this year. They’ve also traveled to Chelsea and lost. I wonder what could have been if Darren Bent had scored with that great first half chance?

But, where there is Berbatov and Bent, Parker and Sidwell, Hangeland and Riether, there is hope.

Fulham have a crucial run of 4 games now, after which, we’ll know more about their prospects this season. They face Cardiff at home this weekend, and follow that with Stoke (H), Crystal Palace (A) and Southampton (A). Those are all teams that the Cottagers will be competing with, so they must gather a decent haul of points.

Finally, what are you really looking forward to this weekend?

For me, it’s the game at the Liberty Stadium between Swansea and Arsenal on Saturday afternoon (12:30pm ET).  I can’t wait to call this one on NBC with Graeme Le Saux. The last time we were in South Wales we were treated to a terrific match between the Swans and Liverpool that’ll be forever known as the ‘Shelvey game’. This game could be even better.

source: Getty Images
Michu and Swansea are back in form, can they beat Arsenal on Saturday?

Swansea are so impressive.  Michu has started scoring goals again and they seem to have a batch of wonderfully inter changeable Spaniards! I really liked Pozuelo when he came on against Liverpool. But I also liked Pablo Hernandez when he came on against Manchester United on opening day.

Swansea have had a busy run of games. They followed the Liverpool match on a Monday night with a game in Valencia on Thursday, then they were in London on Sunday to face Palace, before a midweek trip to Birmingham in the League Cup. They will be happy to be at home (where they are due a win in the Premier League), and Michael Laudrup has rotated the squad very effectively.

This is a massive test for both sides, but it’s got all the purest ingredients to satisfy the appetites of neutral fans who like purposeful passing Football. Don’t miss it!

Enjoy the Premier League weekend everybody…

It’s hard to be humbled. Anything less could cost Berhalter his job

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Wild nights, positive or negative, deserve reflection one day later. Here’s our bid to put the USMNT’s 2-0 loss to Canada in context less than 24 hours later…

The humbling of Gregg Berhalter is one of two distinct hopes for his survival as United States men’s national team coach.

The other is an unreliable route, one filled with long-term health for his best players on some pie-in-the-sky road where he utilizes the same 12-14 players per game for the rest of his tenure.

So, yeah, the first one is pretty key.

Coaches are by nature arrogant, and Berhalter earned his confidence by nurturing a suboptimal Columbus Crew roster into an over-performing playoff mainstay despite owner and former showgirl Rachel Phelps trying to move the club to Miami (Movie reference No.1, achieved).

[ MORE: USMNT player ratings ]

When Berhalter beat out the field of two to lay claim to the USMNT position, he won over the media with Powerpoint slides about Pep Guardiola-inspired possession, which assumed to the delight of the American fan base that the nation had the immediate tools to out-class most of CONCACAF simply by being organized. He even had people handing him cute nicknames and defending the idea of using a Bundesliga regular defensive midfielder as a right back because he was generous with his time. Who needs La Masia when you’ve got the DA?

It should be pointed out that the philosophy’s failure through nine months doesn’t entirely destroy the idea to try it, but Berhalter’s often bizarre player selection and tactical destruction at the hands of Jamaica, Mexico, and now Canada have hastened the end of his honeymoon period almost as effectively as his the federation’s refusal to interview anyone other than Berhalter and Oscar Pareja. I mean, who needs Sergino Dest’s optimism when you can keep trying to jam a Wil Trapp-sized Wil Trapp through an Andrea Pirlo-shaped hole?

So you get what we had last night, a tire fire of a match in which his midfield had no idea what to do with the ball and his forwards might as well have been on a monastic retreat. According to the broadcast, Berhalter thought a miserable first half was due to his men not moving the ball fast enough side-to-side. His answers via subs, even before they were down, were to take off Christian Pulisic and leave creative minds Sebastian Lletget and Tyler Boyd on the bench. After the game, he claimed his players weren’t working hard enough and didn’t match Canada’s desire.

Here’s the problem, though, that’s on Berhalter, too. There were myriad articles out there, including several on this site, detailing Canada’s desperation to get results in the CONCACAF Nations League in order to move into a Top Six CONCACAF spot on the FIFA Rankings and qualify for the Hex.

(Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)

All it takes is a cursory look at the Canada roster to see that their electric attackers were their hope of winning the match, and that pressing their relatively weak group of defenders — one of whom has only been a defender for a year — was probably a great idea.

But Berhalter again stuck with his idea that the United States men’s national team program, even without several of its best players, could implement his system anywhere, against anyone.

And it failed spectacularly.

The thing is that Berhalter is actually quite a decent coach, as he proved in Columbus, but whether or not he lives to show it to this American audience in this particular job depends on his accepting the shortcomings of his depleted roster.

I want to talk to you about Aaron Long, and not because of his “Stranger Things” lifeguard haircut (TV show reference No. 1, achieved).

Aaron Long is a mauler, the sort of player who’d be beloved by many segments of the USMNT community in several generations. He gets stuck in, has a good work rate, and can factor on set pieces in the attacking third.

What he does not do very well — and I’ve covered this a lot in this space — is pass the ball and aid in possession. Since breaking into MLS in 2017, the now 27-year-old center back has completed 76, 69, and 65 percent of his passes with the New York Red Bulls.

[ JPW: What now for Berhalter, USMNT? ] 

Part of that is a function of the Red Bulls’ system; The team doesn’t really care at all about possession, passing at a terrible 68.6 percent, and not one of their players had a completion rate above 80 percent this year. By comparison, 197 players in Major League Soccer completed 80 percent or more of their passes this season (WhoScored).

This is not an argument that Long shouldn’t be in the U.S. system. While he’s had a rough couple of months in the shirt, he’s in the mix for the toughest American center backs in the game.

Might this possession-based idea look a lot better when healthy? Of course, that’s what we mentioned above. John Brooks is by far the best passing center back in the pool, and has been out of the mix for sometime due to injury. The same is true for the side’s best No. 6 in Adams.

But what the Yanks were for so long was difficult to break down, a hassle to play against. Berhalter needs that right now, and he’s got the horses to do it (Watch Jordan Morris’ legs keep moving for 90 minutes if you need proof). Success could then require admitted in front of a microphone that his team can’t hack his system right now, and that he talked down to an entire room last month when they just spit facts his way. That’s humbling, and it’s not fun. But it’s needed.

Adding to the issue is that it’s easy to see the Yanks still emerging from their group by beating Canada in Orlando next month and then walloping Cuba. But if Berhalter hasn’t been humbled and sees victories against the 53rd and 145th ranked teams in EloRatings as validation, well, I’ve got some truly valuable early 1990s baseball cards to sell you for a premium price.

Arrogance does nothing for you if it’s ill-founded. That confidence has felled countless executives, coaches, and players over the years (and yes, even average writers). Being outfoxed by Tata Martino is one thing, but having no reaction to the plan of John Herdman is another (That’s not a shot at Herdman, who had done well with the New Zealand and Canada women, but let’s be real).

We won’t learn whether Berhalter has learned from his errors via results next month, rather by what he does to try and get those results. When Martino beat him in the Gold Cup Final, the rematch two months later was far worse. He gets a second chance to match wits with Herdman next month, and it really cannot get much worse. So he’s got that going for him, which is nice (Movie reference No. 2, achieved).

Last month, I wrote that Berhalter’s duties including the following bare minimum goals.

  1. Qualify for the World Cup
  2. Reach the final of all CONCACAF competitions
  3. Look like an adequate footballing nation in other competitions
  4. Make sure he doesn’t lose any talented dual nationals (also the GM’s job)

No. 1 is still far away, but 2-4… woah. We’re one Alphonso Davies star show away from finishing 2019 without a Gold Cup and no place in the CONCACAF Nations League semifinal. Sergino Dest might’ve skipped town for Ronald Koeman‘s Netherlands set-up either way, but being shoehorned at left back last month probably helped his decision.

Finally, a number of people on Twitter pointed out that Canada is due plenty of respect for out-dueling the USMNT on Tuesday. Absolutely! But if you think a nation with under 1 million registered soccer players should be absolutely clowning a nation with 4 million-plus, a side they hadn’t beaten let alone dominated in 34 years, then you’re not getting the point. There’s room for Canada and the U.S. to both be good, but the Yanks looked like a steaming hot mug of spoiled milk to Canada’s well-chilled bag of the fresh stuff. No good.

Your move, Gregg. Do what you did last night, and last month, and you’ll get the same results. Your only other option is Voodoo dolls of Alphonso Davies and Scott Arfield.

Mbappe in frame for monster contract offers from PSG, Real

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Kylian Mbappe is one of the most dynamic players in the world and doesn’t even turn 21 until late December.

Paris Saint-Germain has locked the youngster up through 2022, but that hasn’t stopped the biggest names in football from being linked with massive bids for his services.

[ MORE: Pogba, De Gea out ]

Dueling reports out of French outlet Le10 Sport claim that Mbappe is set to be offered a monster new $55 million annual contract from Les Parisiens, with Real Madrid ready to offer the big man almost $40 million per year.

The new PSG figure would give Mbappe the richest deal in football, while Real’s offer would sit below only Lionel Messi (at least until the Barcelona legend gets his new deal this winter).

We’ve argued that, given his age and acumen, Mbappe is the one player in world football worth the outlandish numbers it would take to land his services.

At age 20, he’s already a World Cup winner with 13 goals in 33 caps, and his club numbers are eye-popping: 89 goals and 51 assists in 154 matches between Monaco and PSG. Absurd.

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.