Desperate times for Spurs, Newcastle flying high – 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 Andre Villas-Boas’ treacherous predicament at Tottenham as they welcome Manchester United to White Hart Lane. Newcastle could go into the top four if they beat West Brom and can the Saints shock Chelsea?

(VIEW FROM THE BOOTH ARCHIVE)

You can hear Arlo calling live games this 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.

Newcastle have quietly gone about their business this season and Alan Pardew’s men can potentially break into the top four if they beat West Brom on NBC at 12:30pm this Saturday. What’s the secret? Fit players? No Europa League? Boat loads of Frenchmen!?

I’m really looking forward to experiencing the atmosphere at St James’ Park again. The whole city of Newcastle is buzzing on a match day, and when the team are doing well, the Toon army take the excitement level up a notch.

Even the most optimistic Newcastle fan must have feared for their side after the Tyne-Wear derby. They’d been beaten again by their nemesis Sunderland and faced a home game against Chelsea next, before traveling to White Hart Lane to face Spurs. It didn’t look too clever.

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Loic Remy is firing on all cylinders up at Newcastle.

All of a sudden, Alan Pardew’s side have sprung to life. Chelsea were beaten handily at home. Goalkeeper Tim Krul played out of his skin to preserve a narrow win at Spurs, and Norwich were beaten 2-1 at St James’ last time out. As if by magic, Pardew is now facing questions about his team’s chances of challenging for the Champions League spots. They start the weekend just two points outside the top four.

Loic Remy has been on fire, scoring 8 goals in his last 8 Premier League games, but as Pardew pointed out last week, Shola Ameobi was the “pick of the bunch.” It doesn’t seem 5 minutes since I interviewed a giant, young and softly spoken Ameobi in the bowels of the Nou Camp after he’d scored Newcastle’s lone goal in a 3-1 Champions League defeat against Barcelona. Sadly for both of us, it was actually 11 years ago. Ameobi is 32 now, I’m considerably older, but he led the line superbly against Norwich and is enjoying his run in the side.

Newcastle are playing well, and their often fatalistic fans will hope they don’t blow it against a team they feel they should beat.

As for West Brom, they’ve been ticking along quite nicely, albeit having drawn a few too many games. They are 8 points behind their electric pace at the same stage last season. Steve Clarke would surely leap in at this point and argue that his side should have won at Stamford Bridge the other week but for the award of THAT penalty, and he would have a valid point. I think it robbed West Brom of a bit of momentum. However, if Shane Long can reproduce his form from the Villa game last Monday night, the Baggies fans might ‘Boing, Boing-ing’ their hearts out at the top of the Leazes Stand come 7:20pm.

Spurs v Manchester United… this game is going to be incredibly tense as Tim Howard joins you for the call on Sunday, 7am ET on NBCSN. We spoke about Spurs’ lack of creativity last week… should Tottenham’s fans be worried?

This is a huge game for Spurs. Their capitulation at Manchester City was alarming, and it capped a body of work so far this season that has increased the scrutiny on AVB.

Before the Manchester mauling, Spurs had progressed steadily if unspectacularly, into the upper reaches of the Premier League. They weren’t scoring many goals, but the saving grace was that they weren’t conceding many either. It took 13 seconds, and then a woeful 90+ minutes to change that situation dramatically.

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Roberto Soldado couldn’t hit a cows backside with a banjo if he tried at the moment…

Spurs still lead the league in clean sheets with seven, but Spurs fans are generally not pragmatists. They want to see free flowing, attacking Football. They don’t want to add “1-0 to the Tottenham” to their match day repertoire, even if 1-0 wins would be a dramatic improvement on not scoring for three entire games for the first time since 2009.

But where will the goals come from? Roberto Soldado has managed one goal from open play in 945 minutes of Premier League Football. Was anyone else surprised to see him play 90 minutes in the freezing conditions in Tromso on Thursday night? Maybe that was a prelude to a spot on the bench in the Premier League, but with the freshly rehabilitated Emmanuel Adebayor struggling with injury and Jermaine Defoe toying with a move away from the Lane, that might be unlikely.

AVB said that he’d toyed with a new 4-4-2 formation before the City game, I wonder if Sunday might be the time to throw a bit of caution to a stiffening wind, in an attempt to give his season a timely jolt.

I also wonder if we might see Ryan Giggs start the first game of his 5th decade on Sunday. He was sublime in Leverkusen on Wednesday night in the Champions League. In the absence of Michael Carrick, Giggs provides David Moyes with experience and poise in the middle of the park, with a fine range of passing. He displays a composure which Fellaini and Cleverley sorely lacked at Cardiff last Sunday.  But can Giggs start two games in five days? Or will be be kept back for the home match against Everton on Wednesday? We shall see.

United are running into form, and aside from a Clint Dempsey-assisted win at Old Trafford last season, Spurs have suffered an horrific run of form against them in the Premier League era. AVB and Spurs need that run to change.

Finally, what else are you looking forward to?

The 10am Eastern games on Saturday are full of intrigue and six pointers. West Ham are desperate to halt their poor recent run of home form, against a vulnerable Fulham. But if the Hammers let another home game slip by without taking the points, they could lurch into the bottom three.

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Can Tony Pulis save Crystal Palace?

Tony Pulis takes charge of Crystal Palace for the first time, at Norwich. The Eagles could inflict a hugely damaging defeat on the Canaries, and if they do so, they’ll climb to within one point of them. Worrying times in East Anglia.

The Sunderland revival under Gus Poyet must gain some momentum soon before they are cut truly adrift in the bottom three. Can they overcome the recent trauma of a 6-1 defeat at Villa Park last season to gain three priceless away points at Villa Park?

Can Southampton get something at Stamford Bridge, or will their testing two game road trip at Arsenal and Chelsea yield nothing? Cardiff v Arsenal is a fascinating one as well. The Welshmen buoyed by their late equalizer against Manchester United, but now pit their energy and combativeness against arguably the silkiest side in the Premier League in Arsenal.

All in all, it’s another cracking Premier League weekend in prospect. Hope you all enjoy it on NBC Sports.

Panama boss blunt and honest before nation’s World Cup debut

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SOCHI, Russia (AP) — Panama coach Hernan Dario Gomez isn’t in the business of sugarcoating the truth before his team makes history by playing in its first World Cup.

The Central American team has trouble scoring and his players will need to have a good day to have any chance against Belgium on Monday, he said.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

Blunt and honest, Gomez didn’t even hide his starting lineup, the normal way of doing things for coaches these days. And when asked if Panama could repeat Iceland’s upset against Argentina — the teams drew 1-1 on Saturday — the Colombian didn’t bother picking the right words when downplaying the Argentine squad.

“Iceland sent Croatia to the playoffs (in European qualifying), and it did well in the European Championship as well,” Gomez said. “It played against an Argentina squad which isn’t at the same level as Belgium right now. I mean, the distance between Iceland and Argentina isn’t as significant as the distance between Belgium and Panama.”

Gomez didn’t completely dismiss Panama’s chances of a surprise result against the Belgians, saying “anything can happen in football,” but admitted it wouldn’t be normal.

“It’s very clear that they are the favorites,” the 62-year-old coach said. “But each game is different, and if we have a good day, maybe we can achieve something.”

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

If Panama does find a way to advance past the group stage, Gomez said he already knows how he will be celebrating.

“I’ll drink two bottles of vodka,” he said laughing, before taking it back. “No, no … we are professionals.”

Gomez didn’t bother keeping his lineup a secret for the match in Sochi, naming the 11 starters without hesitating when asked about it. He even frankly talked about the formation his team would be playing Monday.

Gomez said Panama won’t be trying anything but defending against the talented Belgians, and admitted that scoring goals has been a weakness of his team entering the tournament.

“We’ve become strong on defense. It’s Panama’s virtue,” he said. “Panama isn’t a team that will score a lot of goals. We may create good chances in some matches, but we aren’t able to score. We arrive at the World Cup with problems scoring the goals.”

[ LIVE: World Cup scores ]

The 55th-ranked Panama drew 0-0 with Northern Ireland and lost 1-0 to Norway in its final warm-up matches before traveling to Russia.

It qualified for the tournament by finishing ahead of the United States in CONCACAF thanks to a last-minute victory over Costa Rica in qualifying.

Gomez said the team carries a big responsibility by representing the nation at a World Cup for the first time, and his biggest job is to get the players ready for the pressure they are about to face.

“The whole country is excited about this,” Gomez said. “I have to prepare the players mentally.”

Gomez has been coaching Panama since 2014. He was previously with Ecuador, Guatemala and Colombia.

Panama’s other Group G games will be against England on Sunday and Tunisia on June 28.

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.’

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

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.”

[ LIVE: World Cup scores ]

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