Liverpool’s title charge, Chelsea’s staying power, drop zone dread – 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 why games at the top have been so tight, Steven Gerrard’s resurgence, the trophy chase for the big three and much, much more. Remember, Arlo and his broadcast team are on a short break this week, as FA Cup action takes center stage.

(VIEW FROM THE BOOTH ARCHIVE)

You can hear Arlo calling live games every 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.

With so many of the games between the top teams this season proving tight, tense and yielding plenty of 0-0’s, why is it happening so much?

It’s a really good question. I’ve been at Manchester United v Chelsea, Arsenal v Chelsea and Arsenal v Manchester United this season, and the whole experience has followed a familiar pattern of great anticipation, early missed chances but ultimate inertia and stalemate. I think each game had it’s own significance and reasons for the result. In August, Jose Mourinho played without a recognized striker at Old Trafford before it had become apparent that United were not the force of old, and were there for the taking. In December at the Emirates, Mourinho reverted to a more cautious style having conceded far too many goals in Chelsea’s previous games. On Wednesday, Robin Van Persie and Jack Wilshere had terrific chances in the opening 3 minutes, but failed to take them, and aside from a couple of superb saves by Szczesny and De Gea later on, the rest of the game lacked any real inspiration as each side prioritized ‘not losing’ above going out and winning.

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Arlo believes the top teams have all been to afraid to go for broke this season. As a fear of losing has prevailed.

Should we be surprised? It was Arsenal’s 11th clean sheet in their last 12 home games in all competitions, but with the incentive of re-taking top spot, I was surprised with the lack of energy and urgency in the Gunners approach. With that in mind, Arsene Wenger only made one substitution in the entire game. Could Lucas Podolski have made a difference late on? Could Wenger and Arsenal have tested a potentially rusty Rio Ferdinand more? Could Arsenal have stepped up and made more of a statement of intent in this title race? I think they could and it’s a worry for Arsenal fans that they didn’t.

But dull 0-0’s haven’t dominated this season in the Premier League. We’ve seen plenty of exciting goal fests involving Manchester City and Liverpool, so there has been a balance.

One team not scared to attack is Liverpool. Can the Reds sustain their title challenge in the final few months of the season?

Who doesn’t love a cute little Chihuahua? What a brilliant and Mourinho-esque piece of imagery from Brendan Rodgers, that his little Chihuahua can “run between the legs of the horses.” And why not? Liverpool have been in devastating attacking form lately. Are they overly reliant on Luiz Suarez? He’s only scored 4 of Liverpool’s last 24 goals in the Premier League. Daniel Sturridge is on fire.  Coutinho is influencing games. Jordan Henderson is a machine in central midfield. Raheem Sterling is enjoying a break through season, and Steven Gerrard is settling into his new, deeper role brilliantly.

Liverpool can sustain a title challenge. Tottenham, Chelsea and Manchester City all have to visit Anfield. On paper, their ‘toughest’ away game is at Old Trafford and that has hardly been a fortress this season. Most significantly, and unlike their title rivals, they are unencumbered by midweek European Football, and Rodgers has more training sessions to implement his tactics.

My concern would be the Liverpool defense. Could Daniel Agger come in for Kolo Toure, who has struggled of late? Can a team that has Aly Cissokho as it’s left back win a Premier League title? Will Liverpool score so many goals that it won’t matter? We shall see. The Reds are mounting a compelling and thrilling challenge this season.

At the moment, Steven Gerrard seems to be the focal point of Liverpool’s charge. How has his resurgence helped the Reds?

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Steven Gerrard has been in imperious form from a deep-lying position this season.

Brendan Rodgers has pulled another master stroke here. He knows that Steven Gerrard is a major player at Liverpool but is also aware that Gerrard’s ability to scamper up and down a Football pitch is waning. The answer isn’t to ship Gerrard out of the club, but to embrace the new reality and find a role in which he can thrive. As Rodgers told me earlier this season, he is open to adapting his tactical approach to the talent that he has available, and this is a great example of that.

I was at Anfield for the Aston Villa game when Gerrard, and Liverpool, struggled with the new role in a 2-2 draw, but since then he seems to have taken to it beautifully. His pass for Daniel Sturridge’s equalizer at Fulham was just sublime, and he then kept his nerve to slot home an injury time penalty for the winner.

Gerrard has been a wonderful servant for Liverpool for many years. You could see in his celebration at Craven Cottage that he feels this is his best chance of winning a Premier League title with his beloved Reds. And like Rodgers says, beyond this season, Gerrard could play the “single pivot” role for England at the World Cup.

With the latter stages of the FA Cup and Champions League upon us, which title contender do you expect to cope with the rigors better, Manchester City, Arsenal or Chelsea?

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Chelsea, in Arlo’s opinion, are best equipped to make a run at the PL crown, FA Cup and Champions League.

At the moment, I don’t think Arsenal are coping with the rigors of the Premier League, let alone the Champions League and FA Cup. But getting Flamini and Ramsey back into their midfield from suspension and injury could be huge for the Gunners. I worry about the energy levels of Ozil and Giroud, and their work load is about to increase significantly.

For all of Manchester City’s amazing attacking talent, they have sorely missed Fernandinho in central midfield. His absence isn’t the only reason that City have failed to score in consecutive Premier League games, but when you look at the numbers, it is startling. He has missed 5 League starts, and Manchester City have failed to score in 4 of them. Therefore, 64 of City’s 68 Premier League goals have come in his 20 starts.

Of course, the absences of Aguero and Nasri are also key, but Fernandinho’s energy in the center of the park enables City to attack with more confidence. If their attack breaks down, Fernandinho will help them retrieve the ball and start again. They need him back. So, I think Chelsea are best equipped to cope. They have been rock solid defensively and have multiple and interchangeable options ahead of the back four to get results in big games. Matic has settled into the base of midfield nicely. Luiz can do a great job there. Hazard has been incredible of late, and Willian has been a revelation in terms of quality and work rate.

Chelsea might be title favorites now, but they also have the best chance of the three of prolonging their participation in the Champions League. They should dispose of Galatasaray, whilst Arsenal and City must overcome Bayern and Barcelona. Chelsea might have the heavier schedule in the closing weeks of the season.

Finally, with the standings so tight at the bottom, which teams do you think will survive and why?

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The arrival of Tony Pulis has ‘been a revelation’ for Crystal Palace, as they surge away from the drop zone.

Very tough question. This season is so unpredictable. Only Southampton and Newcastle are truly mid-table. Swansea are in 10th place, but only 8 points clear of the bottom side Fulham.

I said that Fulham had a terrific transfer deadline day, and I stick by that. They got rid of the ‘luxury’ players Berbatov and Taaraabt (addition by subtraction), and brought in some solid workers like Holtby, for a tough relegation scrap. Mitroglou is their wild card.  If he can score some big goals, then Fulham can turn their new found energy into points. But it’s a very tall order. They played Manchester United and Liverpool recently and despite their defensive approach, they were only outscored 5-4. But they only got 1 point for their efforts. Over the next 4 games, they face crucial games against West Brom, Cardiff and Newcastle. The results of those games could decide their fate.

Crystal Palace have been an absolute revelation under Tony Pulis. I think their story has been somewhat overlooked amidst the close title race above them. Right now, I would say Fulham, Cardiff and Norwich for the drop. But ask me after the next round of games, and it could be three different teams.

That’s the beauty of this terrific Premier League season.

Lletget and Dos Santos send Galaxy through past Minnesota United

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The fans were buzzing at Allianz Field as Minnesota United got its first playoff campaign under way at home, but the jubilation didn’t last long as the LA Galaxy spoiled the party with a 2-1 win over the wasteful hosts. Sebastian Lletget and Jonathan dos Santos were on hand to lift the visitors on a night to forget for strikers on both sides.

Just seven minutes in the porous LA Galaxy defense parted beautifully for Minnesota, but the home side couldn’t capitalize. On the break a wonderful cross reached Angelo Rodriguez with the goal gaping, but he completely whiffed on the chance with Dave Bingham charging.

The home side produced much of the attacking intent through the first half-hour, and again nearly went in front as Robin Lod blasted over the bar with a glorious chance to smash home the opener. Bingham turned sweeper keeper to smother another chance minutes before the break as a ball long for Ethan Finlay got behind the Galaxy defense.

After the break, Minnesota again had a chance to go in front as Romain Metanire sent in a delicious ball in front of net, but Rodriguez couldn’t head on target, flailing at the ball and ending up with his back to the net when he made contact. The Galaxy’s best chance of the first hour fell to Zlatan Ibrahimovic who found himself all alone near the far post on a corner, but he too flubbed the chance, unable to make solid contact while instead sending the ball skittering out of play off the side of his foot.

With strikers on both sides struggling mightily to make the most of chances, the LA Galaxy went in front against the run of play. Christian Pavon found Zlatan all alone about six yards in front of net, and while his shot was blocked, the rebound fell right to the feet of a charging Lletget who deposited his chance in a game begging for a finish.

Ibrahimovic’s struggles continued as his one-on-one chance with Vito Mannone was smothered by the goalkeeper, but moments later Jonathan dos Santos produced a wonderful curler that Mannone couldn’t reach and put the Galaxy 2-0 up.

There was still hope for Minnesota as they got a consolation with four minutes to go as Jan Gregus pulled one back for the hosts with a vicious low strike that rocketed into the bottom corner for the first real moment of tenacity up front for Minnesota United. Unfortunately, that would be it for the visitors as they sent Mannone forward for a late corner but nothing came of it and the final whistle blew.

The Galaxy move on to a dream matchup with their neighbors LAFC, while Minnesota United falls for the first time in 13 home games and their season comes to an end.

Rumblings that Real Madrid has contact with Jose Mourinho

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Real Madrid sits second in the La Liga table and has only just lost its first league match of the season, but manager Zinedine Zidane is reportedly already on the hot seat.

With a loss to Mallorca this weekend adding to a pair of Champions League disappointments to start group stage play, Zidane’s status is in question. While there is nothing from the more concrete sources, Spanish tabloids have begun to whisper that the club has been in contact with former manager Jose Mourinho, as Florentino Perez has flirted multiple times with returning the Portuguese boss to the Spanish capital over the last 12 months.

El Churingito reports that with Zidane under pressure, Perez has reached out to Moruinho to judge his interest in the position. The two have a history, with Mourinho taking charge of the side from 2010-2013 before a mutual split after what Mourinho called “the worst [season] of my career.” The reports state that Mourinho has a great relationship with Perez which could convince him to return. Rumors of his return are not new, as two months ago another tabloid report claimed an eventual reunion was possible.

Mourinho has been out of the game since he left Manchester United in December, serving as a pundit in a number of different capacities. At Old Trafford, Mourinho was unable to help the Red Devils return to the glory days of Sir Alex Ferguson, plagued by negative tactics and inconsistent results.

This season, Madrid has fallen victim to poor defending and a lack of finishing. Luka Jovic has not enjoyed a flying start to his Madrid career, while Gareth Bale again has found himself injured. Raphael Varane was benched for the Mallorca match in favor of Eder Militao and Dani Carvajal was rested, but a seventh minute Lago Junior goal was enough to down the giants. Carvajal’s stand-in Alvaro Odriozola was sent off in the 74th minute, making things even more difficult. With the club failing to win either of its first two European matches against PSG and Club Brugge, the pressure has risen on Zidane despite his past successes with the club.

La Liga: Sevilla squeaks by Levante, La Real back to winning ways

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Real Sociedad put its two-game losing streak to bed and remained in the mix at the top of the La Liga table, turning around an early 1-0 deficit and winning 3-1 at home over Real Betis.

Lorenzo Moron scored 12 minutes in for the visitors, but a Javi Garcia own-goal leveled the score while Willian Jose and Portu sealed the three points. Martin Odegaard was fantastic again for La Real, constantly proving a threat in the buildup. Man of the Match, however, was Mikel Merino who was active in the midfield and popped up occasionally in the attacking third. The win pushes La Real up to fourth in the table, two points behind second-placed Real Madrid and three back of leaders Barcelona.

Sevilla was held for 86 minutes at home by Levante, but Luuk De Jong gave the hosts all three points as he rose high above Erick Cabaco to head home Jesus Navas’s cross from deep. Sevilla held over 60% possession throughout the match and racked up nine corners to Levante’s one, but didn’t create much in front of net until the final 15 minutes. Chicharito and De Jong both missed within two minutes of each other, and the latter eventually converted to push Sevilla to sixth in the La Liga table.

Alaves picked up a big three points over Celta Vigo with a 2-0 home win on second half goals from Lisandro Magallan and Lucas Perez. The visitors managed just two shots on target and had just one clear cut chance that Santi Mina failed to put on frame seconds out of halftime. Former Newcastle striker Joselu had a bad miss past the half-hour mark but proved a threat for much of the match, ripping off six shots on his own. Alaves also picked up five yellow cards in the match, but ultimately jumped out of the relegation zone and past Celta Vigo into 14th.

Villareal moved to seventh in the table with a 1-0 road victory at Espanyol. Cameroon international Karl Toko Ekambi scored his third goal of the season in the 17th minute and the visiting defense spoiled the Espanyol attack all game long. The hosts put forth 18 shots but managed to get just three of them on target. Santi Cazorla has been stellar all season for Villareal, and he went the full 90 minutes again, not adding much up front but proving a menace in midfield.

Athletic Club drew 1-1 with Real Valladolid as Inaki Williams put Athletic up just after the half-hour mark, but an Inigo Martinez own-goal pegged them back with 20 minutes to go. Athletic popped off 17 shots to Real Valladolid’s seven but Jordi Masip made six saves in net for Real Valladolid to spoil the home side’s day, leaving Athletic in eighth with 13 points.

Fabian downs Red Bulls in extra time, sends Philadelphia to conference semis

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A wild and wacky game saw Philadelphia come from two goals down to force extra time, and Marco Fabian bagged the eventual winner in the 105th minute to put the Union into the Eastern Conference semifinals with a 4-3 win. The victory is the first in playoff action for the Union in club history.

New York held a 3-1 advantage at halftime as Josh Sims, Tim Parker, and Tom Barlow all found the back of the net for the visitors in the opening 45 minutes, while Alejandro Bedoya found the back of the net himself.

After the break, things got even more wild. New York coughed up the lead, with Jack Elliott and Fabrice Picault each striking once despite a solid display from Red Bulls goalkeeper Luis Robles. With the game level, the final 15 minutes were all Philadelphia as the Eastern Conference three seed peppered New York’s penalty area, but Robles made a fabulous save on a Jamiro Monteiro effort from point blank range at the back post.

In extra time, Fabian found the back of the net with what appeared to be a chipped cross that took a slight deflection and snuck into the top corner from a tight angle.

The Union will get a matchup with Atlanta United in the semifinals, after Frank De Boer engineered a 1-0 win over New England.