Manchester United’s tricky test, Liverpool firing, UCL hangover – 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 Crystal Palace’s battle with Manchester United, Swansea’s trip to face Liverpool, Champions League hangovers and much more.

(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.

On Saturday you are at Selhurst Park to see Palace take on Manchester United. Given the Eagles superb home form and United’s struggles, are Palace the favorites? And how difficult will this be for United?

Palace can’t be favorites for a game against Manchester United, but I’m sure Tony Pulis has them brimming with belief that they are capable of pulling out a first league victory since 1991.

Since the former Stoke boss was appointed in late November, their revival has been nothing short of remarkable. In fact, I’d argue that it is one of the great success stories of this Premier League season, albeit over shadowed by a thrilling title race, the big personalities at the top of the table and the regular managerial casualties around the league.

If the Premier League season started when Pulis was appointed, the Eagles would be in 8th place, only two points behind Manchester United.  It’s an incredible renaissance considering they only earned 7 points from their opening 12 games. Hands up who predicted Palace to stay up?  If you have your hand up, I don’t believe you, or you are a Palace season ticket holder!

source:
Wayne Rooney has signed a lucrative new deal with United. Source: manutd.com

Palace don’t score many goals, but they have become much harder to beat, and are far more resilient against their fellow relegation strugglers. They’ve won three out of their last four in the Premier League, but more tellingly, they’ve turned Selhurst Park into a very difficult place for traveling teams to visit. Pulis has only tasted defeat once in seven at home. Palace had a terrific transfer deadline day.  I’m looking forward to watching Tom Ince against Manchester United. Scott Dann brings experience to the heart of their defense and Joe Ledley has seen plenty of Champions League action at Celtic.

We’ve talked endlessly about United’s troubles in this column this season, so let’s just say that they are capable of winning handsomely at Selhurst Park, but are also vulnerable to a demoralizing defeat similar to the one they suffered at Stoke recently. Wayne Rooney’s new contract announcement is a boost to the club, let’s see if David Moyes’ side can carry that bounce onto the field.

Either way, Rooney can afford to buy a round of sandwiches for the trip back north.

With Liverpool playing after the other title contenders this weekend, the Reds have a chance to go within one point of top spot. What can they expect from Swansea?

Yes, but they could also find themselves chasing by Sunday afternoon. For their Champions League aspirations, they could use a big Chelsea win over Everton on Saturday. For their title hopes, which are slowly growing, they could use the exact opposite.

Brendan Rodgers’ side have been incredible at home this season. Since their only defeat against Southampton, they’ve taken 28 out of the 30 points on offer. Rodgers declared himself tactically culpable for the two points they dropped against Aston Villa, which was another smart piece of man management.

Incredibly, Liverpool have continued their high scoring unbeaten run whilst Luis Suarez has cooled off in pure goalscoring terms. The Uruguayan scored 22 in his first 16 Premier League games this season, but has only found the net once in the last five. He’s still playing well, and it’s a testament to Liverpool’s attacking prowess that Sturridge, Coutinho, Sterling and Steven Gerrard have filled the scoring void.

source: AP
Suarez’s goals have dried up a little of late.

Sturridge has scored a goal in the last seven Premier League games. Only Ruud Van Nistelrooy has managed to score in eight straight in Premier League history. Will this be only the 4th game in 19 that he’ll fail to find the net in the Premier League this season?  It’s doubtful.

Liverpool haven’t had too many chances to break their lengthy title drought. After their defeat at Arsenal last week in the FA Cup, they are now free to concentrate solely on the Premier League. This opportunity doesn’t occur too often, can they grasp it and mount a serious title challenge? We’ll know more after Spurs, Chelsea and Manchester City have visited Anfield.

Do you expect the Swans to survive? Garry Monk seems to have settled them down since taking charge. Is he the right man, long-term?

I think Swansea will survive but if I were a Swans fan, I’d be a little bit concerned about this game, and it’s timing. Liverpool have scored 43 first half goals this season, more than 16 Premier League teams have managed in total. Swansea have managed just seven.  Can the visitors withstand an early hurricane from the Reds, because they know it’s coming?

The game is nestled awkwardly between the two legs of their Europa League tie against Napoli. They earned a valiant 0-0 draw at home on Thursday night against a side lying 3rd in Serie A, but will their minds wander to the 2nd leg in the Stadio San Paulo next Thursday?

Swansea need to give a good account of themselves at Anfield and in Naples, and then gather points against their fellow strugglers like Palace, West Brom and Norwich in the month of March. As for Monk, he’s enjoyed a terrific start, not least a 3-0 win in the South Wales derby. This is his audition. If Swansea continue to improve then he could be their man long term, but it’s very early days.

With disappointment for both English teams in the Champions League, do you think Arsenal and Man City will be suffering a hangover this weekend?

It’s possible. Both managers will have to tinker a little as both sides played big chunks of time with 10 men, against arguably the best two club sides in the world during the week. That will surely lead to some tired legs in either squad.

source: AP
Champions League woe continues for City, will that impact their performance vs. Stoke?

Both will be delighted to be at home against sides from the bottom half of the table. The challenge for Arsene Wenger is whether to give Mesut Ozil a break. Will Manuel Pelligrini give Demichelis a break and integrate Lescott or Nastasic ahead of the 2nd leg in the Nou Camp?  We’ll see.

It’s simple, if Arsenal and Manchester City are hurting, which they should be, they need to get over it and ensure three points each on Saturday afternoon.

Finally, what else are you looking forward to?

West Brom vs. Fulham will be fascinating. Pepe Mel has failed to win any of his five games in charge of the Baggies, but they have managed draws at the Hawthorns against Chelsea, Liverpool and Everton, so there is something to build on.

But what about Fulham? It’s a Premier League bow for the 60-year-old German Felix Magath, the Cottagers third manager this season.  He’s a task master, but he gets results. Whether Fulham’s players will stand for a boot camp atmosphere at this stage of the season is unknown, but they showed against Manchester United and Liverpool (where they were only outscored 5-4 but managed a solitary point) that they do have a resilient streak. They’ll need it with Magath in charge, and the challenge they face to avoid the drop.

Toronto score 4 goals in ET to bounce DCU, Rooney (video)

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The game in 200 words (or less): Toronto FC outplayed D.C. United by a wide margin but needed extra time — and a 13-minute explosion of goals — to book their place in the Eastern Conference semifinals, where they’ll face top-seeded New York City. The Reds led for exactly an hour, thanks to Marco Delgado’s goal just after the half-hour mark, only to throw their advantage away — after failing to convert a number of chances to go 2-0 up — in second-half stoppage time. The 1-1 scoreline lasted for all of about three minutes of game time before Toronto scored not once, not twice, not three times, but four times in the first period of extra time. Now, Greg Vanney’s side will cross its fingers and hope to get Jozy Altidore (quad) and Omar Gonzalez (hamstring), who didn’t play in this one, back for Wednesday’s game against NYCFC.

[ MORE: Lampard “pleased for Pulisic,” praises subs in Chelsea win ]

What did we learn?

  • Worst time for a goalkeeping error: You might be thinking, “Well, yes, duh, of course it is, there isn’t a good time for that.” The playoffs, however, are really not the right time, however, and United learned that the hard way when Bill Hamid failed to hold onto a simple bouncing ball in front of goal. Stefan Frei was lights out for the Seattle Sounders earlier on Saturday and Jesse Gonzalez recovered from a poor start (and was bailed out by three goals scored by FC Dallas), and Quentin Westberg was stellar for Toronto in this one.

  • Set-piece defending, once again: Earlier in the day, we saw Seattle fail to defend set pieces and let Dallas back into their game on multiple occasions. Toronto weren’t any better in the dying seconds of regular time. With under two minutes remaining, this is how they defended a United corner kick…

That’s comically bad for a regular season game in the middle of April, let alone for a dark-horse candidate in the playoffs, up a goal in stoppage time. Every chance counts tenfold in the playoffs, and set pieces are no different.

  • D.C.’s desire still in doubt: To lose in extra time, away from home, is one thing. To capitulate and concede four goals in 13 minutes — almost as if to say you didn’t want to score the late equalizer in the first place — is shameful. Wayne Rooney‘s time in MLS ends with his team down 5-1 in extra time and him being subbed off after 105 minutes.

 

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverageStandings | Stats | Schedule ]

Man of the match: Jonathan Osorio

Goalscorers: Delgado (32′), Rodriguez (90’+3), Laryea (93′), Osorio (95′, 103′) DeLeon (105’+1)

Serie A: Juventus win 5th straight; Napoli cruise past Verona (video)

Photo by Daniele Badolato - Juventus FC/Juventus FC via Getty Images
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A roundup of all of Saturday’s action in Italy’s top flight…

[ LA LIGA: Real Madrid lose to Mallorca; Messi, Suarez, Griezmann send Barca top ]

Juventus 2-1 Bologna

Juve were made to work a bit — but not too much — en route to a 2-1 victory over Bologna. It’s their fifth straight win in league play and again puts them four points clear of Inter Milan, who are yet to play this weekend.

Cristiano Ronaldo opened the scoring with a pinpoint finish from a tight angle in the 19th minute, but Bologna hit back just seven minutes later when Danilo smashed home a half-volley after Juve failed to clear a corner kick. It was 1-1 at halftime, but not much longer than that. Miralem Pjanic picked out the near post and slotted home past the goalkeeper in the 54th minute to give Juve their deserved winner.

Napoli 2-0 Verona

Napoli, on the other hand, had their backs against the wall early when Verona visited the San Paolo Stadium. Goalkeeper Alex Meret was the hero early on with a fantastic double-save before Carlo Ancelotti’s side settled in and took control of the game.

Arkadiusz Milik got on the end of Fabian Ruiz’s cross right in front of goal, leaving the Polish forward with the simplest of tap-ins to make it 1-0 in the 37 minute. Milik made it 2-0 when he got a glancing touch on a sensation free kick from Lorenzo Insigne in the 67th.

The victory sees Napoli hang onto fourth in the league table and move to within two points of second-place Inter.

Elsewhere in Serie A

Lazio 3-3 Atalanta

Sunday’s Serie A schedule

Sassuolo v. Inter Milan — 6:30 a.m. ET
Sampdoria v. Roma — 9 a.m. ET
Udinese v. Torino — 9 a.m. ET
Cagliari v. SPAL — 9 a.m. ET
Parma v. Genoa — 12 p.m. ET
AC Milan v. Lecce — 2:45 p.m. ET

Sounders top Dallas in all-time, extra-time playoffs classic (video)

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The game in 200 words (or less): How about one word? Insanity. Simply put, an all-time classic in MLS Cup Playoffs history. It’s a small sample size, no doubt about it, but MLS’s new single-elimination playoff format appears to have solved the problem of uninspiring early-round action. Seattle advanced to the Western Conference semifinals, where they’ll face the winner of Real Salt Lake versus Portland Timbers, with a 4-3 extra-time victory, but it wasn’t without 120 minutes of nonstop drama. Seattle went from 2-0 up inside the first 25 minutes, to level at 2-2 inside 65, to 3-2 up 10 minutes later, to level again with under 10 minutes of regular time remaining. They needed 113 minutes to do it, but Seattle broke the deadlock for the final time when Jordan Morris completed the first hat trick of his career.

[ MORE: Lampard “pleased for Pulisic,” praises subs in Chelsea win ]

What did we learn?

  • Sounders making magic out wide: No matter how many times they saw it, Dallas simply couldn’t slow down the Sounders wide attackers and full backs from creating superb scoring chances from out wide. This has been one of the Sounders’ greatest strengths for a couple seasons now, yet Dallas seemed wholly unprepared for it. The speed and crossing ability they have out wide is a huge problem for a lot of teams, especially when Morris and Raul Ruidiaz are moving around freely in the box.

  • Sounders’ defensive struggles unsolved: For all the chances they created on one end, Seattle couldn’t control the game or even slow it down in middle and defensive thirds. Whether it was on the counter-attack, through sustained possession by Dallas or set pieces, Seattle struggled in the worst way. Even after going ahead in extra time, Seattle stood idly by as Dallas created a couple of golden scoring chances and were so close to finding themselves level again at 4-4. They won’t have (m)any more “get out of jail free” cards to play as they advance to the latter rounds.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverageStandings | Stats | Schedule ]

Man of the match: Jordan Morris

Goalscorers: Ruidiaz (18′), Morris (22′, 74′, 113′), Cannon (39′), Hedges (64′), Acosta (82′)

La Liga: Real Madrid shocked by Mallorca; Messi, Suarez, Griezmann send Barca top

AP Photo/Alvaro Barrientos
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A roundup of all of Saturday’s action in Spain’s top flight…

[ MORE: Lampard “pleased for Pulisic,” praises subs in Chelsea win ]

Eibar 0-3 Barcelona

Lionel Messi goal – check; Luis Suarez goal – check; Antoine Griezmann goal – check; clean sheet – check. If there exists a perfect recipe for a Barcelona victory this season, the Blaugrana put it to good use en route to a fourth straight La Liga victory and top spot in the league table on Saturday.

Griezmann opened the scoring in the 13th minute, followed by Messi in the 58th and Suarez in the 66th. Marc-Andre ter Stegen didn’t have to make a single save as Eibar managed just five shots in the game.

Mallorca 1-0 Real Madrid

Real Madrid’s unbeaten start to the season was snapped at eight games on Saturday, when Los Blancos went to Mallorca and suffered a hugely underwhelming 1-0 defeat. Zinedine Zidane’s side — already without the likes of Gareth Bale (calf), Luka Modric (bruise), Toni Kroos (adductor) and Marco Ascensio (knee), among others — finished the game with 10 men after Alvaro Odriozola earned his second yellow card in the 74th minute. The defeat sees Madrid fall off the top spot, now sitting second behind Barca.

Lago Junior scored the game’s only goal in the 7th minute and Mallorca held on for 83 more, allowing just four shots on target (12 in total). The early goal was Mallorca’s only shot on target over 90 minutes.

Atletico Madrid 1-1 Valencia

Atleti coughed up a late lead and settled for a 1-1 draw with Valencia, but the worst news of the day comes in the form of an injury suffered by Joao Felix. The 19-year-old’s ankle buckled underneath him late in the second half. Atleti finished with 10 men after their $140-million superstar was forced off.

Elsewhere in La Liga

Getafe 2-0 Leganes

Sunday’s La Liga schedule

Alaves v. Celta Vigo — 6 a.m. ET
Real Sociedad v. Real Betis — 8 a.m. ET
Espanyol v. Villarreal — 10 a.m. ET
Athletic Bilbao v. Real Valladolid — 12:30 p.m. ET
Sevilla v. Levante — 3 p.m. ET