John Flanagan

Tottenham and Liverpool battle for fourth, Southampton’s youngsters shine – 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 some way to helping with that.

In the latest edition of “View from the Booth” we chat with NBC Sports’ lead soccer announcer Arlo White Tottenham’s top four challenge, what is holding Liverpool back from being title contenders, how Southampton have fared, the woes of Cardiff City and much, much more.

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.

Tottenham have slipped of late, as Tim Sherwood’s side have looked a little jaded. Is this the Europa League curse striking again? And is a top four spot out of the question?

A top four place is not out of the question for Tottenham, but we will know more about their credentials after a busy and very difficult March period.  Following Sunday’s game against Cardiff at White Hart Lane, they face Chelsea away, Arsenal at home in the north London derby, Southampton at home and then Liverpool away. All extremely tough matches. Their midweek heroics against Dnipro in the Europa League may provide a huge boost in confidence and momentum for the rest of the season, but it has also handed them a tough Last 16 tie against Benfica. Playing a big European game on a Thursday night is not the ideal preparation for a big Arsenal match on Sunday, but as Sherwood has said, they can’t be picky. They need some silverware because the trophy room “echoes.”

source: Getty Images
Tim Sherwood’s Spurs are in danger of falling off the pace for a UCL spot, can they pick things up this weekend?

We spoke to Tim Sherwood during the week. He has a very simple, no nonsense approach to management. At least that’s the approach which he projects to the Football world. He wants his defenders to defend, his attackers to attack, and his midfielders to do a bit of both. Simple! He promised us a very attacking line-up against Cardiff, so we’ll see if he perseveres with his 4-4-2, and whether Roberto Soldado will get another opportunity to bag the goal from open play that he, his team mates, Tim Sherwood and all Spurs fans crave.

WATCH SPURS vs. CARDIFF, 11:30am ET, SUNDAY

Sherwood has been boosted with the return of Sandro and Andros Townsend for the run in. Kyle Walker should return at right back as well. If Liverpool win at Southampton, the gap between the 4th placed Reds, and Spurs, will be 9 points. But a Spurs win against Cardiff, will put 8 points between themselves and Manchester United in 6th. Is a 5th place finish looking more likely? Perhaps so, but at least Spurs would have two avenues into the Champions League to explore next season.

We spoke about Cardiff and how well they did in the transfer window… but just one win for Ole Gunnar Solksjaer sees them in all kinds of trouble. What do the Bluebirds need to do to survive?

The air of chaos continues to hang over Cardiff City. Ole Gunnar Solksjaer has been chastened by his opening seven games in charge, managing just one win, and suffering five damaging defeats. Cardiff have failed to score in 15 of their 27 Premier League games, and defensively they were shocking against Hull in a 4-0 home defeat last week. Does Solksjaer know his best XI yet? It doesn’t look like it, which is not a good situation heading into March. Over the last three games, 21 Cardiff players have seen action in the League. His response to a 0-0 draw with Aston Villa, was to change three of the back four against Hull, with catastrophic results.

Solksjaer thinks his side need to win five of their last 11 games to stay up. They still have to play Spurs, Liverpool, Everton, Southampton and Chelsea, so they simply must beat the likes of Fulham, West Brom, and Crystal Palace to stand any chance at all. Cardiff will be boosted by the return of Craig Bellamy from suspension and Jordon Mutch from injury, but with owner Vincent Tan making yet more incendiary statements this week, anything other than a Cardiff defeat at White Hart Lane would be a major surprise.  

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England international Lallana and Rodriguez have led the way, as Saints’ youngsters can finish the season strongly.

Southampton have had a funny season. It started so well, then tailed off, then they went on a long unbeaten run before being battered at West Ham. How do you assess Mauricio Pochettino’s first full season in charge?

To spin the cliche ‘it was a game of two halves’, Southampton have put together a season of ‘three thirds’. They were a wonderful surprise in the opening 11 games of the season. They won six, lost only one and conceded a paltry five goals. The Saints were riding high in 3rd place. Then came a spate of injuries to key midfielders, such as Victor Wanyama, and the departure of their popular and visionary Chairman Nicola Cortese. What followed was a run of one win in nine, and a slide down to mid-table. The Saints capitulated at West Ham last week having taken an early lead, but they have only lost one of their last seven games, and appear to be back on track.

WATCH SAINTS vs. LIVERPOOL, 12:30 pm ET, SATURDAY

Pochettino’s first season in charge has been an unqualified success. Not just because of the results on the field, but the way he has brought on some exciting young talent from the club’s production line. Luke Shaw’s call up to the England squad this week has been greeted with universal positivity in England.  Adam Lallana and Jay Rodriguez have enjoyed break out seasons. Just below Southampton’s new flock of England senior internationals are the likes of Calum Chambers, Nathaniel Clyne, Sam Gallagher, Harrison Reed and James Ward-Prowse. All eager, confident and technically gifted young professionals.

You wonder why Pochettino treated their FA Cup tie at Sunderland with such apparent disdain, but it would be a shame to see Southampton’s League season peter out. Hopefully they can provide a statement of intent with an energetic and committed performance against Liverpool.

With Liverpool joining the title race, have the top four now pulled away? How pivotal is it that the Reds defend better, starting against Southampton on Saturday?

Brendan Rodgers has enjoyed a magnificent season in charge of Liverpool. He exudes calm authority and tactical intelligence. His free scoring side are right up there in the title race, they just need a little help from elsewhere like a Chelsea defeat or an Arsenal draw. With Manchester City in Capital One Cup Final action this weekend, the Reds could leap over them into 3rd place with a win at St Mary’s. Sure, City have games in hand, but their fixtures are piling up, and Liverpool could play the role of clubhouse leader if they continue to win. They need to carry on putting pressure on their rivals, and make a virtue of the fact that they only have 11 Premier League games left in their season. It’s a massive advantage in this title race.

source: AP
In recent weeks Liverpool have torn teams apart going forward. But it’s at the back where Arlo thinks they could falter.

Defensively there are clearly issues. For someone who has approached things with such clarity this season, Rodgers’ thinking could be questioned in terms of his defense against Swansea last Sunday. Martin Skrtel had a torrid afternoon. He was booked, he conceded a free kick in a dangerous area, and then conceded an own goal from it. He also gave away a penalty at the start of the 2nd half which Bony dispatched to make it 3-3. But when Rodgers made a center back substitution, it was Daniel Agger that made way for Kolo Toure. Perhaps Agger is getting back to full fitness, or maybe he was carrying a knock. If not, it was odd to burn a substitution on a center back, and then leave the guy on who was struggling.

Also, Glen Johnson played at left back, with John Flanagan, who has seen plenty of action on the left, over at right back. I wouldn’t be surprised if they switched positions at St Mary’s. But let’s not take anything away from Liverpool, who have been an absolute pleasure to watch for long stretches this season. Can they carry on playing like they have nothing to lose, now that they have forced their way onto the top table?

Finally, what else are you looking forward to?

Stoke vs. Arsenal. Even with the slightly more refined approach of Mark Hughes, Stoke City can still produce destructive, whirlwind performances against the big boys at the Britannia. Just ask Jose Mourinho and David Moyes. Arsenal have been known to wilt in the face of physical intimidation, so this is a massive test of their credentials. It would be a huge boost for Arsene Wenger if they come away from the Potteries with the three points in the bag. After all, Liverpool, and a nation of journalists, are waiting to pounce on any mistakes.

Liverpool’s Daniel Agger awaiting word on calf, to find out damage on Wednesday

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When Liverpool fought so hard to keep Daniel Agger this summer, it was expected he’d play a major part this season. Through the first half of the campaign, however, Agger gone from automatic starter, relegated to the bench, to back in the rotation within the span of five months. Yet after this weekend’s FA Cup game against Oldham Athletic, the Danish international is back on uncertain ground, a calf injury threatening to undermine the progress he’s made to get back into Brendan Rodgers’ team.

Agger was forced to leave Sunday’s 2-0 and underwent tests on Tuesday to help diagnose the injury’s extent. With four other defenders already hurt, Liverpool was thin in defense before Agger’s injury, a state that forced the Danish international to make three starts in eight days after going off versus Oldham.

After 35 starts last season, Agger has only made 11 appearances in 20 league games in 2013-14. Last Wednesday, Agger scored his only goal of the season as Liverpool defeated Hull City 2-0 on New Year’s Day, only his ninth start of the Premier League campaign.

Should his injury prove serious, Liverpool’s defense would be relatively depleted ahead Sunday’s visit to Stoke City. In addition to Mamadou Sahko’s hamstring problem, the Reds are also dealing with injuries to John Flanagan and José Enrique, while Uruguayan Sebastian Coates has been sidelined since August.

Should Agger joined them on the sideline, Rodgers will likely have to start Kolo Touré and Martin Kelly against the Potters.

Premier League Preview: Manchester City vs. Liverpool – Lethal attacks collide

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  • Six of the last nine PL meetings have been draws
  • City haven’t scored in their last two Boxing Day matches
  • Liverpool has only won one of their last five away games

On Boxing Day we have a real cracker for you to enjoy at the Etihad Stadium as Man City host Liverpool (watch live on NBCSN, 12:30pm ET and online via NBC Sports Live Extra) with both teams harboring serious title aspirations.

Liverpool sit joint-top of the Premier League at Christmas, and are just one point above third-placed City going into this massive clash in the North West. The home side must be the favorites in this one, as City have won eight out of eight at the Etihad and smashed home 35 goals in the process.

Manuel Pellegrini’s side have never been shy of scoring and will see this game as the perfect opportunity to get announce themselves as title favorites. That’s if last weeks 6-3 hammering of Arsenal didn’t already do that. As for Brendan Rodgers, his side have been sublime with one man leading the way, as Luis Suarez has scored 19 goals in his 12 PL games this season. Remarkable.

If City want to win, they’ll have to stop Liverpool’s Uruguayan superstar and make sure they still keep an eye on the Reds other sublime attacking talents. As we mentioned, both teams are full of goals and lead the PL in scoring with City racking up 51 goals and Liverpool not far behind with 41.

source: AP
Can Luis Suarez slay City on Boxing Day?

A win for the Citizens could see them potentially in top spot on Boxing Day, as their large squad will be tested to its limits over the festive period. As for injuries, City are still missing top scorer Sergio Aguero and defenders Matija Nastasic, Pablo Zabaleta and Micah Richards.

Liverpool’s captain Steven Gerrard is still out, while John Flanagan is a doubt and could join Daniel Sturridge, Jose Enrique and Sebastian Coates on the sidelines.

What they’re saying

Brendan Rodgers on City’s good home form: “We know it’s a tough place to go this year. Manchester City haven’t lost at home and we’ve won every game at home bar one, so they obviously have confidence at home like us. They score goals, but they also concede goals so it makes for a really good game. Our focus is on this game and this game only, and we know our possession level is really high at the moment, so we’re looking forward to it.”

James Milner on stopping Suarez: “He is having a pretty good season. He’s a dangerous player. We have come up against dangerous players so far this season but he will definitely be right up there, so we will need to keep him quiet. But Liverpool are a top side having a good season and it’s not just about stopping him, because they have plenty of other players who can do damage as well.”

Prediction

Everyone is predicting goals, but I think both sides ultra-attacking emphasis could actually cancel each other out. This will be a nervy game, as City don’t want to lose their incredible home record and Liverpool have struggled on the road a little. But if that man Suarez scores a few early, expect a rampant City to come roaring back with all guns blazing. I’m sitting on the fence and going for a draw.