Jan 17, 2014, 5:01 PM EDT
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 as Liverpool’s S.A.S striker partnership is reunited, Aston Villa’s relegation worries mount and the big match between Chelsea and Manchester United on Sunday takes center stage. Plus Arlo shares his opinion on the situation at Southampton, as turmoil off the field has put the South Coast club in turmoil.
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.
Liverpool finally have Suarez & Sturridge back fit together. Is it vital those two stay fit for the rest of the season if the Reds want to make the top four?
Well I think at various times during this season Liverpool have proved they can get results without either of them in the side. But they are clearly better off with Suarez and Sturridge both in the starting XI. The eye-watering fact is that they’ve scored 32 goals between them in the Premier League but they also seem to have this intuitive, symbiotic relationship on the field, as we saw evidence of that after Sturridge came onto the field at Stoke in that enthralling 5-3 win at the Britannia Stadium last weekend. It’s interesting, Sturridge can quite often be very demonstrative, a lot of arm waving if he doesn’t receive the pass he wants, when he’s in a good position, from Suarez.
I’ve looked very closely at the behavior and the body language between the two and you often wonder if the relationship will erode but their bond just seems to be very strong, it seems to be getting stronger and able to cope with the odd little disagreement or act of petulance at times. I think with Coutinho, Sterling, Henderson and Gerrard in support, this is a very potent Liverpool side but Suarez and Sturridge are the stars and they could be the two players that rubber-stamp their top four ticket this season.
As for Aston Villa, who are heading to Anfield on Saturday, do you think they will get sucked into another relegation battle?
It’s very possible. They are only five points off the bottom three, they’ve won one of their last seven, they’ve taken four points out of the last 21 points on offer. It just isn’t very good form. Although right now going into the weekend, they top of the bottom half of the table in 11th spot. I think the hopes that Villa fans will take to Anfield are that Benteke inspired 3-1 win last season at Liverpool, and the fact their away form is marginally better than their form at Villa Park, although that is not difficult. They’ve been woeful at home, and that’s a real problem for Paul Lambert and Aston Villa. I counted back and they’ve won seven of their last 43 games at Villa Park, you wouldn’t think they’d have a chance of survival over the last couple of seasons with form like that. It means they must be gathering points on the road and this season they’ve won four games away, that’s twice as many as they’ve won at home and it just gives them a glimmer of hope.
Maybe as a young side they’ve found it a little easier and a little less of a pressure environment when they’re on the road being supported by a group of away fans in the corner, rather than the stage-fright of a 35,000-40,000 crowd at Villa Park. So if Benteke, who scored against Arsenal on Monday, can go on a run then Villa have hope. That might need to happen for them not to get dragged into another relegation battle.
The big game of the weekend is at Stamford Bridge on Sunday, can Chelsea and Jose Mourinho pile more pressure on Manchester United and David Moyes?
Yeah of course they can, Mourinho is searching for a 100th Premier League win and the coincidence is that his first came against Manchester United in 2004 and the century could be reached against the same opposition on Sunday. I am really looking forward to this game, which will be live on NBCSN at 11am ET as Gary Lineker and Lee Dixon will be hosting a pregame show live from the Bridge, while myself and Graeme Le Saux will be in the booth calling the game.
We know that Stamford Bridge is an absolute fortress, 19 games unbeaten for Chelsea right now, the last team to beat them was QPR in the first home game of 2013 and of course Mourinho is unbeaten in 70 at home. What I think has characterized recent Chelsea performances is if you look at their body of work this season, they only kept four clean sheets in their opening 16 games. That wasn’t very Mourinho like. But they’ve kept five in their last six games, he’s found a formula to get results in a way and a manner that he enjoys.
There’s a little bit of the grind about it, a little bit of attrition at times. The front three midfielders, although they can be devastating in attack at times, are also working very, very hard when they don’t have the ball to win possession back as high up the field as possible. They are excellent at counter-attacking, these are the hallmarks of a Chelsea side. The classic performance was against Liverpool when they fell a goal back early on, they came roaring back and were scintillating for the rest of the first half to lead 2-1 at half time. Then the second half was anti-football, attrition and grind, lots of free kicks. Jose Mourinho warned us before the Arsenal game that it would be easy to win 1-0. The approach earned him a point at the Emirates, and they’ve won their last 4 games. So, it’ll be interesting to see their approach is against United on Sunday.
So then, will this match be different to the 0-0 bore draw at Old Trafford back in August between these two?
From a neutral perspective, from an NBC viewers perspective… I certainly hope so! Mourinho went to that game virtually without a striker, Andre Schurrle was loosely playing up top in that game. There was a period of 15-20 minutes in the second half when he threw Fernando Torres in and thought ‘well, I might be able to get a goal here and get that classic smash and grab victory at Old Trafford.’ That was before the dust had settled on the season and Mourinho didn’t know what to expect of Manchester United, so he might decide to have more of a go at them early and just have a feel out of Manchester United and see where they are at the moment. But United are in an interesting situation, they’ve won five out of six in the Premier League.
And United have been pretty good away from home, if the table was based on away form they would be in third placed behind Arsenal and Spurs, with Chelsea in fourth. United have won their last three away matches, and since that famous 4-1 drubbing at Manchester City on September 22, they are unbeaten in seven on the road. That’s not a bad away record for a club in ‘crisis’. Their two road defeats have come at the fortresses of Anfield and the Etihad, and although their road wins have been at the likes of Swansea, Sunderland, Villa, Norwich and Hull, it’s evidence that United have displayed some form and mettle away from the pressure cooker of Old Trafford. This is a huge test for them, the odds are stacked against them, so let’s see their response.
Finally, what else are you looking forward to?
West Ham passed their big test last week didn’t they? Which was interesting. I am looking at Southampton away at Sunderland this weekend, Nicola Cortese leaving is a pretty profound loss for the Saints. It was his vision, his attention to detail, his eye for managerial talent that really raised Southampton from League One to the fringes of the top six in the Premier League. Mauricio Pochettino says he’ll stay until the end of the season, that’s encouraging and it’s absolutely vital for Southampton. They had gained only five points out of 27 before that win over West Bromwich Albion last weekend, so a crucial win before the drama during the week at St. Mary’s. But they face a desperate Sunderland side, that are coming off a terrific win at Fulham and could climb out of the bottom three with a win in front of their own fans.
It’s a huge test for Southampton. A test of their togetherness and where they are psychologically after the departure of Nicola Cortese. Pochettino has a big job on his hands to get them focused for what will be a very difficult game at Sunderland. I am looking forward to seeing if Southampton can pass the test.
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