Sunday’s entertaining game between Manchester United against Chelsea was heightened by the world-class coverage from NBC Sports on US television. The combination of Rebecca Lowe, Robbie Earle and Robbie Mustoe in the US studio as well as Gary Lineker and Graeme Le Saux in the studio at Old Trafford was exemplary. But it was the commentating by Arlo White and Lee Dixon that shone brightly, with Lee Dixon in particular putting in his best-ever performance as a co-commentator.
After retiring from the sport as a professional footballer in 2002, Dixon has worked for several broadcasters including BBC (on Match of the Day), ITV and even freelance work for FOX Sports. But it’s his pairing with NBC Sports that began in 2013 that has elevated Dixon into one of the best co-commentators in the business.
During the Manchester United-Chelsea clash, Dixon’s analysis was sharp, constructive and completely spot on. He pointed out how Manchester United were wasting free kick opportunities through poor deliveries by Angel Di Maria. And when it came time for Di Maria to take his injury time free kick after being fouled by Branislav Ivanovic, Dixon reemphasized the importance of Di Maria floating in a precise free kick, which is exactly what happened and resulted in an inch-perfect equalizer from Robin van Persie.
Dixon’s analysis seemed to foreshadow events throughout the match. It was refreshing to hear his criticism of Rafael da Silva and where the Brazilian has weaknesses that need to be improved. Dixon helped identify huge gaping holes in midfield that TV viewers were unable to see. His tactical nous was on full display, as he made countless observations that heightened the experience of watching the match.
These weren’t your everyday common sense observations either. As a former footballer, he has the understanding of what it means to play in these high pressure games. But more importantly, he’s able to communicate it effectively and concisely without taking the viewers away from the experience of watching the game unfolding in front of our eyes.
I can’t help but believe that Dixon has benefited greatly from working with NBC Sports. The entire team that covers the Premier League for the US broadcaster analyzes every minute of its coverage on a weekly basis, learning from its mistakes and strategizing ways on how it can improve its coverage.
Plus on top of that, Dixon has benefitted from the excellent working relationship he has with White. The two of them work together very well, and you can tell there’s a professional respect and understanding between the two, which the viewers benefit from at the end of the day.
At the same time, there’s a real feeling of a solid team chemistry between the US and UK studio teams as well as the always informative correspondent Neil Ashton from The Daily Mail.
It’s going to be difficult for NBC or other broadcasters to better NBC’s coverage of the beautiful game. But if anyone is going to do it, it may end up being NBC Sports itself.
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