Pochettino serene in title race

LONDON. — Tottenham Hotspur manager Mauricio Pochettino said that the balm of victory would help his hobbling players prepare for tomorrow night’s English Premier League clash with London rivals West Ham United.

Harry Kane wore a face mask to protect a broken nose against Swansea City on Sunday and Dele Alli injured his foot in the warm-up, but both players finished the match with smiles on their faces as Spurs came from behind to win 2-1.

Coupled with Arsenal’s 3-2 defeat at Manchester United, it enabled Pochettino’s men to reclaim second place and close to within two points of leaders Leicester City.

After visiting sixth-place West Ham, Spurs face a showdown with north London rivals Arsenal, but despite their walking wounded, Pochettino said: “It’s easier to prepare for the West Ham game after this victory.

“They (the players) are happy, they smile, it is always a better mood to recover.

“It is an exciting moment for us, but some players we need to manage because they feel a little bit tired. We came from a very tough period.”

While Spurs look to establish themselves as Leicester’s main challengers, third-place Arsenal find themselves five points behind the leaders ahead of their home game with Swansea.

Arsenal could not take advantage of an injury-ravaged United team at Old Trafford, where 18-year-old striker Marcus Rashford scored twice for the hosts and set up Ander Herrera for what proved to be the decisive goal, and manager Arsene Wenger conceded it had been a weighty blow.

“We dropped three important points, but we have to show we are up for the fight and bounce back on Wednesday night,” said the Frenchman.

“We have to not feel sorry for ourselves. Mathematically, what it means, we will only know at the end of the season.”

Manchester City’s title hopes looked to have been fatally undermined by consecutive losses to Leicester and Spurs, but although they lie nine points off the pace — albeit with a game in hand — confidence has been bolstered by Sunday’s League Cup triumph over Liverpool. League Cup success proved the catalyst for a late surge to title glory in 2014 and ahead of tomorrow’s speedy reunion with Liverpool at Anfield, manager Manuel Pellegrini is hoping that lightning will strike twice.

“It’s important to continue trusting what we are doing,” said the Chilean, whose side prevailed 3-1 on penalties at Wembley after the game finished 1-1 at the end of extra time.

“We continue (being) involved in the Premier League. We have to play (for) another 36 points, so we are not going to give up. We made a huge step the other day in the Champions League (winning 3-1 at Dynamo Kiev), but winning this title will continue giving us a lot of trust to work.”

United, now three points below the Champions League berths, having played a game more than fourth-place City, host Watford tomorrow.

Leicester continue to make a mockery of predictions that their title challenge is bound to collapse and can reassert their five-point advantage today when they host West Bromwich Albion.

They almost squandered a chance to put pressure on their rivals on Saturday, when it took an 89th-minute goal from substitute Leonardo Ulloa to see off Norwich City, but manager Claudio Ranieri took the manner of victory as a sign of the depth in his squad.

“When one man scores a goal, all of Leicester City Football Club are happy,” said the Italian.

“Everyone would like to play, but it’s not possible. They believe in the project and they believe their teammates are playing well.

“For me it’s important to believe in them because, when I need some changes, they are ready.”

Champions Chelsea, meanwhile, will look to continue their recent upsurge in form when they visit relegation-threatened Norwich.

“Every time when we relax, even for a few seconds, we lose points, so we have to go step by step,” warned Branislav Ivanovic, who scored Chelsea’s late winner at Southampton on Saturday.

“We have in three days another game and we have to be very careful because it is another away game against a difficult opponent.”

Fixtures (all 9:45pm unless otherwise stated)

Today: Aston Villa v Everton, Bournemouth v Southampton, Leicester City v West Bromwich Albion, Norwich City v Chelsea, Sunderland v

Crystal Palace

Tomorrow: Arsenal v Swansea City, Liverpool v Manchester City (10pm), Manchester United v Watford (10pm), Stoke City v Newcastle United, West Ham United v Tottenham. — AFP.

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