The Premier League title race is coming to the crunch. With Tottenham lying seven points behind Chelsea ahead of Wednesday’s trip to Swansea, with the Blues simultaneously facing a tricky home match against Manchester City, results transpiring in Spurs’ favour could see them go to within a point of Chelsea by the time the Blues feature in Saturday’s late kick-off at Bournemouth.
Spurs must oversee victories in South Wales on Wednesday and at home to Watford in Saturday’s early kick-off, whilst hoping City, as Crystal Palace did over the weekend, can upset the leaders at Stamford Bridge in order to close the gap.
Last season, Spurs unravelled psychologically in the title race as they tried in vain to overhaul eventual champions Leicester, but with Spurs’ resolve firmer this time around, the mind-games ahead of the run-in have begun, and Pochettino has issued a title warning to Chelsea, insisting that his side have learned from last season and that their focus remains solely on the next game, rather than becoming entangled in talk of the title.
“The important thing that is happening now in the changing room is that we’re just focusing on us and our opponent. Last year it was a different reality”, Pochettino told the Daily Mirror.
“Our opponent is not Chelsea, it is Swansea. And next it will be Watford. If we do not focus on ourselves, we start to play two games- one against our real opponent and one in another stadium against Chelsea.
“Sometimes it is important to focus on one thing, not to spend time thinking about what is happening elsewhere, otherwise we start to lose”.
In the wake of Chelsea’s defeat to Crystal Palace, Blues boss Antonio Conte retaliated by taking a swipe back at title rivals Tottenham, suggesting that Chelsea are a side expected to win, yet have still defied the odds in becoming title favourites this campaign, whilst Spurs as underdogs do not have to cope with the pressure of expectation.
“The difference between Chelsea and Tottenham is this: If you are at Chelsea and win, it’s normal. If you are at Tottenham, if you win it’s great. But if you lose it’s no disaster. Because you find a lot of positives to explain a good season”, Conte told the Daily Mirror.
“Don’t forget, nobody thought Chelsea, this season, would fight for the title. But we are trying to change the situation.”
Conte has also brushed off the idea that the shock defeat for Palace should raise concerns or set a negative precedent ahead of the crucial run-in: “I’m not concerned about this. It’s normal that every team has to find a strategy to play against us”, he said.
The main concern to the agenda of Mauricio Pochettino and Tottenham for now, however, will be securing three points at Swansea, although one former Spur in the Swans ranks will be looking to put pain to the title aspirations of his former club as Swansea look to secure their top-flight status: 24-year-old midfielder Tom Carroll.
Carroll made the move from North London to South Wales during the January transfer window, and in an interview on Swansea’s official website, he declared that he is relishing the reunion with his former teammates, with whom he still keeps in touch.
“It will be strange playing against Spurs as I had been there since I was eight,” he said.
“I obviously know the players and staff very well. I’m still in a WhatsApp group among the players.
“It’s a game I’m really looking forward to. But all that matters is getting three points.”
Meanwhile, Tottenham midfielder Harry Winks has been ruled out for the remainder of the campaign following his ankle injury against Burnley.
The 21-year-old left Turf Moor on a stretcher having rolled his ankle in a tumble into the dugout during the first-half and joins the growing list of absentees at White Hart Lane ahead of the run-in. Moussa Sissoko could deputise the injured Winks for Wednesday’s trip to the Liberty Stadium, but the club still wait on whether defensive-midfielder Victor Wanyama will be passed fit, following an assessment on Tuesday.
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