The Big Match

Blues shun meltdown talk

Chelsea's Cesc Fabregas celebrates scoring against Swansea on Feb 25. The midfielder said the focus is on the Blues' own performances and he is confident that his side can bounce back from anything.
Chelsea's Cesc Fabregas celebrates scoring against Swansea on Feb 25. The midfielder said the focus is on the Blues' own performances and he is confident that his side can bounce back from anything.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Pochettino distances himself from the mind games of title race as Kane makes his return

LONDON • Cesc Fabregas insists Chelsea will not buckle under the strain of Tottenham Hotspur's relentless pursuit as the Premier League title race ratchets up another notch today.

With just eight games remaining, Chelsea are still enjoying a precious seven-point lead over second- placed Tottenham, but Antonio Conte's side have shown a few signs of vulnerability recently.

They ground out a barely deserved 2-1 win over Manchester City on Wednesday just days after crashing to a shock 2-1 home defeat by struggling Crystal Palace.

Tottenham, on the other hand, have reeled off five successive victories, including an incredible escape act at Swansea on Wednesday when they scored three times in the final minutes to clinch a 3-1 success.

With Chelsea playing later today at Bournemouth, Tottenham have the chance to turn up the pressure again by temporarily trimming the lead to four points with a win against Watford at White Hart Lane a few hours earlier.

EQUAL TO THE TASK

We have character.

We can bounce back from anything that comes in front of us.

CESC FABREGAS, referring to Chelsea's ability to protect their seven-point lead, despite the loss to Crystal Palace.

Chelsea midfielder Fabregas admits his team have been feeling the heat lately, but he is confident the way they recovered from the Palace setback proved their mettle.

"The result on Saturday put a lot of pressure on us. We know we still have a good advantage, but this is the Premier League and you don't want to be giving points away, especially at home," the midfielder said.

"We have character. We can bounce back from anything that comes in front of us."

The wild celebrations from Tottenham's manager, players and fans on Wednesday underlined their relief at a result that allows them to continue dreaming of a first English title since 1961.

Having choked last season when they failed to catch champions Leicester City in the closing weeks, Mauricio Pochettino's side are back in the hunt and Tottenham defender Jan Vertonghen said: "Chelsea look very strong but we can't stop pushing and dreaming of the league title. They have a couple of difficult games coming up. We have to keep winning and hopefully they get a bit stressed.

"I don't know what is necessary to win the league, maybe a bit of luck, but I think this group has massive quality and is very special."

Tottenham received a boost yesterday when Pochettino revealed that Harry Kane is set to make a surprise return today against Watford.

The striker, who damaged ankle ligaments on March 12, returned to training this week and was involved in the full session yesterday.

"We'll see tomorrow if I decide to start him or if he will be on the bench," Pochettino said. "The good news is he's ready. He's fully recovered."

The manager is refusing to get involved in the mind games which start to surface at this point of the season. "I don't believe in mind games. The 'mind game' is to provide my team with belief and character, which we showed at Swansea," said the Argentine.

"It is very difficult to affect other teams or managers by playing mind games, as you call them in England.

"We are strong enough."

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Conte will not leave Chelsea in the summer

TOTTENHAM V WATFORD

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 08, 2017, with the headline 'Blues shun meltdown talk'. Print Edition | Subscribe