LONDON • Tottenham manager Mauricio Pochettino accused his players of failing to deal with the pressure of a Premier League title race after they were outplayed in a 2-0 defeat at Liverpool on Saturday.
The Londoners were lucky to be only two goals down at half-time at Anfield as Liverpool brought Tottenham's nine-game unbeaten run in the league to a halt, with two goals inside three minutes.
It was the manner of the defeat - only second-placed Tottenham's third of the season - that was most concerning though, as they appeared overwhelmed by the occasion.
The loss had Pochettino conceding the title race. Chelsea later opened up a 10-point lead with a 1-1 draw at Burnley yesterday but Manchester City could go second if they beat Bournemouth tonight.
"They were better than us and fully deserved to win. We started the game very sloppy," said the Argentinian, whose side led the pursuit of Leicester last season.
NOT UP TO SCRATCH
In the first 45 minutes you saw a team that is not ready to fight for the Premier League.
MAURICIO POCHETTINO, Tottenham coach, bemoaning his side's meek surrender to Liverpool.
"It is difficult to understand. I am very disappointed in our first-half display. Second half we reached their level, but it is really late. The whole team were poor.
"If you show like today that you cannot cope with the pressure to play to win the league, then it is difficult to challenge and fight for the Premier League.
"In the first 45 minutes you saw a team that is not ready to fight for the Premier League."
Goalkeeper and captain Hugo Lloris, whose saves spared Tottenham a drubbing, made no excuses.
"It's a big disappointment because we expected more today but Liverpool were much better. We lost the battle," he said.
Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp finally saw his side record their first win of the year, but insisted they are no longer in the title race.
"We finally started 2017 tonight but we should not go nuts immediately," he said. "What would you think about me now if I said I think we can catch Chelsea? Crazy? Ambitious? Maybe you can believe I am not too interested in that.
"Chelsea do not look at the moment as if they are going to struggle, but if they do someone could still catch them. What we must do now is to win as many of our games as possible."
Victories might be easier to come by now that Senegalese forward Sadio Mane is back from the Africa Cup of Nations.
He marked his first start at Anfield this year with two goals in as many minutes.
For the first goal, in the 16th minute, he raced onto Georginio Wijnaldum's incisive pass before lifting a shot past Lloris. Two minutes later he made it 2-0 with his 11th goal of the season, sparking a raid on the Spurs box by robbing Eric Dier and then slamming in after Lloris had saved from Adam Lallana and Roberto Firmino.
Victory lifted Liverpool back into fourth spot with 49 points from 25 games, one behind Tottenham and third-placed Arsenal.
"He could have had more," Klopp said of Mane.
"Of course we missed him in January, anyone would, but that's only part of the truth. We knew we had to show a reaction today, we knew we had to show fight, and we did, right from the start.
"Everyone was waiting for a game like this. Sadio was fantastic, but so were Adam Lallana and Roberto Firmino, still sprinting after 90 minutes.
"Now we have shown what we can still do, we have to use the rest of the season well and maximise our position."
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE