The night Tottenham’s latest title bid ended

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LONDON — For the second season running Tottenham Hotspur will come up short in the Premier League title race.

“It’s happening again, it’s happening again… Tottenham Hotspur, it’s happening again!” was the taunting chant aimed at Spurs’ fans by supporters of West Ham.

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In Spurs’ shock 1-0 defeat at West Ham United on Friday, Mauricio Pochettino‘s men froze when they had the chance to cut Chelsea’s lead atop the PL table to one point.

Now Chelsea have the chance to extend their lead to seven points with three games to go when they host second from bottom Middlesbrough on Monday night and if Chelsea then beat West Bromwich Albion at the Hawthorns next Friday they will seal the title.

[ MORE: Spurs gutted by defeat ]

For Tottenham, they’ll want to put out of their misery as soon as possible.

The damaging defeat at West Ham left their players looking stunned at the final whistle with Christian Eriksen stood with his hands on his hips and Harry Kane had his hands on his head in disbelief.

After the game Pochettino was subdued in his press conference, looking down at the table often and he already seemed resigned to finishing second in the table.

Can he explain why for the second season on the spin Spurs have found themselves in similar situations at the end of a campaign?

“If we win the league it is because you learn, and if you finish second it is because you improve but I think it is a big topic in football. You need to show that you can show up in the moment to win a league, to win a trophy,” Pochettino said. “Today was a key moment that we can show that it is not about playing well and not about running more or less. It’s about when you must win, you win. If you want to be a champion in our game, you must win. How? I don’t know. For me we have to try to move on and finish in the best way the season and still fight. Now, to be realistic, it is more difficult than before.”

Tottenham’s task has been made incredibly difficult, almost impossible, and their title hopes could be over before they next kick a ball.

Following their late collapse last season which saw Leicester pull away and Spurs eventually finish in third place, there must be some Tottenham fans dreading the final three games of the season with Liverpool and Manchester City still mathematically able to catch them in second place.

Where did this surprisingly dour display come from?

Spurs had won nine-straight games heading into this London derby with Pochettino’s side looking unstoppable and hunting Chelsea down. Yet, their sluggish performance suggested that something deeper than just tiredness was at play. Loose passes early in the first and second halves did damage, with Dele Alli off the pace and the usually unshakable Jan Vertonghen and Toby Alderweireld spooked.

Tottenham played like the knew the entire league, and every Chelsea fan, was waiting for them to fail under the Friday Night Lights at the London Stadium.

When Manuel Lanzini‘s second half strike put West Ham ahead, the home side never looked like relinquishing their lead. In fact, it was West Ham who looked more likely to score again and their manager Slaven Bilic said he’s side deserved to win and probably by more than one goal.

It’s hard to argue with him as the usually rock solid Spurs defense was all over the place, panicking as they tried to pour forward to grab an equalizer. Hugo Lloris‘ fine save from Jonathan Calleri kept Spurs in it but apart from a chance in the 21st minute which Adrian saved superbly from Harry Kane, plus a stop from Heung-Min Son early in the second half, Tottenham never looked fluid in attack.

There’s no disgrace that for a second season running a young Tottenham squad have stumbled in their bid to win a title.

The circus surrounding Leicester City last season saw them come unstuck and now they’ve come up against another seemingly unstoppable force in Chelsea. In fairness to Spurs they’ve never led Chelsea in the title race this season and, once again, they’ve always been playing catch up.

They haven’t thrown away the title or handed it to someone else. The chase, both this season and last, has simply worn them down. Still, phrases such as “that’s so Spursy” will not go away until they win a piece of silverware, something they haven’t achieved since the League Cup in 2008.

Spurs have still won more games and won more points than any other PL team over the past two seasons but the fact that they haven’t got any silverware to show for their fine campaigns will haunt them over the summer. However, there is plenty of promise ahead for this young side who have already had to deal with damaging moments as a unit.

Light often appears from our darkest moments.

Tottenham crumbled under the Friday Night Lights against West Ham but everyone connected with Spurs will be hoping it’s another setback which will only make them stronger in the future.

Man United boss Solskjaer slams Liverpool’s trophy drought

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Ole Gunnar Solskjaer fired one across Jurgen Klopp‘s bow ahead of Manchester United’s meeting with Liverpool at Old Trafford on Sunday.

In particular, the former Manchester United striker took aim at Liverpool’s lack of titles over the past decade, and their lack of a Premier League title. With the knowledge that the Red Devils are not in the title race and their adversaries are, Solskjaer hopes United can get back to the top spot soon, wary of a lengthy drought.

[ PREVIEW: Manchester United v. Liverpool ]

“I have loads of Liverpool fans back home [in Norway] and every year is going to be their year,” Solskjaer said ahead of Sunday’s match at 9:05 a.m. ET. “It has got to October and it’s: ‘OK, next year.’ Now they are in the race so for them, it is going to be an exciting finish to the league. That is none of our concern. We just have to concentrate on ourselves.”

Manchester United has not won a Premier League title in the wake of Sir Alex Ferguson‘s retirement. Under his care, the club won 12 Premier League titles plus five FA Cup titles and four League Cup titles. Meanwhile, Liverpool has not won a Premier League crown in its history, last winning the English top flight in 1990, two years before the formation of the Premier League as it currently stands.

“Of course they do feel that pressure,” Solskjaer said of Liverpool. “I think all the supporters do and players probably do as well. But then we have not won it for a few years and so we want to get back to that. We have to make sure that we don’t end up being happy being among the top four. If you aim too low and reach your target, then that’s more dangerous than aiming too high and missing them.”

Solskjaer is very familiar with the rivalry between these two clubs, dating back to his time as a player. Most notably, he scored a 90th minute winner in 1990 FA Cup play against the Reds after coming off the bench in the 81st minute.

Roma boss Di Francesco worried after late win

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Edin Dzeko saved Roma in the 95th minute, sealing a 3-2 win over Frosinone and moving the club back to within a point of a Champions League place. Roma manager Eusebio Di Francesco wasn’t having it.

“We can’t keep getting away with this type of performance,” Di Francesco said to the media after the game.

[ MORE: Serie A recap as Roma and Torino win ]

Despite its solid league position down the stretch of the season, the club has looked shaky at times. On Saturday, the defense put forth a calamitous performance at the back filled with mistakes, bad passes, poor marking, and questionable decision-making. The game was tied 2-2 for most of the second half with Roma’s relegation-threatened opponents nearly pulling out a win if it wasn’t for goalkeeper Robin Olsen’s spectacular save.

“The positive from this evening is that we won, but I do hope he can start to play much better football from now on,” Di Francesco said. “The second goal came from our own set play and our positioning was off, Daniele De Rossi misread the situation.”

“Frosinone are scrapping for every point to secure safety and I know what that is like. We made too many mistakes and should’ve approached the game better, as we risked a draw or even a defeat. We always find a way to make life more complicated for ourselves with distractions.”

Frosinone’s first goal came from a mistake by Steven N’Zonzi, whose back-pass to no one was intercepted by Camillo Ciano who scored despite a great save attempt by Olsen. The hosts scored their second on the break as De Rossi and Aleksandr Kolarov were torn apart on the break despite a one-on-two advantage for the defenders.

“We had the game in hand and should’ve finished it off rather than just tried to control it. We’ve shown over the season that we are a team capable of scoring goals, but also of conceding them. We’ve got to improve.”

Despite the poor defensive performance, the attack played spectacular at times, with Stephan El Shaarawy the star and Dzeko a force. Dzeko was on hand to bundle in the winner five minutes into stoppage time as El Shaarawy lofted a short cross over a defender and into the chest of the Bosnian striker.

League Cup Final preview: Sarri, Pep match wits for 4th time

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Sunday’s League Cup Final could be a moment for one manager to right his ship, or drive the other to the start of an improbable quadruple.

Chelsea’s Maurizio Sarri duels with Manchester City’s Pep Guardiola on Sunday at Wembley Stadium, just 14 days after the latter outmaneuvered the former to the tune of a 6-0 shellacking at the Etihad Stadium.

[ RECAP: West Ham 3-1 Fulham ]

The loss was Chelsea’s second to City this season, though the Blues did manage a 2-0 defeat in league play at Stamford Bridge on Dec. 8.

It’s also the second time the two will go head-to-head for silverware, as Man City outlasted Chelsea 2-0 for the Community Shield on Aug. 5.

That loss to City didn’t send the Chelsea faithful scurrying from “Sarriball,” but they’ve become far less supportive of the Blues’ boss.

And Chelsea defender Antonio Rudiger says Friday is a chance for his side to show the supporters the better side of what Sarri has implemented at Stamford Bridge.

“That will show the truth,” Rudiger said. “That will show our way this ­season. It will be the truth in terms of  keeping up with opponents like City Liverpool and Tottenham. What if it shows we are not that close? Then that is the reality.”

“You always play for your manager but you want results. You want to win. No player likes to have the kind of run we’ve had.”

Rudiger is a quote-giving marvel. Chelsea needs to keep him just for the departure from the norm he provides the media.

As for Guardiola, he’s also supportive of Sarri and thinks the Blues faithful should take a step back. He references the heat given to Antonio Conte the year after he won a Premier League crown.

Guardiola is also not thrilled that the 6-0 result is the last time City played Chelsea. From The London Evening Standard:

“In that moment I was so happy to beat them 6-0, but now in this moment I would prefer not to have beaten them 6-0. I don’t like to play in a short period of time when you’ve beaten them by so much,” he said. “They are incredible professional players, they are proud, they will do extra.”

“When we lost there and when we won here, my opinion of Sarri and his teams is always high. When we reviewed the game against us, maybe people don’t believe me, but they did incredible things.”

They’ll have to do more incredible things Sunday at Wembley, or City will lay claim to its fourth League Cup title in six tries (and seventh overall).

The winner Sunday will have the second-most League Cup wins in history.

League Cup Final Preview: Chelsea-Man City

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  • Both Chelsea and Man City have won the League Cup 5 times in club history
  • These teams have never met before in the League Cup final
  • Only 4 clubs have successfully retained the League Cup trophy

Chelsea looks to prove the 6-0 thwacking at the hands of Manchester City two weeks ago was a fluke as the two sides meet with a trophy on the line in the Carabao Cup final on Sunday at 11:30 a.m. ET at Wembley Stadium.

Blues boss Maurizio Sarri has been under fire the last few weeks for a downturn in form, with the club having lost three of its last four Premier League matches, including the heavy defeat to Man City. They have conceded 12 goals in those four matches, blown out not just by Man City but also by Bournemouth, plus a loss to an inconsistent Arsenal side to start the slide.

With a massive chance for Sarri to make a statement that he deserves his position, the Italian may be without first-choice goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga who picked up a hamstring injury of late, and could be sidelined alongside Pedro and Davide Zappacosta who both have fallen ill.

For Manchester City, Pep Guardiola will have to make decisions on who to risk amid a tight Premier League title battle with Liverpool. While the trophy obviously means something to both sides, it also presents yet another fixture that could prove costly amid a tight league race which could have implications on the final few months.

Guardiola doesn’t expect to roll over the Blues with the same ease they did two weeks ago. “I don’t like to play the same team in a short period of time when you have beaten them before,” he said in his pre-match press conference. “They [Chelsea] are incredibly professional players, they are proud and bright and will do extra. We are going to play the type of game you have to play in a final and try to win the title.”

The biggest of Guardiola’s selection questions are in net, with the decision of starting regular number one goalkeeper Ederson or third-string Arijanet Muric who has been the go-to netminder for the entire League Cup run. Backup Claudio Bravo has been sidelined for the year with a long-term injury.

“Of course it is not the most important title of the season but once we are here in an amazing stadium against a top side, we want to prepare to win,” Guardiola said.

Also in question may be striker Sergio Aguero who scored a hat-trick against Chelsea last time out. He has featured in two of the five League Cup matches, but the final could be a high-pressure situation to give Gabriel Jesus a look while also giving Aguero some time off. The 30-year-old Aguero has featured in each of the last 10 Premier League matches.