Mauricio Pochettino confident Wembley pitch will be playable after NFL games

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The San Diego Chargers beat the Tennessee Titans at Wembley last Sunday.

Tottenham manager Mauricio Pochettino is confident the Wembley pitch will be in playable condition for their Premier League clash with Manchester City.

Spurs take on the champions at the national stadium just 24 hours after the NFL match between the Philadelphia Eagles and the Jacksonville Jaguars on Sunday.

Playing the game on Monday night was Tottenham’s only option as their new stadium is not ready and City were not open to reversing the fixture and then having to visit Spurs later on in the season.

NFL games have left the Wembley turf in bad condition in the past, but the Spurs boss is confident the groundstaff can do a good job, though he joked it might benefit his team if they do not.

“Maybe it is good for us because we are going to face one of the best teams in Europe and the world in Manchester City and maybe it will help us,” he said. “It wasn’t a plan for us to play in that period at Wembley and now we cannot complain.

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“Only we need to accept the reality and know that we cannot change that.

“We hope that the weather will be good and not kill the pitch and we can play in a very good condition.

“I am sure all the people that are involved in the pitch are going to work so hard to get it in a really good condition. That is my wish and I hope it can happen.”

The rearranged fixture comes just 48 hours before Spurs have to go to West Ham in the Carabao Cup and is one of five games in 12 days.

Pochettino accepts the packed schedule is in part due to their stadium delay and is not making excuses.

“That is not the ideal situation to compete, we have a problem, we create the problem and we need to sort the problem,” he added. “We can’t complain, we are a little bit unlucky that the stadium is not finished.

“It was not the plan to be at Wembley, different things can happen like the NFL and you cannot change the date and we need to accept that as reality and not complain.

“We will be clear in the way we want to approach the game and we will try to win the game, that is the most important thing.

“No one is going to explain if we don’t win the game that we play in difficult circumstances, when you lose, you lose and you need to accept the criticism.

Dele Alli is nearing a Spurs return.

Dele Alli is nearing a Spurs return.

“When you win it is easy to explain but when you lose you cannot use an excuse. We created that situation and we need to sort that.”

Spurs midfielder Dele Alli is back in training after a hamstring injury but Pochettino is not convinced he will use him at Wembley.

“It’s good news but we need to be careful because he was re-injured against Watford after his first injury.

“Now we need to be careful. We are happy that he started with the group.

“Yes, sure we hope he will be available for Monday but not sure if we’re going to put him in the squad or not.”

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Loftus-Cheek must improve defensively to get more Chelsea starts, says Sarri

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Chelsea boss Maurizio Sarri insists hat-trick hero Ruben Loftus-Cheek must sharpen up defensively to secure more Premier League football.

Blues midfielder Loftus-Cheek produced a match-winning performance during the 3-1 Europa League victory over BATE Borisov after being handed a rare Stamford Bridge start.

The England international has been restricted to just 33 minutes of league action since Sarri’s summer appointment.

Thursday evening’s treble showcased the 22-year-old’s undoubted attacking talent but his manager wants to see more from the player at the opposite end of the pitch and further tactical improvement if he is to be selected more regularly.

“He played very, very well – in the offensive phase, wonderful,” said Sarri.

“But in the beginning of the season, I thought he was really a very good player. Now I think the same but maybe I think also that he is more suitable to my football, he’s improving.

“I think also he needs to improve in the defensive phase. But not only Loftus.

“At the moment we have four midfielders for two positions and three of them with the same characteristics, three offensive midfielders.

“Only (N’Golo) Kante is a defensive midfielder, so it’s very difficult for me to put in the starting XI two offensive midfielders in the same time but I hope to be able do it in the future.

“I need the co-operation of the players, of course. I need an improvement in the defensive phase.

“I have a little problem, I have to put only 11 players in the starting XI and I have 28 players.

“I don’t know how to solve it. I can ask to play with 15, 16.”

In a week dominated by the fallout from Blues coach Marco Ianni provocatively celebrating in front of Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho during Saturday’s 2-2 draw, Sarri could not have hoped for a more straightforward victory.

Loftus-Cheek swept the Blues ahead inside two minutes with a first-time finish from Davide Zappacosta’s cut-back, before doubling the advantage six minutes later by volleying home Willian’s corner.

The former Crystal Palace loanee grabbed his third nine minutes into the second period, curling into the bottom right corner from the edge of the box via the fingertips of BATE goalkeeper Denis Scherbitski.

It was the Blues’ first hat-trick in European competition since September 2006 when Didier Drogba’s treble earned a 3-1 Champions League win at Levski Sofia.

Aleksei Rios pulled one back for the visitors with 11 minutes to go but that could not prevent Chelsea taking a big step towards the knockout stages with a win which leaves them on maximum points from three Group L fixtures.

BATE coach Aleksei Baga said: “We were the participants of a very good game. We participated in a game with top players.

“We would like to have won today so at the end it was not a pleasant experience.”

BATE’s players wore black armbands in London following the recent death of club founder Anatoly Kapsky.
An emotional Baga added: “If I start talking about Anatoly Kapsky today, I’m afraid we’re going to miss our flight back home.

“Anatoly Kapsky meant everything to our club and everyone who experienced the loss of a very important person knows how difficult it is to discuss such a matter.”

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Unai Emery's Arsenal evolution has fans whispering about the title - but defence remains an Achilles heel

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10-game winning streak. Two points off the top. Sounds like the form and circumstances of a title-contending team.

So, is that what Arsenal are?

New manager Unai Emery has overseen a recovery from the side’s two losses to Manchester City and Chelsea at the start the season, with seven straight league wins since those two results along with two wins in the Europa League and one in the Carabao Cup.

Along the way, there’s been some scintillating football, with perfect team goals like Aaron Ramsey’s against Fulham in the final game before the international break, and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s goal against Leicester City on Monday – two goals that were more out of Arsene Wenger’s dreams than an Emery revolution.

That is the biggest surprise under Emery – that a manager whose inherent style of high-energy, intense pressing seemed like such a contrast to Wenger’s philosophy has brought out an evolution rather than a revolution in this perennially underwhelming side.

Arsenal have one more winnable fixture in the league, away to Crystal Palace – the sort of game that would have been deemed a potential banana skin in previous years – before facing Liverpool, at home, in what will be the first true test of the side’s newfound confidence, and title credentials.

The team has one major advantage on previous iterations, in young Uruguayan midfielder Lucas Torreira. His impact on this side after coming back from his post-World Cup break has been immense, as he’s added defensive solidity and let the attackers play with fluidity – in essence, the sort of holding midfielder Arsenal have been crying out for since the departure of Gilberto Silva in 2008.

Meanwhile, Ozil, Aubameyang, Ramsey, Alexandre Lacazette, Henrikh Mkhitaryan, and even a rejuvenated Alex Iwobi have been in fine fettle, showing exactly what this team is capable of at its best. The Aubameyang-Lacazette partnership has been an instant hit, Iwobi has improved drastically, and the last ten games have seen one of Ozil’s most consistent stretches of football in an Arsenal shirt.

Whether that’s sustainable is a different story. Only Ramsey, among these players, has put together an entire season’s worth of consistently good football in the Premier League, so there’s always the chance that Ozil and Mkhitaryan go through one of their familiar spells of listlessness, Aubameyang and Lacazette cool off, and Iwobi returns to previous form.

How Emery manages a dip from any of his star players will be interesting to see, especially given that his managerial style can be exacting and difficult to sustain over a full season. Paris Saint-Germain’s players rebelled against it last year, and though this squad is slightly more malleable, one only needs to look at what happened across town at Chelsea, when even a title win was not enough to convince everyone of the merits of such gruelling methods, to know how a squad can taper off.

But the bigger impediment to Arsenal’s title chances lies further back. Though Emery invested in a new centre-back in Sokratis, the back-line still looks shaky. The Greece international has improved Arsenal’s defence, but not by enough.

Rob Holding still looks some way off being a defender for a top-four club, and though he’s still young, he’s also been a first-team player for two seasons without showing much improvement. Hector Bellerin’s slide as a defensive player hasn’t quite been stopped, even though his attacking output remains enough to earn a starting XI spot as a prototypical modern full-back.

Laurent Koscielny has resumed training after his gruesome injury from last year, which may be significant, but his form had dropped even before the injury, and it’s too much to ask of a 33-year-old coming back from injury to instantly improve the fortunes of a defense.

Arsenal have done enough to put themselves in the title conversation, for now, just by lieu of being two points off of City, Chelsea, and Liverpool. But it’s more likely that they end up like the 2013-14 Liverpool side, with a thrilling attack but flawed defence that prevented them from winning the league, than that they lift the trophy themselves.

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