Dele Alli knows Tottenham players must stay focused

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Dele Alli concedes Tottenham may have got a “little bit carried away” as talk of a Premier League title tilt grew towards the end of 2018.

Mauricio Pochettino’s side moved second on Boxing Day with a 5-0 defeat of Bournemouth, leading talk to grow that Spurs could seriously challenge for their first league crown since 1961.

But that success was followed by a gut punch in the final fixture of the year as Wolves came from behind to secure a 3-1 win at Wembley that left Tottenham reeling.

Asked what Pochettino told the squad after that loss, Alli said: “I don’t think he needed to say too much, to be honest. As players we were disappointed.

“We had been in great form before that and maybe we got a little bit carried away with ourselves.

“They’re a fantastic team and maybe we just thought we would win the game (against Wolves).

“But you can’t do that if you want to win things and be a top, top team.

“You have to be clinical and ruthless in every game and you can’t afford to take your foot off the gas and we all had a look at ourselves after and we know we can’t let that happen.”

It was an interesting admission by Alli, who helped Spurs make an impressive response by beating Cardiff 3-0 in the league before captaining the side to a record 7-0 away win against Tranmere in the FA Cup on Friday.

“With the games coming so quickly, it’s a good thing when you lose a game to have a game a few days after because all you want to do is get back out there and make things right,” the attacking midfielder said of the start to 2019.

“You can’t afford to dwell on it or let it knock your confidence because that’s when things can take a turn for the worse.

“You’ve got to turn over quickly and make sure you’re switched on for the next game.”

Victory at Tranmere means Spurs continue to fight on four fronts, with FA Cup progress complementing their place six points off Premier League leaders Liverpool.

Pochettino’s second-place side face Borussia Dortmund in the Champions League last-16 and return to action on Tuesday with a mouth-watering Carabao Cup semi-final first leg against Chelsea.

Pochettino of Tottenham Hotspur

“Some people maybe expect you to prioritise different things, but I believe we’ve got a strong squad” Alli said.

“Players who work hard in the gym and on the training field to make sure we’re fully fit and the manager makes changes.

“I think he’s very good at that and as players we want to play every game anyway, we want to be in every competition so all we can do is make sure we recover properly after games, mentally and physically, make sure you prepare for every game and be ready to play.

“And if not, you’ve got to be honest and say you’re not ready or, if you’ve got a little knock, you don’t want to keep fighting through things and make things worse because the last thing you need is injuries.

“So we’ve just got to make sure everyone is on it and keep up the consistency because that’s the big thing.

“When you’re going into different competitions, you can’t take your foot of the gas, but you’ve got to be consistent and keep up your top level.”

Spurs look as well placed as ever to win their first trophy since 2008 and, just as importantly, get a first taste of silverware under Pochettino.

“I think every game, every competition, you want to win it,” Alli added. “As players you want to get as far in the cup as we can, hopefully win it.

“We want to win trophies, that’s our aim and we’ve been playing well, we’ve been getting quite far in recent years without quite having the finishing product at the end and not getting over the line.

“But it’s about time for us, as players, we need to start winning things. We’re looking forward to it, we’re looking forward to the draw, whoever it is.”

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Man City boss Pep Guardiola preparing for 'really tough' month

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Pep Guardiola is prepared for a fixture pile-up as Manchester City pursue glory on all fronts.

City switch their attention from their pursuit of Premier League leaders Liverpool to domestic cup football in the coming days.

Guardiola’s side host Championship Rotherham in the FA Cup third round on Sunday before the first leg of their Carabao Cup semi-final against League One Burton on Wednesday.

These competitions rank lower than the Premier League, or the Champions League which resumes next month, but Guardiola does not want to give them up, even if it makes for a tough schedule.

The City boss said: “I would like to have two months’ holiday right now, definitely – this month is really tough, but it is what it is.

“We want to become a top club and you cannot deny any game, we cannot drop any competition.

“We are going to play the next game like a final, knowing we will go through in the second most important competition in England, but I don’t think about it too much.

“Of course Liverpool are out of the Carabao Cup, so they have more time to prepare for the Premier League, but (for us) it is what it is. I prefer to be in this position. We have a big enough squad.”

After Thursday’s ferocious contest with Liverpool, which City won to cut the gap at the top to four points, changes will be made, however.

Guardiola said: “I don’t know how far we are going to be because maybe (players) not playing the Carabao Cup will be easier for our recovery.

“Kevin (De Bruyne) is coming back, (Ilkay) Gundogan is coming back. Everyone will rotate and everyone will play.”

Guardiola feels Thursday’s performance has got City’s season back on the rails after three costly defeats in the space of four games in December. With the possibility they could have fallen 10 points behind, it was a game City could not afford to lose.

Guardiola said: “Losing to Liverpool we would have been almost out and we played knowing we were in or we were out. We competed and we were there like a real team.

“Sometimes playing every three days in December it is almost impossible in that rhythm but against Liverpool the stadium was sold out, the people were closer to us than I have ever seen before.

“Sometimes it is necessary to fight and win in that way – (you) live the game like it is the last game in your life and against Liverpool we were there.

“It was an important step but nothing has changed. They are still the leader in the Premier League, but four points is not bad. For us it was a real final and we played like it was a final.”

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Gianfranco Zola urges Alvaro Morata to seize Chelsea striking role

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Alvaro Morata

Alvaro Morata has been told to relish the responsibility of being Chelsea’s frontline striker and not be burdened by the role.

Chelsea assistant boss Gianfranco Zola says Blues boss Maurizio Sarri thought Morata could be the “perfect number nine”.

But after Morata failed to score in Wednesday’s draw with Southampton, Sarri appeared to lose patience, suggesting the Blues need to recruit a striker this month.

Zola was asked about Morata, who has seven goals this season, ahead of Saturday’s FA Cup third-round tie with Nottingham Forest and said the Spain striker should embrace his role.

Zola said: “People expect a lot from the number nine of Chelsea, they expect a lot of goals and a lot of performances. This is normal and Alvaro has to get used to it.

“It should be a motivational thing. You are at Chelsea, you’re not playing for Southampton, or Brighton, with all due respect for those clubs.

“If he goes to another big club it’s going to be the same. There is no way you can avoid your responsibilities, it’s part of your job and the better you can handle those situations the better you’re going to be.

“I know he feels he doesn’t score enough and he feels a lot of responsibility on that.

“He has to learn to leave everything behind because these are burdens you only take on the pitch and they won’t help you to perform better.”

Morata arrived from Real Madrid in July 2017 for a fee in the region of £60million and immediately started showing promise. But he endured a difficult 2018 and his future at Stamford Bridge is rumoured to be in doubt.

The goalscoring burden appears to weigh heavily on his shoulders and his Blues boss Sarri and Zola have spoken of the 26-year-old’s lack of confidence.
Morata changed his shirt number from nine to 29 ahead of the 2018-19 season, saying it was due to his wish to acknowledge his newborn twins’ birth date.

Zola added: “We invested a lot in him this year; we thought he was the perfect number nine for us. Maurizio has always said that.

“Technically he is without doubt one of the best in his position. I think he has to improve a bit tactically because nowadays, football is so organised you need to get better tactically, your ability itself is not enough.”

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