MANCHESTER, England (AP) — Tottenham’s thin and stretched squad might be close to breaking point at the most crucial stage of its season.
Three days before making its first appearance in the Champions League semifinals, Tottenham produced a lethargic display in losing to West Ham 1-0 in the English Premier League on Saturday for a first defeat in its newly built 1 billion-pound stadium.
The team is not yet certain of clinching a top-four spot — this result will give Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester United renewed hope in the race for Champions League qualification — and manager Mauricio Pochettino’s comments after the game do not bode well ahead of one of the most important weeks in Tottenham’s history.
“When the stress and fatigue arrived, that is our reality,” Pochettino said, explaining his team’s below-par display. “We are a very competitive team when we are with full energy. We are so focused.
“The stress and the fatigue arrived, (and) we are competing with circumstances that are not the best.”
With injuries limiting his ability to rotate the team amid a grueling schedule of games every three or four days, Pochettino played a close-to-full-strength team against West Ham. Ideally, he would have liked to have rested key players such as Christian Eriksen and Dele Alli.
Spurs finished the game with Fernando Llorente and Vincent Janssen, two long-overlooked and often-maligned strikers, as their forward line.
As it is, Tottenham heads to Ajax for the first leg on Tuesday with Harry Kane, Harry Winks and Erik Lamela among those injured, Heung-min Son suspended, and a big doubt over the fitness of increasingly influential midfielder Moussa Sissoko.
To make things worse for Spurs, Ajax’s players had their feet up this weekend. All fixtures in the Dutch top flight were cancelled in an effort to help Ajax stay fresh for the semifinal. The Amsterdam club will go into the first leg on the back of a seven-day rest.
Tottenham stayed in third place, three points ahead of fourth-placed Chelsea, four points clear of fifth-placed Arsenal, and six points ahead of sixth-placed Manchester United. They all have a game in hand over Tottenham, with Arsenal visiting Leicester on Sunday before United and Chelsea meet at Old Trafford.
Fortress Tottenham was breached for the first time by a visiting team since the state-of-the-art stadium finally opened almost a month ago. Michail Antonio had an eye-catching celebration to mark the occasion.
After chesting down Marko Arnautovic’s through-ball and shooting into the far corner, Antonio pretended to ride a horse in celebration. He said his inspiration for the idea was a popular figure on Instagram, Dan Rue.
“There’s a guy I follow on Instagram and he does loads of crazy dance moves,” Antonio said. “I saw it the other day and thought, ‘You know what? I’ve been busting it out in a couple of clubs and thought I’ve got to do it on the pitch.'”
West Ham was also the first team to win at the newly built stadium of Tottenham’s big rival, Arsenal, in 2007.
Tottenham had won all four of its games since moving into its rebuilt stadium on White Hart Lane this month.
RACE FOR SEVENTH
Behind the fraught four-team battle for Champions League qualification, Wolverhampton Wanderers looks on course to finish in seventh place and potentially earn a spot in the Europa League next season.
Wolves beat Watford 2-1 to consolidate seventh place. With Everton also drawing 0-0 at Crystal Palace, Wolves is four points clear of Watford and Everton with two games left.
Diogo Jota led Wolves to victory, setting up Raul Jimenez for the opening goal and in the 41st and scoring the winner with a 77th-minute volley after Watford goalkeeper Ben Foster misjudged a deep cross.
Cardiff looks to be heading back to the second-tier League Championship after just one season.
The Welsh team lost at Fulham 1-0 and then saw relegation rival Brighton draw with Newcastle 1-1 in the late game.
Cardiff was in third-to-last place, four points behind Brighton with two games left. Brighton has a superior goal difference of 14.
Cardiff’s final two games are against Crystal Palace and Manchester United, while Brighton still has to play Arsenal and Manchester City.
Cardiff conceded a 79th-minute goal to Ryan Babel as Fulham, which has already been relegated with Huddersfield, won a third straight game.
Pascal Gross grabbed a late equalizer for Brighton, its first goal in eight matches.
Cardiff’s loss guaranteed the safety of Southampton, which drew a wild game against southern rival Bournemouth 3-3.
More AP English soccer: https://apnews.com/PremierLeague and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports
Steve Douglas is at www.twitter.com/sdouglas80
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