LONDON (Reuters) - Tottenham Hotspur 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 halftime at Anfield as Liverpool brought Tottenham's nine-game unbeaten run in the league to a halt.
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.
Victory would have cut Chelsea's lead to six points but defeat had Pochettino conceding the title race.
"They were better than us and fully deserved to win. We started the game very sloppy," Pochettino, whose side led the chase of Leicester City last season, said.
"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.
With a two week gap before their next league game, at home to Stoke City, Pochettino said it was time for his team to take stock and return to maintain their top-four challenge.
"A reality check is important sometimes. We need to find a way to change," the Argentine said.
Tottenham, who managed only two shots at goal on Saturday, remain in second place with 50 points, the same as north London rivals Arsenal, one ahead of Liverpool and Manchester City and two better than Manchester United.
Reporting by Martyn Herman; Editing by Toby Davis