After a run of three games that has seen two wins and three clean sheets West Ham get the opportunity to convince whether it is a corner turned or simply a competent return from a benign set of fixtures. There certainly seems to be a greater air of confidence around the club (and especially in the manager’s demeanour) and usually there is little needed in terms of additional motivation to prepare the team in readiness for today’s visitors. That a London derby continues to arouse such passions on the pitch in an era where few players have any local connections is evidence that football has not totally lost its soul. More of a concern for Hammer’s supporters is why the team being ‘up for it’ is not something we can experience week in and week out!
“They have patterns, good players and, for me, that makes them one of the best teams probably the most attractive one.”
– Slaven Bilic
It is an unwholesome thought but Tottenham have most probably been the best footballing side in the Premier League over the past two seasons and they are very fortunate to have (for now) one of the best managers in the business. In some ways it makes their ultimate failure to win the league and our part in that downfall all the more amusing. Tottenham like to consider themselves as part of the ‘Big 6’ but in truth, from a financial viewpoint, they are very much in the second division of that six, along with Arsenal and Liverpool. Astute transfer dealings and a progressive manager have enabled them to play above themselves but like West Ham it will take more than a larger stadium to mount a sustained challenge at the top table. Once Pochettino moves on to greater things and the likes of Kane, Eriksen and Alli go searching for larger pay packets then they will surely bump back down to their customary status of flattering to deceive.
Head to Head
This will be the 148th meeting between the two sides (excluding Southern League and war-time cups). West Ham have won forty-nine and lost sixty-two of those previous games but have won thirty-three (lost twenty-three) of the home games between the two clubs. The last twelve matches (home and away) show five wins apiece while the last twelve in East London gives the Hammers an advantage of six wins to Tottenham’s five. The Hammers are looking for their third consecutive home win against the north Londoners
James Collins and Manuel Lanzini are definitely out while Pedro Obiang and Edmilson Fernandes are doubtful. Tottenham are without Rose, Wanyama and long term casualty Lamela.
There were some bright performances from several young players, together with a much more fluid look to the side, in midweek but I expect it will be back to the old guard for today’s game.
The way that Tottenham play will come as no surprise to anyone who has watched them under Pochettino over the past few seasons. Pressing all over the pitch, full-backs getting forward quickly to provide width with the movement and probing from Eriksen and Alli creating space and chances for a clinical Kane. It will be interesting to see what cunning plan is employed by our coaching team to counter these threats. The greatest concern, as ever, is the lack of pace in defence and midfield; both to keep things tight defensively and to launch rapid counter-attacks.
West Ham continue to miss Lanzini and I hope that Bilic utilises Marko Arnautovic in a more central creative role. Arnautovic and Michail Antonio can provide that much needed outlet for the defence which is sure to come under some intense pressure. Otherwise the hopeful punt up-field is unlikely to trouble the visitor’s back-line.
“For all the excitement and desire they show to beat us, we must show the same. We must show the same desire, excitement and aggressivity,”
– Mauricio Pochettino
Bilic has indicated that he will continue his controversial fox-outside-the-box experiment which I suppose means that Andy Carroll will once again lead the line. Maybe Carroll is the best at what he does; it’s just that there are not many others bothering to do it in the modern game. Even though Spurs have conceded more all-time Premier League goals than any other club their defence is a little more experienced these days to be suckered by Route One tactics.
The Man in the Middle
Today’s referee is Michael Oliver from Northumberland. At just thirty-two years old Oliver is still young enough for a place in the Hammer’s defence. He was last seen at the London Stadium in the 2-2 draw with West Brom last season and before that in the 5-0 FA Cup drubbing by Manchester City.
Lawro has this down as a 1-1 score draw while Paul Merson is predicting a 1-3 Tottenham win. West Ham have surprised me in both the past two seasons and will do well to make it three wins on the trot this afternoon. There will not be so much pressure on the visitors this time around with the fixture taking place early in the season and so West Ham will need to play with a high intensity from the off. My fear is that we will be overly cautious and surrender too much possession as a result. An early goal for Tottenham has the potential to spark the type of rout witnessed against Arsenal and Manchester City last season.
I would be very happy with a point but believe it will ultimately be a fruitless afternoon. What we should be looking for is a committed and spirited performance or the pressure may well return on our beleaguered manager.