Depending on your point of view, today marks the start of the great West Ham turnaround or is the first of Slaven Bilic’s final two games as manager. From my way of thinking, I would give a greater chance of survival to a lame duck who covered himself in orange sauce and decided to attend a hungry foxes convention. Still, stranger things have happened in football although the dilemma tonight hinges on what does turning it around look like as far as Bilic’s employers are concerned? Does it require two victories or would a plucky defeat tonight followed by victory at the weekend be sufficient? Or is the bar set even lower with the only criteria being as to whether a ready replacement can be found in time?
All the evidence would suggest that coming away from tonight’s trip to Wembley with anything other than pride in tact is likely to be a tall order. Perhaps the chance to witness the Hammers play in a cup tie at Wembley is reward enough in these desperate times; remember it is a spectacle that an increasing number of supporters (those born in the last forty years) have only seen on Youtube.
Tottenham appeared to exorcise the apparent Wembley voodoo on Sunday with an emphatic victory over Liverpool leaving us with the only straw to clutch at being that, with games against Manchester United and Real Madrid on the horizon, an EFL cup tie may not be the highest priority. Maybe they will play a weakened side but even though Tottenham probably have the least depth of all the ‘top six’ clubs they possess more than enough ability to brush past West Ham should recent Hammers performances be repeated. There is, maybe, encouragement (but also frustration) to be taken from the fact that West Ham have often discovered an added extra gear in games against our north London rivals. On the other hand, tt is difficult to see Pochettino taking the game lightly even if he may see the game as a distraction.
The only ‘shock’ from last night’s set of results was the defeat for Saturday’s opponents Crystal Palace who had decided to field a second string team with the weekend’s clash in mind. Could a Hammer’s victory be tonight’s shock or will Bilic also decide to write this one off as Hodgson did with Palace?
Head to Head: League Cup Special
This is the seventh time that West Ham have been drawn against Tottenham in the League Cup. Two of the original ties were drawn and went to replays (not an option tonight) both of which Tottenham won including a 5-0 romp in February 1987. My own most memorable encounter was at a buzzing Upton Park when the fantastic West Ham side of the early 1980’s ran out 1-0 victors courtesy of a delightful chipped goal by David Cross in the last ten minutes of the game. That was, of course, en route to West Ham’s most recent appearance in a Wembley cup final in March 1981. The Hammers also won the last League Cup meeting between the two sides in December 2013 as goals from Jarvis and Maiga helped secure a 2-1 victory.
West Ham are missing Michail Antonio, Diafra Sakho and James Collins through injury but Andy Carroll is available after completing a one match suspension. It has been confirmed that Adrian will be in goal but other than that it is anyone’s guess as to the lineup. It is normal Bilic practice to flip-flop between three central defenders and a back four following each bad defeat and so I foresee a back three returning tonight. Maybe there will be a chance for a few youngsters (such as Declan Rice and Nathan Holland) to be given a run-out, and not just in the last five minutes. Rice as part of a back three would be interesting to see rather than continuing to use him in a more unnatural defensive midfield role.
The goalkeeper situation is a perfect example of West Ham’s lack of foresight. It has been widely reported that Adrian is looking to leave the club; and who could blame him. That would leave just an on-loan player in Joe Hart with any experience in the keeper department; and nothing I have seen suggests that Hart is any better than Adrian.
Tottenham may well rest several star players for the game (including H Kane) but may find room for Dembele and Rose who are both returning from injury. Wanyama and Lamela remain on the sidelines.
Man in the The Middle
A first encounter this season with Mike Dean from The Wirral. Last season, Dean took charge of the Tottenham v West Ham league game at White Hart Lane, where he sent off Winston Reid, and West Ham’s home league fixture against Manchester United, where he sent off Sofiane Feghouli. A high probability of a red card tonight then I would think, probably while awarding a penalty for one of Dele Alli’s dives in the penalty area.
Sky’s Charlie Nicholas has gone for a 3-0 home win. Painful as it is to say, I am a huge admirer of Pochettino’s style of football which has allowed Tottenham to over-achieve at Tottenham during the past few seasons. We can only dream of a team with extreme levels of fitness and players who completely understand, and are so well drilled in, what is expected of them. I would like to be more optimistic but feel that the best we can hope for tonight is a performance rather than a result.