If ever further proof were required that English football well and truly dances to the broadcaster’s tune then the clusterfuck that is the holiday match schedule is surely the smoking gun. The intention to bring a daily dose of soap opera style Premier League football straight into our living rooms might be the marketing man’s dream but its major flaw is that we all know how the story ends (i.e. Manchester City win the title) – while the peripheral cliffhangers of who qualifies for Europe and who gets relegated are simply B-movie supporting features.
Nevertheless, just forty-eight hours after their last games two of the supporting cast lock horns at Wembley to further their own particular battles. West Ham desperate to build on their last gasp success over West Bromwich Albion and climb away from the relegation zone; Tottenham desperate to finish above Arsenal.
Over the past two seasons I will begrudgingly admit that the hosts have played some of the most attractive and enterprising football in the league but their real chance of glory has now been missed and it is only a matter of time before manager and star players go looking for medals and money in more fertile waters. This season Tottenham are back in their rightful place scrambling to pinch fourth spot in their role as wannabe top four gatecrashers; a task that should their usual late season bottle job be repeated could prove well beyond them.
Head to Head
Bragging rights in this fixture favour the north Londoners who have sixty three wins to the Hammers fifty with another thirty six games being drawn. On recent form, however, West Ham have the edge winning six and losing five of the last twelve games.
The Hammers have not traditionally travelled well to the north London suburbs having won only seventeen times on the road out of seventy five attempts; although we have a 100% record against them at Wembley. The last twelve away fixtures against Tottenham have seen West Ham win three and lose seven but with all three of those victories happening in the most recent six games.
Aaron Creswell is added to the West Ham injury list and if he is confirmed as missing then his place in a back three will likely be taken by Declan Rice or Cheikhou Kouyate. I expect West Ham will adopt similar tactics to those used at Manchester City with Mark Noble and Pedro Obiang sitting in front of five defenders to form an impregnable shield. At least the blossoming understanding between Marko and Manuel does offer enough quality to break quickly and cause problems on those rare occasions that we get and hold on to the ball and it will be interesting to see how they can link up with the unplayable (but largely unmovable) Andy Carroll – who will surely keep his place after his two second half goals on Tuesday.
Tottenham will be without Rose but Kane returns to the starting eleven possibly along with Wanyama (which is a bit of a shame for West Ham). Although an admirer of Pochettino’s management his recent signings have not matched up to what he already had and it will be disappointing should a few of those not be on the pitch today.
Man In The Middle
Twelfth man for Tottenham today is Mike Dean from the Wirral. If the old adage that bad refereeing decisions balance themselves out over time then hard done by West Ham might be awarded a dozen penalties today against the routinely leniently treated hosts. Dean was in charge of the EFL cup game between the two teams in October as well as the defeat against the Champions Elect in early December.
Merson sees an emphatic 3-1 victory for Tottenham while our old mate Lawro appears to have passed on predicting this one; maybe the result of too many sherries and snowballs over the holiday period. This is going to have to be one of those spirited backs to the wall affairs, where not conceding an early goal and the ability to pull off a smash and grab are crucial to coming away from the game with any return. It will a tough ask but I am hopeful (with 70% confidence) that West Ham will earn a scoring draw and continue to be a thorn in the side of the angst ridden Tottenham support.