West Ham will be seeking their third consecutive League Cup victory against Tottenham when they take on the homeless North Londoners in a fourth round tie at the London Stadium this evening.
This round represents the pivotal moment in the competition after which the bigger clubs, who initially treat it as a second class contractual obligation, suddenly realise it could be a way to keep the trophy cabinet topped up after all. Like it or not, the cup (n its many incarnations) is more often than not hoisted aloft by the skipper of a top six side (apart from Arsenal who haven’t bothered to win it since 1993). The best hope for the rest of us is a combination of mutual elimination (assuming the draw really is random) or by catching the big boys when they are focused on something more important.
Tottenham currently find themselves in the type of turmoil that is normally associated with West Ham. With all the cash tied up in Levy’s vanity stadium rebuild project, currently massively over budget and over schedule, they are having to play their second game in three days due to weekend fixture congestion at their threadbare Wembley squat. Yet, even at this stage of the season (all but eliminated from the Champion’s League and well off the pace in the Premier League), Pochettino may see the EFL cup as his best chance to finally nab a piece of consolation silverware.
While the Tottenham manager must decide which of his weary troops to hold back for the tough trip to Wolverhampton at the weekend, his West Ham counterpart has an equally difficult choice. How to put together a competent enough side to demonstrate the claim of taking the competition seriously while at the same time avoiding any further damaging injuries that might impact a stuttering league campaign as it enter a period of apparently winnable games?
Once again, West Ham are top of the Premier League injury standings and, of the nine reported invalids, only Pedro Obiang has a chance of making it onto the pitch tonight. The remainder: Marko Arnautovic, Andriy Yarmolenko, Andy Carroll, Lucas Perez, Manuel Lanzini, Jack Willshere, Carlos Sanchez and Winston Reid are joined by newly suspended skipper Mark Noble in sitting this one out.
The replacement of Noble by Obiang could be the most significant change from those involved at Leicester on Saturday. Probably there will be starts for Adrian, Angelo Ogbonna, Ryan Fredericks and Aaron Cresswell; maybe Michail Antonio will get the nod over Javier Hernandez; or could there even be a rare sighting of, the now, lukewarm prospect, Reece Oxford?. Elsewhere during the game expect some degree involvement for Joe Payne and Connor Coventry – you know you are getting old when professional football players look like they should still in school uniform! Good luck to them anyway as it is always pleasing to see academy players getting an opportunity.
One League Cup tie that really sticks in my memory was when the Hammers beat Tottenham 1-0 at Upton Park in December 1980. It was one of those electric nights under the lights of the Boleyn cauldron (quite appropriate for Halloween). It may not have needed much to raise the roof off from those rickety old stands but it almost happened when David Cross scored the night’s only goal with just ten minutes to spare. Rather than speculate of today’s lineup, here is a nostalgic look back to the team from 1980 that would eventually secure West Ham’s last visit to a league cup final.
The match referee will be Stuart Atwell from Warwickshire who was previously in Startford for the Hammers defeat to Bournemouth in August. One way or another there has to be a result tonight and it would be no surprise to me if it all came down to the lottery of penalties.