A season which began with high hopes for both teams appears to have gone wrong for both West Ham and Tottenham as they approach Matchday 13. By the end of this London derby, one third of the season will have been completed. Prior to the game the teams occupy 16th and 14th places in the Premier League, not what was expected of either when the campaign began. But whereas Manuel Pellegrini will, according to reports, apparently be given time to turn round the club’s alarming slump in form, the same is not true for our unpopular North London neighbours, who sensationally sacked Mauricio Pochettino as manager on Tuesday. Jose Mourinho was appointed as his replacement almost before the Argentinian had cleared his desk, so we face a team with a new manager on Saturday lunchtime.
Despite occupying such lowly positions in the Premier League table, both teams can take comfort in the fact that with 13 points (West Ham) and 14 points (Tottenham), they are not far points-wise behind the team who surprisingly are currently fifth in the table (Sheffield United) who have 17 points. A good run could see a rapid climb up the table. With the exception of the teams at the very top and bottom the Premier League is a tight affair at the moment. Liverpool at the summit are eight points clear of the second team, and Manchester City in fourth are eight points clear of the fifth placed team. You would get long odds against the teams in the top four not being the ones to claim the Champions League places at the end of the season.
It is less than six months since Pochettino took Spurs to the final of the Champions League, and he will be coveted by many of the top teams in the world. In my opinion he performed miracles in his five seasons in North London, with four top four finishes in the last four seasons following a fifth place in his first season at the helm. Before his arrival Tottenham had finished in the top four just twice in the previous 24 campaigns. He did this without the spending power of his rivals in the elite six of the Premier League. However, Tottenham have slumped in 2019, and have been beaten 18 times in the calendar year. The board under chairman Daniel Levy obviously felt that a change was necessary and have appointed Mourinho, a proven winner, but I see this as a backward step. Not that I am concerned about our North London neighbours going backwards, and I will be interested to see if my view is borne out. Mourinho has had a lot of success and won trophies at all the clubs he has been at, but only when given a lot of money to spend. I wonder if Mr Levy has promised the “Special One” a big kitty to strengthen the team and squad?
Looking at our own form though, the manager is obviously under scrutiny following a disastrous run which has seen us pick up just one point in our last five games, a comparable figure to Norwich and Southampton at the foot of the table. Even Watford, currently occupying the third relegation slot, have collected six points from the last five games, and look as though they are potentially ready to climb out of trouble.
In the opinion of the writers of this blog, the reasons behind our decline in recent games have been well documented in the last few articles, and we can only hope that the manager has used the enforced two week international break to try to work out for himself what the problems are, and how they can be remedied, given the shortcomings of the squad at his disposal. My main gripe is his inability to make changes to either tactics or personnel when things are obviously going badly wrong. One thing is for certain though, and that is a continuation of recent form will soon see us embroiled in a relegation dogfight when a few weeks ago we were being touted as possible top six contenders. The manager himself was quoted after the miserable loss at Burnley as saying that we must improve, as he was angry and upset and the performance was unacceptable. As fans we all felt the same way, and in my view it was just a case of him stating the bleeding obvious. He is one of the most highly paid managers around and he is paid to sort problems such as the ones he is facing. It remains to be seen if he can.
Based on recent performances the long term injury to Lanzini, whilst being a blow to him personally after his long lay-off, will not be a big loss to the team, as he was performing well below the standards he reached prior to the injury, when he was selected as part of the Argentinian national squad. The loss of Fabianski, and the poor judgement in failing to recruit a suitable back-up keeper have been instrumental in recent results. Apart from the obvious errors, Roberto seems to have lost any confidence that he may have had, and worse than that, the rest of the team would appear to lack confidence in him too. I doubt that David Martin is of sufficient quality to replace him, so we must hope for the speedy return of Fabianski, and the purchase of an experienced keeper of the necessary quality in the transfer window to come in if he gets injured again. Saving some money by not doing so could have dire consequences if Fabianski is out of the team for an extended period.
Personally I am hoping that Antonio gets back sooner rather than later. We must get somebody to play alongside (or at least much closer to) Haller as he continues to be an isolated figure so far detached from the rest of the team. Our Development Squad has been in terrific form this season with several players catching the eye of seasoned observers. Whilst I accept that you can’t just throw in a load of youngsters is one go, I am amazed at the reluctance of the manager to even try to blood one or two by finding places on the bench and getting them used to being part of the first team squad. I despair at seeing Sanchez in the squad every week, and if none of the youngsters are considered good enough then what is the point of the Development Squad? I’d like to see Diangana recalled from his loan spell at West Brom too, where he has been performing well. We can then see if the loan experience has helped to turn him into a player of sufficient quality for our first team.
The important thing is that when things have been as bad as they have been in recent games the manager has to try something new. If I turn up to the game Saturday lunchtime and see the same group of players in the 18 with no attempt at trying something new, then I will not be in the least surprised to see a poorly performing Tottenham team beat us. And unless results start to improve, and we have a relatively tough set of fixtures coming up, then I can see Mr Pellegrini on his way through the exit door. I seem to recall the owners being very keen on Rafa Benitez in the past, and after his none too successful start in China, I wonder if they would want to try to tempt him back for another go as a Premier League manager? Money is of course the big issue in these moves, but unless the situation is turned around soon I fear the worst.
As I’ve written before, I love surprises. I just hope the manager can surprise me with some new ideas, and that the team can surprise me by beating Tottenham on Saturday.