Just a week ago today’s game was billed as the South American manager death-match beat-down. A last tango in Stratford elimination contest where the victor lived to fight another day and defeated was cast out into wilderness, P45 in hand. It was all change, however, when pantomime Bond villain, Daniel Levy, sent his manager sliding into the metaphorical shark tank. A preemptive move that denied the Argentinian the perfect symmetry of starting and ending his Tottenham career with a game against West Ham – who can forget that injury time Eric Dier (yes, I know) winner that decided his opener?
Levy’s action has the hallmarks of a Terry Brown/ Harry Redknapp style spat rather than being a considered footballing decision. On this occasion the Glenn Roeder role is to be played by none other than Jose Mourinho. Yesterday’s man he might be, but Mourinho remains good box office and in the increasingly showbiz world of Premier League football, he is guaranteed to generate media attention. The Levy/ Mourinho dynamic and its inevitable meltdown should prove compelling viewing over the coming months. Meanwhile, Pochettino can take a short rest before picking up the reins at Old Trafford in the new year.
Meanwhile back in east end, the Two Daves find themselves once again firmly stuck in dither mode. For them, being driven the wrong way down the motorway, by a confused elderly driver, who is baffled by the controls and refuses to change gear, would not constitute a major problem. Unless there is immediate danger of head on collision, they are prepared to chug along to the next Services and hope the driver can turn things around.
With Christmas fast approaching, all the old chestnuts are still being banded about – ‘we must work harder’, ‘we need to sort things out’. Unfortunately, it has got to a stage where much more than platitudes are needed. We can only hope that Manuel Pellegrini, his staff and the players have used the international break to good effect. The squad and the injuries are what they are; it is the manager’s responsibility to organise and motivate those available in the best possible way – that is what he is paid big money to do. We are frequently reminded that Pellegrini is vastly experienced, so time to see some evidence of that. At least he has the advantage that this is one fixture the players are usually up for.
According to the joint-chairman’s statement issued yesterday, it is not only the aforementioned hard work that we have up our sleeves as a cunning plan. Today will see the Hammers unleash the ‘power of unity’. This is easily dismissed as meaningless mumbo-jumbo, but it does sounds very new age and mysterious. Maybe the scattering of healing crystals around the dressing room will help. Or perhaps appeasing the gods by sacrificing a goat in the centre circle at half-time.
But enough of the negativity. There has been some good news in the week in that both Mark Noble and Michail Antonio have been passed fit for selection. Although, Noble has struggled for much of the season, he is still the best available as a more defensive minded midfielder alongside Declan Rice. The thought of Carlos Sanchez (or the laughable suggestion of Pablo Zabaletta) stepping into the role would be enough to trigger a panic attack in the most balanced individual.
When players are out for an extended period, their abilities tend to become exaggerated to mythical proportions. Even so, I look forward to the return of Antionio. He offers pace, muscle and a directness that is not apparent elsewhere in the squad. I hope Pellegrini uses him wisely and that Antonio can provide an antidote to our slow ponderous build up. We desperately need to see some change in formation and cohesion. Something to suggest that this is a professional outfit rather than a bunch of blokes that have turned up for a kickabout over the park. I am a long- time advocate of giving 3-5-2 a try but don’t see the manager getting that radical. Let the wing backs provide the width and get those wrong-footed wingers off the flanks. Could there be any chance of a little imagination in the bench selection?
The elephant in the room is, of course, the goalkeeper situation. You don’t need to be a special one to know that Roberto is suspect under physical aerial threat. Any team (well maybe not ours) will know that and will plan to exploit that. Can David Martin provide a better option? Probably not, but his weaknesses might not be such common knowledge. Perhaps he and Roberto could play some form of three-and-in (or should that be three-and-out) keeper rotation. Is rush-goalie allowed?
Tottenham are nothing like the threat they were a few years back. Most of the players they have brought in have been a downgrade from those leaving or fading away – the exception being Lucas Moura. Having Harry Winks at the heart of midfield has slowed everything down to the extent that it is almost as torpid as ours. WInks is almost Noblesque in his short, back and sideways passing. Anyway, he went down in my estimation when he spurned the ’40 Winks’ squad number – watching him on a regular basis would certainly send me to sleep.
Today’s refereeing dream team are Northumberland based Michael Oliver, on the pitch, and Andre Marriner, at VAR mission control. It could be a feisty afternoon and with the north London diving team out in force, let’s hope they have all their wits about them.
Pundit-wise, Lawro has reverted to his default 1-1 prediction while Charlie Nicholas envisages the new manager bounce giving the visitors the edge with a 2-1 away win. I never like to predict a West Ham defeat, even more so against Tottenham. But it is difficult to call it any other way. The straw to clutch at is the hope that the players will for once find an acceptable level of commitment to make a game of it – provided that it doesn’t boil over into reckless card worthy challenges (Noble, Snodgrass – I am looking at you).
I really want to believe, but Santa Claus is looking the more believable option right now.