Some matches just have that little extra edge to them. It could be the visit of one of the glamour clubs. Or a sudden death cup game under the floodlights in mid-winter. Or the anticipation of trading blows with local rivals, even if they are lesser teams such as Millwall or Tottenham.
This weekend is one of those latter occasions. Anecdotally, Tottenham don’t care at all about West Ham. The Hammers are beneath their contempt – which is exactly the reason they rested their whole team for the Europa Auto Windscreens Conference defeat to Vitesse Arnhem in midweek. Conversely, West Ham fans have no such reservations for their disrespect. We are genetically programmed to hate Tottenham, and to hate Tottenham. After all, we are (unashamedly) the Tottenham haters.
Unlike, their north London counterparts, the Hammers have been flying high in European competition. Three games, three wins, no goals conceded and a six-point cushion over the nearest challenger. David Moyes has talked about his desire to still be in Europe after Christmas, but one way or another, this is already virtually assured. Only finishing bottom of Group H would prevent it from happening, as the third placed team would automatically drop down into the Conference. It is touch and go whether Tottenham will still be involved by then, however, unless there is an even more inferior competition for them to drop in to – the Europa Sunday League Losers Trophy, perhaps.
The ease with which West Ham have taken to European competition has been remarkable. The demands of a punishing Thursday/ Sunday schedule have been offset by David Moyes ability to rotate his squad and still win relatively comfortably. The group might even be won with a game or two to spare – reducing the pressure even more.
Each of the second string players who have featured in Europa League games to date have performed with credit. No-one has let the side down, although that hasn’t stopped some media sites from throwing unwarranted criticism around, whether it be towards Andriy Yarmolenko, Manuel Lanzini or Nikola Vlasic. We know these are not first choice players, but they have done a sterling job as stand-ins – allowing key players to get a deserved break. It was particularly pleasing to see Craig Dawson and Issa Diop get on the scoresheet against Genk – both are also performing to great effect in their defence duties.
It should be as you were as far as the starting eleven against Tottenham tomorrow is concerned. The only known unknown is who out of Vladimir Coufal, Ben Johnson and Ryan Fredericks gets to play at right back.
For all their bluster, Tottenham have never truly been a part of a ‘big six’, except in their own heads. Along with Arsenal they are the big losers from the failed ESL coup as they slip further away from the top four. At least when Pochettino was manager they had a team and played in a style worthy of grudging admiration. Since then, poor recruitment both on and off the pitch have taken them steadily backwards.
The appointment of Nuno Espirito Santo was another odd and erratic choice. He was clearly running out of steam at Wolves and his workmanlike approach to football is as far removed from the Spurs ideal as Allardyce was at West Ham. Showing that he so scared of West Ham that he would risk throwing the Conference League will not have gone down well with supporters. Maybe his name translates to Nuno The Not So Brave!
Despite all the shortcomings Nuno does have his get-out-of jail card in Kane and Son – both accomplished at scoring goals and winning penalties. West Ham’s task will be to stay alert and cut off their supply at source. No worries that Declan Rice and Tomas Soucek should come out on top in the midfield battle but avoiding a slow start will once again be essential.
It’s a great time to a Hammer right now. I have always regarded West Ham circa 1980 – 82 as my all-time favourite team (even more than the boys of 85/86 in fact) but now I am in tow minds. There is just so much to admire about this likeable group of players and their obvious commitment, resilience and team spirit. We should embrace and enjoy it while we can.
No matter what the circumstances I will always tip West Ham to beat Spurs whenever we meet. Any defence that has Eric Dier in it is never going to be impregnable. I will go for a 3-1 West Ham win. COYI!