Tottenham travel to the London Stadium this weekend knowing they’ll need to improve upon their recent results in east London to take three points off West Ham.
Indeed, despite having rather different objectives in the Premier League in recent seasons, the Hammers boast consecutive wins over their London rivals on their own patch, including a 1-0 victory at the end of last season to essentially end Spurs’ title hopes.
But in order to achieve a victory that would also put Tottenham into third place ahead of the rest of the Premier League’s weekend action, Mauricio Pochettino must find the right answers to these four crucial questions…
Tottenham have utilised a back three, a back four and a back five already this season but for the trip to the London Stadium, it’ll most likely be a tossup between 4-2-3-1 and 3-4-3 – the formation Spurs used last time out against Swansea at Wembley.
Although poor finishing let Tottenham down against the Welsh outfit, Pochettino’s side finished the match with five defenders, albeit two in the wing-back mode, and one defensive midfielder on the pitch, which felt like overkill considering Swansea managed just one effort at goal in the second half.
It’s likely West Ham will set up prioritising defensive organisation as well, so should Spurs employ a more expansive 4-2-3-1 that allows more creative players on the pitch? It seems a logical reaction following a performance in which Tottenham struggled to carve Swansea open, but West Ham do boast far greater quality in attack than the Welsh side and will likely use the 3-4-3 setup themselves. Matching up is all the rage in the Premier League these days.
While Javier Hernandez is the more natural striking talent, the vast majority of West Ham’s forward play will go through Andy Carroll on Saturday.
When fit and in top form, the England international can cause problems for any defence in the world operating as a one-man wrecking ball – tellingly, he averaged one goal or assist every 164 minutes last season despite continuous injures and the Hammers’ many bouts of poor form. The question for Pochettino, therefore, is whether Tottenham have to concentrate on their own game or specifically set up to cancel out the threat Carroll can provide.
They can’t match him simply for height and aerial prowess, but playing three centre-backs will certainly give them a better chance of competing, while squeezing the towering striker between a defender and Eric Dier just in front will reduce the space for him to challenge in.
Heung-min Son hasn’t been a guaranteed starter since arriving from Bayer Leverkusen in summer 2015, but he’s undoubtedly delivered during Tottenham’s last two outings, scoring on the break against Borussia Dortmund and posing the biggest threat to Swansea City’s goal last time out at Wembley, as shown above.
The South Korean international is clearly enjoying a decent run of form, but so far this season its the away games he’s missed out on – and it’s hard to fault that logic on Pochettino’s part considering his side have claimed six points and scored five goals without conceding on the road.
So, does the Argentine make room for Son in his starting line-up on Saturday – and if so, which position should he be deployed in after playing as a wing-back, a wide midfielder and a support striker during the last 180 minutes – or would the versatile attacker make more of an impact coming on from the bench?
Considering Tottenham will have much higher aims than West Ham this season, their record against their London rivals is surprisingly unconvincing. In fact, the Hammers have lost on their last two trips to east London, both 1-0 defeats during the second half of the season.
The good news this time is that it’s too early in the campaign for the result to be quite so significant, which should reduce the nervousness Tottenham have often shown against the Hammers. But considering both results were achieved with West Ham averaging less than 35% possession, scoring just one goal and using a 3-4-3 against a 4-2-3-1, there are obvious lessons to be learned.
That harks back to the opening question about formations, but also player selection – Tottenham have failed to break down the Hammers during their last two visits, so maybe having someone like Harry Winks in midfield to thread passes through the defence will end Spurs’ scoreless mini-run.