West Ham and Tottenham meet in the Premier League for the 45th time this Saturday, providing the latest instalment of a London derby between two bitter rivals.
This encounter is never short of drama, controversy or goals with the last five in the top flight producing an impressive 14 strikes, and for both sets of fans its one of the first games to look out for when the fixture list is released at the start of the campaign.
So, will Tottenham meet expectations in beating a side they’re a level above in terms of quality, or will the form book follow the cliche and go out of the window for a London grudge match? This week’s experts, Football FanCast’s Editor-in-Chief James Jones and Sean Cook of @TalkingTHFC, share their thoughts and predictions ahead of Saturday’s 3pm kickoff…
It’s been a strange start to the season for both clubs. This is actually Tottenham’s joint-best ever start to a Premier League campaign and yet there seems to be a gloomy cloud hanging over the north London outfit, partly because performances have been far from spectacular and partly because inactivity during the summer coupled with the delayed return to White Hart Lane has created the perception of a club standing still.
West Ham, meanwhile, looked doomed to another relegation campaign until unexpectedly shutting out Chelsea and then beating Manchester United at the London Stadium. It now feels as if Manuel Pellegrini is taking the team in the right direction.
Do you feel there’s a perception of Tottenham that isn’t quite true?
Sean: “For quite some time now, it’s been clear that Spurs are by no means anyone’s second-favourite club. As baffling as that is, there is a negative outlook towards a team bursting with young English talent and punching way above their weight without investment from a foreign owner. On paper, the perception of our club should be far greater than it is. It’s something Spurs fans have come to live with and if anything, we now relish the fact that we’re doing just fine regardless of their opinions.”
And how have West Ham managed to turn their slow start around?
James: “It took Manuel Pellegrini some time to find his best XI, while it equally took the players time to really come to terms with his philosophy and style of play. Don’t forget that this is a team, minus the summer signings, that had been used to playing a much more negative style of play for around two seasons, so it was always going to take time. Finding a balanced midfield was crucial and Declan Rice’s role in that has been fundamental to the improvement we’ve seen on the pitch. It’s clear things are beginning to click, although we’re not 100% there quite yet.”
So what weaknesses still persist in this Hammers team?
James: “There are still some question marks over the full-backs. Arthur Masuaku is good going forward but simply cannot defend for love nor money, while Pablo Zabaleta on the right side of defence is the opposite. We could see Ryan Fredericks and Aaron Cresswell begin to be eased in to the starting XI over the coming weeks to address that, although it’s not as if those two are the perfect full-backs and each have their weaknesses. Other than that, the XI is settled and shouldn’t change too much in the near future. Injuries to our midfielders or front three will almost certainly disrupt that due to a lack of cover, but as things stand it’s as settled as they come.”
And how should Spurs look to capitalise on those weaknesses?
Sean: “We saw in their defeat to Wolves that it is possible to catch them on the counter, which given Spurs are away from home, will almost certainly be our strategy for the game. With the likes of Harry Kane in attack, when those opportunities arise we’ll capitalise.”
The outside world may be exaggerating some of the issues at Tottenham right now, but there’s little debating Pochettino is having to guide his side through something of an injury crisis. Whereas Christian Eriksen and Mousa Dembele should be available for the weekend, Jan Vertonghen, Dele Alli and Danny Rose certainly won’t be, while the debate rumbles on over Harry Kane’s mental and physical sharpness following the World Cup.
Do injuries make this a good time to face Tottenham?
James: “Without a doubt. We came up against Man United a few weeks ago when it was described as the best time to play them and we took advantage of that by winning 3-1. That said, we also need to be very wary of Tottenham because they’re still a very good side who aren’t going through a crisis like Man United were at the time. They have strength in depth and the quality to beat us, although injuries to a number of key players do give us a small advantage here.”
And which player do you think Tottenham will most most on Saturday?
Sean: “Jan Vertonghen is a huge loss at the back for obvious reasons. He’s one of the best in his position on the planet, and despite having adequate cover in the form of Toby Alderweireld and Davinson Sanchez, Tottenham are always a lot stronger with him in the side. Not having Dele Alli for a London derby likewise is a tough one to take. The man loves to get involved in the argy-bargy side of the game, something we’ll no doubt see in abundance at the London Stadium.”
West Ham have always been a bit of a bogey team for Spurs. In fact, with 14 victories to date there’s no side the Irons have beaten more frequently in the Premier League, and it’s Saturday’s hosts who boast the stronger recent record too with three wins from the London outfits’ last six meetings across all competitions – including a Carabao Cup comeback at Wembley last term.
What went wrong in those games that needs to be improved upon this weekend?
Sean: “Three of those last six included two Spurs wins, and a draw, so it’s not quite as doom and gloom as it first appears on paper. We always know that West Ham will raise their game when they play us, given it’s the most important fixture in their calendar, but it’s true that Mauricio Pochettino’s side weren’t at their best in recent years against the Hammers.
“The Spurs players need to make sure they keep heads. It’s easy to get drawn into silly battles when we know Manuel Pellegrini’s side have the players to rile up our boys. As long as they stick to their game plan, and keep a cool head in the process, we should see a strong Tottenham performance.”
Where will this game be lost and won?
James: “I think a lot will rely on how West Ham start this game. They came out of the blocks from the first whistle against Man United and blew them away, racing to a 2-0 lead. If we can do the same here then we’ll have a chance of nicking a goal or two and putting Spurs on the back foot. But if we start slowly and give Spurs time and space on the ball to build attacks from, we’ll be in a lot of trouble.”
And finally chaps, let’s hear your score predictions…
James: “I’m sticking with my 1-0 prediction from the podcast. Marko Arnautovic winner in the 5th minute. That’s what dreams are made of.”
Sean: “West Ham 1-3 Spurs.”