Tottenham host London rivals West Ham at their new stadium this Saturday in the early kick-off, where both teams will be desperate to go down in the history books as the first side to win this feisty affair inside the glamorous Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.
The Hammers are playing for very little – practically just for the prize money you get for finishing a few places higher in the league – whilst Mauricio Pochettino’s side could do with a win to bolster their current position inside the top four; they are currently four points ahead of fifth-place Arsenal.
Having said that, even if this encounter were just a friendly, both sides will be sure to make it a real blood-and-thunder affair, so it should be a good game.
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This week, we’ve taken the time to chat with resident Football FanCast writers Luke Glanville – a West Ham fan – and Harry Sherlock – a Spurs supporter – to discuss the big talking points and give their predictions ahead of the derby…
Where are the key battles which will win or lose this game for the two sides?
Harry: “Heung-min Son vs the full-backs. The South Korean will definitely play for Spurs so Manuel Pellegrini has to find a way to counter his threat. He’s suspended for the first leg of the Champions League semi-final against Ajax, so expect him to play the 90 minutes, and drift from right to left. With Pablo Zabaleta at right-back and either Aaron Cresswell or Arthur Masuaku playing at left-back, Son could find some joy. If Pellegrini instructs his wingers to track back, however, and ensures that the full-backs are never left alone, they could well keep Son quiet. Doing this would go a long way to enhancing the Hammers’ hopes of victory.”
Luke: “I think the right-back/left wing battle will be important for West Ham. If Pellegrini plays Zabaleta, then you feel that Son is going to have some fun, but Ryan Fredericks can match the South Korean for pace and perhaps keep a lid on him. Also, I’m pretty sure the Hammers’ centre-backs would have expected Kane in this match, so to face Fernando Llorente is a bonus although he’s more than capable. If Fabian Balbuena and Issa Diop are back together, they’ll fancy their chances of keeping him quiet, meaning that will be an interesting battle.”
Son has recently expressed his devastation at being suspended for the Champions League semi-final, so the Hammers could potentially be facing an angry, fired up version of a player who is already a real talent.
In addition to that, as Harry and Luke touched on, the Hammers’ full-backs are perhaps the weakest areas of their side, so the former Bayer Leverkusen man could have a lot of joy down the flanks on Saturday.
Harry: “No. They’re just a different team. Without Kane, there’s greater tactical flexibility because Son and Lucas Moura are multi-functional players. Kane is too, but he either plays up front or drops into a number 10 role and he doesn’t offer the ability to play on the flank. This was evidenced against Brighton, when dsLlorente filled in up top. Spurs struggled to make any inroads because Llorente was unwilling to run into channels or press defenders. Kane is Spurs’ best player and is still underrated by his own fanbase. It’s crazy to think that Tottenham are better without him; they aren’t.”
Luke: “Spurs are not a better team without Kane for me, just look at how easier it could have been on Wednesday night if they had the England captain in their ranks. But they aren’t the one-man team many thought they were becoming; they can certainly do the job without Kane.”
The England international is one of the greatest strikers in world football, and suggestions that Spurs perform better without him are foolish. The only thing giving any credence to the discussion is Tottenham’s win rate without the World Cup Golden Boot Winner – Spurs have only lost twice this season without Kane, to Manchester City on both occasions having won the other seven.
Upon his return to fitness, do you think Jack Wilshere has a future at West Ham?
Harry: “He shouldn’t have a future. Wilshere is a crock, always one game away from the treatment table, and generally not a very good footballer. He moves the ball pretty well but he’s been living off one decent performance against Barcelona for his entire career. West Ham, though, love a big name. And Wilshere does have some value in that regard. But as for his on-pitch contributions? He’s bang-average, and exactly the type of player West Ham should be shipping out. “
Luke: “Wilshere’s potential future at West Ham will depend on what happens between now and the end of the season in my view. He’s fit again and Pellegrini has the chance to give him three starts; if the ex-Gunner can impress in those games, he’ll carry momentum into 2018/2019. If he can’t, his future is still in limbo.”
The decision to sign Wilshere was a huge risk back in the summer, especially having put him on a three-year contract.
The former Arsenal man has made just six appearances all season, which came during the club’s awful start to the campaign in which they lost their first four league games for only the second time in their history.
Which players could be the match-winner in Saturday’s early kick-off?
Harry: “Obviously, Son is the biggest threat on Spurs’ side but the likes of Christian Eriksen and Dele Alli both have the ability to make an impact in the final third. For the Hammers, it’s Marko Arnautovic, particularly if he fancies this game. Arnautovic is a streaky player and has not recovered from his January flirtation with China. But he’s the best attacker they have and he’s a nightmare for defenders when at his best, such is his deceptive pace and strength.”
Luke: “Son has a great record against the Hammers and I’m not thinking for one minute he won’t carry that on in the early kick-off. However, Michail Antonio, Felipe Anderson and Lucas Perez are the men to deliver a shock in north London for the visitors.”
Tottenham appear to be the overriding favourites for this London derby, but only a lack of defensive concentration right at the last stopped West Ham from beating an in-form Leicester side last week.
The likes of Perez and Antonio are looking dangerous, and with a top-four spot still not yet secured, Tottenham need to treat this game with the upmost respect despite a delicious Champions League semi-final coming up on Tuesday.
Finally, what are your score predictions?
Harry: “This largely depends on whether Spurs rotate as much as they did for the Premier League clash with Manchester City but I’ll go 3-0 Spurs.”
Luke: “It’s a tricky one but I’ll have to go with my gut reaction which is Tottenham Hotspur 2-1 West Ham United.”