The rivalry between Tottenham Hotspur and West Ham always throws up feisty encounters, in typical London derby style. But there is much more at stake than simply local bragging rights as the Hammers head down to White Hart Lane on Sunday – kickoff at 4pm – with just one position and three goals separating both sides in the Premier League table.
Indeed, the Lilywhites and the Irons are both gunning for European football this season so placed in 5th and 6th respectively, this Premier League clash is an official six-pointer – with a potentially huge bearing on final standings come the end of May.
Tottenham are undefeated in their last eleven league games and also have the home advantage, but Slaven Bilic’s side have already claimed wins against Manchester City, Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool this season and boast the better record in terms of recent encounters, recording three wins and one draw from their last six outings against the north Londoners.
With that in mind, Sunday’s match could come down to who dominates the key individual battles. Here’s FIVE we at Football Fancast think will decide the outcome.
Following his superb strike and Man of the Match performance against France in midweek, all eyes will be on Dele Alli this Sunday – English football’s latest darling.
Indeed, the teenager’s performances at the heart of Tottenham Hotspur’s midfield have been miraculous this season, considering he was plying his trade with MK Dons in League One before the summer.
An all-action, well-rounded midfielder, the 19-year-old offers great balance between defence, attack and ball retention alongside tactical flexibility, having performed well in both deep-lying roles and the No.10 position for the Lilywhites.
He and Moussa Dembele often swap around mid-match and that will likely be the case on Sunday if the Belgium international recovers from a calf injury as expected, meaning Alli will spend much of his time going toe-to-toe with Cheikhou Kouyate – West Ham’s defensively tuned dynamo.
He’s been amongst the Hammers’ best performers this season, claiming three goals and one assist in eleven appearances, and has an interesting role in their midfield.
Although Kouyate is commonly considered a defensive midfielder, this term averaging 3.5 tackles and 1.8 interceptions per match, he likes to break forward when possible as the more energetic accomplice to Mark Noble.
But playing away from home against local rivals, safety must come first for Kouyate on Sunday. Alli’s consistently proved his quality in recent weeks, especially in front of goal, and needs to be kept under lock and key.
After a slow start to the season, Harry Kane of the Lane appears to be operating at full throttle once again, scoring five goals in his last three Premier League outings – including a hat-trick against Bournemouth and a strike in the North London derby two weekends ago.
The 22-year-old is already a very complete striker, this season averaging 3.8 shots, 1.2 created chances, 1.7 successful dribbles and 1.9 successful aerial duels per match, but it’s his mix of intelligence and enthusiasm that has made Kane one of the Premier League’s most feared front men in such a short space of time.
But West Ham’s Winston Reid is no novice and will be more than aware of the threat Kane poses after seeing him score a last-second equaliser in the same fixture last season.
Although the 27-year-old is most commonly praised for his athleticism, he’s an international captain with over 100 Premier League appearances under his belt and that experience will be vital to nullifying Kane’s subtle movements in the final third.
With the shining star of West Ham’s season so far, Dimitri Payet, ruled out for the next three months after picking up an ankle injury against Everton, I’m tipping fellow summer signing Manuel Lanzini to take his place at the top of midfield.
The Argentine has spent most his loan spell on the wing but provided two goals and one assist at No.10 earlier this season and is easily the Hammers’ next-best creative threat after Payet, with two tricky feet, good vision and a clinical eye for goal.
Slaven Bilic is particularly fond of the 22-year-old, even comparing him to Luka Modric, and I’m sure he’ll have no reservations about placing Lanzini in such an important role.
That being said, Tottenham’s resident play-breaker Eric Dier is enjoying a phenomenal season and was arguably as impressive as Alli for England on Tuesday night, albeit in a considerably subtler manner.
He’s been the biggest contributor to Spurs’ strong defensive record – ten conceded in twelve games – providing gritty protection in front of centre-backs Jan Vertonghen and Toby Alderweireld with averages of 3.1 tackles, 2.3 interceptions and 2.4 successful aerial duels per match.
The 21-year-old has already outmanoeuvred Everton’s Ross Barkley, Manchester City’s Yaya Toure and Arsenal’s Mesut Ozil this season to name a few – so Lanzini will have to be at the top of his game.
On the mend from an upper leg injury, we could see last season’s top-scoring Hammer Diafra Sakho return to the first team line-up on Sunday. But for both fitness and tactical reasons, I would stick with Andy Carroll despite isolated performances prior to the international break.
The arrival of Toby Alderweireld has immeasurably improved Tottenham defensively this season. He’s the consistent, dependable centre-back Jan Vertonghen has eternally craved since moving to White Hart Lane in summer 2012 and the subliminal understanding between the two Belgium internationals, who previously partnered each other at Ajax, has already impacted Spurs’ results for the better.
But if the Belgian pair are flawed by one intrinsic weakness, it’s a lack of height and dominance in the air, with both measuring in at 6 foot 2. Although he failed to get on the scoresheet in the north London derby, Olivier Giroud’s aerial threat caused more problems as the game went on – especially from set pieces.
Measuring in at 6 foot 4 and famed for his imperious leap, Andy Carroll could cause similar problems this weekend if he performs to the level we all know he’s capable of. The good news for Spurs, however, is that Slaven Bilic hasn’t quite got to grips with how to get best use from the England international just yet.
With Erik Lamela suspended and potentially injured for the West Ham meet, its more than likely summer signing Heung-Min Son will take his place on the right hand side.
Mauricio Pochettino has preferred Christian Eriksen on the left in recent weeks and overall his options are relatively limited, with Nacer Chadli injured and Andros Townsend in the doghouse after a bust-up with fitness coach Nathan Gardiner.
The South Korea international has already given a glimpse into what the future could hold for him at White Hart Lane, claiming three goals and one assist in his first six outings for Spurs, but much more is expected of the £22million acquisition with a preceding reputation from his prolific spell at Bayer Leverkusen.
But defensive contribution could be more important than the 23-year-old’s attacking qualities on Sunday. Although the Lilywhites will expect to dominate in the comfort of their home ground, left-back Aaron Cresswell is one of the Hammers’ biggest creative threats, averaging 1.3 created chances this season, and will look to join the attack when possible.
For both players, it is a question of balancing responsibilities. Cresswell’s deadly left foot – especially with Andy Carroll lurking in the box – means Son can’t allow him the room to cross even from deep positions.
Likewise, however, should the 25-year-old venture too far forward, the Spurs star possesses the speed and technical quality to punish West Ham on the counter-attack.