Ahh, the London derby against West Ham. Certainly not the most important London derby on Tottenham’s calendar (that would be the North London Derby vs. Arsenal) or the nastiest (that would be Chelsea). It would probably take the prize as being the most annoying London derby, if for no other reason than that Spurs have been demonstrably better than West Ham in recent seasons but still seem to lose ridiculous games to the Hammers every single year.
Part of that of course comes down to that it’s still a derby, whether we want it to be or not. Tottenham fans aren’t especially fond of West Ham, but West Ham supporters seem to actively loathe Spurs. They seem to take this derby a lot more seriously that we do. Recall after the 2013-14 season, when West Ham beat Spurs both times in the league and in the League Cup, they had commemorative t-shirts made celebrating “the Treble.”
Last season, Spurs got the away win at the London Stadium, but fell in stupid fashion in the League Cup and only managed a draw at Wembley in early January. What I’m saying is that despite West Ham only managing seven points thus far this season, this is not a derby that you take for granted.
And if we’re perfectly honest here, West Ham are (dare I say it) not as bad as their record indicates. They had their early stumbles under Manuel Pellegrini, but made some good moves in the transfer window this summer and the pieces are in place for them to be dangerous. Their opening eight matches have included ties against Liverpool, Arsenal, Chelsea, and Manchester United, making it one of the tougher early schedules in the league. Even so they beat Manchester United at home and held Chelsea to a scoreless draw. On the other hand they have home losses to Bournemouth and Wolves, and an away loss at Brighton, so at best you can call them inconsistent.
Marko Arnautovic is their most potent goal threat and has already fired home four this season. That plus two from new signing Andriy Yarmolenko and one from Felipe Anderson constitute the sum total of West Ham’s goals this season. The stats look underwhelming - a team xG of 8.73 plus a leaky defense that has let in 13 goals, though again, seven of those have come in away losses to Liverpool and Arsenal. Pellegrini has experimented a bit with lineups but seems to have mostly settled on a 4-1-4-1 with a midfield duo of Mark Noble and Pedro Obiang.
If you want some good news, the perpetually injured duo of Jack Wilshere and Andy Carroll are — you guessed it — injured, as is Manuel Lanzini, and there are doubts about Robert Snodgrass, Javier Hernandez, and Arthur Masuaku.
All that’s to say that Spurs may be favored to beat West Ham on Saturday, but that this is very much a banana peel match, especially away. Tottenham’s defense has been leaky, and both Arnautovic and Yarmolenko are dangerous, especially on the counter. This is not a match to take for granted. A Spurs win would be outstanding, and a result acceptable. A loss would not, however, be out of the question.
How will Tottenham line up against West Ham?
The good news for Spurs is that Mousa Dembele and Christian Eriksen have recovered from their respective injuries and are available for selection against West Ham. Spurs have desperately missed the creativity that Eriksen provides in the midfield, especially with Dele Alli also out. While Pochettino doesn’t always slot his players straight back into the side after injury, I think he does here with Eriksen. He is needed.
Dembele is different, though. Spurs’ midfield has been... okay in his absence, and there are enough central midfield options through Harry Winks and Moussa Sissoko to allow Poch to ease Dembele back into the side. I suspect we’ll see him start midweek against PSV, but he is more likely in my opinion to be a second half substitute at the London Stadium. I suspect Son Heung-Min will likewise be rested for the Champions League, with Sonny or Lamela used as subs if things go pear shaped.
We obsess about formations on this blog, but Poch’s squads have tended to be variations on a theme and somewhat mutable in practice with whatever lineups are out there. My guess here is a narrow 4-3-3 with an extra central midfielder to overwhelm West Ham’s pairing of Noble and Obiang, the width as usual being provided by fullbacks Kieran Trippier and Ben Davies. Of course, Kane and Lucas will be the two highest, with Eriksen dropping deeper to buzz around in a free role.
That’s my predicted lineup against West Ham. What’s yours?