Tottenham Hotspur return from the international break hopefully refreshed (haha who am I kidding?) and ready to jump back into club play. Starting off a stretch of the club’s schedule where the team will play five London derbies in the next ten matches are the Hammers of West Ham United. Joining me this week for Know Your Opponent is Andrew over at Brace The Hammer, our sister site on SBN for West Ham supporters. We talk about Mark Noble trying to look down on anyone, how Manuel Pellegrini is adjusting to the squad and whether or not the return of Jack Wilshere from his yearly injury hampers this side.
CFC: Needless to say, it’s been a rough start for West Ham this season, but recent results are showing a little bit of a turnaround, taking three points from both Everton and Manchester United while also getting a draw against Chelsea. What’s the big difference between the last few matches and the start of the season?
BTH: The big difference has thankfully been Manuel Pellegrini realizing that his team needed to still play defense in order to be successful. West Ham were shambolic defensively to start the season with those four defeats. The club needed to see an accomplished manager such as Manuel have not just an attacking plan, but a credible defensive shape that wouldn’t be penetrated so easily as the start of the season showed.
Issa Diop is one of France’s many great young centerbacks since his time at Toulouse, but he is still young and without Winston Reid, we needed either Fabian Balbuena or Angelo Ogbonna to step up and be a sound partner with him. Balbuena, also a new signing, has improved from his shaky start and adjustment to the Premier League. But the key difference has been dropping Robert Snodgrass and going with a balance midfield three of Declan Rice, Mark Noble and Pedro Obiang. Since the start of the Everton game, we have looked like the side that we should be looking like, considering the summer of historic spending we’ve had.
So who is going to be the lucky one from Spurs to tower over Mark Noble in this matchup not named Moussa Sissoko?
Haha, Captain Noble shall not allow that whatsoever, whether it’s from Sissoko, Eric Dier, Moussa Dembele or Harry Winks. Captain Noble is still a noble performer for us, after it seemed the start of the season was looking very dicey for him!
What’s the overall feeling of Manuel Pellegrini and how he’s doing so far?
There was major, obvious optimism and to be very frank, celebration with us landing Pellegrini’s signature. He is still one of the best, most accomplished managers in the world, regardless of how Man City were quick to get Pep Guardiola to replace him. Having him instead of a few seasons with David Moyes was always something we were enthralled with having.
Then the season started, and Pellegrini showed that tendency of his to just focus on offense without having a sound defensive structure to the team. With the money we spent in the summer, losing the first four games already had us questioning if Pellegrini had lost his touch for good, and that he would be another manager unable to avoid our West Ham curse of laughable misery. But as I mentioned in the first reply, since the start of the Everton game, he has given the team an essential defensive sturdiness we had lacked in the opening four games.
With our deserved victories over Everton and Manchester United, and the performances that showcase the attacking expertise he has always had, along with seeing signs of defending that has one him many games in his career, we in Hammers nation are back being confident to Pellegrini being the man to lead us back to consistent prominence.
Let’s be honest, the secret to fixing this team was getting Jack Wilshere out of the lineup with an injury, right? Are you worried he might screw things up when he came back? Joking side, how has the former Arsenal darling been for the Hammers?
No matter where a Gunner goes, he will always be a GOONER to you Spurs fans, and to us as well....unless they end up in Hammers colors. Just like his place at England, and how his place came to be at Arsenal, Wilshere will now have to fight for his place to be in this West Ham side regularly.
With the chemistry that Rice-Noble-Obiang have at the moment, Wilshere will have to convince Pellegrini in practice he can be better than Obiang or Noble, since Rice is really just battling with Carlos Sanchez for the true holding midfield spot in front of the centerbacks of the midfield 3.
No question though that Wilshere still has the qualities to be one of the Premier League’s best midfielders, as he showed in his mini-revival for Arsenal. But he simply does not get to walk back into the side for us when he gets healthy.
It seems Pellegrini favors that midfield three of Obiang and Rice protecting Noble. Does it look as good to you as it does in the numbers?
It does, and as stated above, it’s more to allow Noble to not be a defensive holding midfielder and instead be more box to box with Obiang, while Rice properly stays in front of the centerbacks for most of the game.
What’s worse? The fact that our team can’t get into our new stadium or that you’re stuck in yours for the foreseeable future?
Well, at least no matter how predictably clownish our stadium situation was going to be by moving into the Olympic Stadium, at least our stadium was ready to play in! And it appears Harry Kane maybe playing for Real Madrid before your new stadium finally gets opened!
(Author’s Note: Not a snowball’s chance in hell that happens.)
What’s your expectation for a lineup on Saturday?
Matches right after an international break are always not the easiest to predict. With your side looking ahead to that crucial Champions League game vs PSV, you all need results for sure on both PL and UCL fronts.
With Alli, Vertonghen and Danny Rose out (although Ben Davies being there for Rose is always no dropoff at all), I think we have another fine chance to get a result against a Top 6-7 club.
How about a prediction?
I think it will be another exciting London Derby, ending in a 3-3 match!
A big thank you to Andrew for taking time out and answering questions for us!