‘A Fight to be London’s Third Team’ – Tottenham vs. West Ham, Match Preview, 22/11/15

This could be one of the last meetings for these London clubs in the guise we know them today. Change is afoot in London, and the footballing landscape of the Premier League really could be a whole new world by 2018. It is a question of Stadiums. As Liverpool re-develop Anfield, Tottenham and West Ham have gone down the moving home root.

With West Ham due to inherit the Olympic Stadium next season, the likes of James Collins and Mark Noble will be strutting their stuff in front of a sold out crowd of 54,000 come August 2016. Karen Brady talks about generating a footballing brand in East London, revenues will be up, finances will be a lot stronger. West Ham want Champions League. Tottenham on the other hand aren’t moving. Perhaps in a backhanded swipe against their greatest of rivals, their new stadium will be built on the current White Hart Lane site. Tottenham don’t move boroughs and with a stadium of over 60,000 capacity, the new Spurs venture could well be ready as early as August 2018. With both these stadium moves in mind, who out of Spurs and West Ham are in the better position before they start their respective transitions into the big time?

Tottenham have gone about their season with a very un-Tottenham like sense of efficiency. Long ago in the memory is the supermarket sweep of the Bale millions, the swashbuckling Redknapp years and the ill-fated AVB reign. Tottenham are doing really quite alright. It’s the sign of the quiet achievements that are going in North London, with only one defeat all year, that when Paul Merson claimed Tottenham could go on to finish as high as third this season, Merse wasn’t scoffed at as a foolish fanboy (quite the opposite for the ex-Gunner). The pressure seems off at Tottenham. Whether through a combination of the meticulous planning of Pochettino allowing the team to play with freedom; or with the media pre-occupation of the Chelsea saga and the odd pop at Manchester United’s lack of attacking swagger, Tottenham just aren’t headline fodder and are flourishing under the radar.

Whatever the reason may be for the season’s strong start, Spurs under Pochettino have been mightily impressive this season. The draw against Arsenal saw Tottenham play their 3rd game in 6 days, picking up two wins and a draw. The energy and fitness levels in this Tottenham squad really seem to be near the top of the Premier League. The jury may be out on whether they can keep up such high performances levels all way up until May, but certainly at the moment Tottenham just look sharper. The performances this season haven’t gone unnoticed by one person in particular and that is Roy Hodgson. With the call up of Ryan Mason to replace Carrick in the England squad, Tottenham have 6 representatives in the latest England squad with Kyle Walker (25) being the oldest representative of the Spurs contingent in the England camp. And it is in the latest England squad that we have seen the coming of age of Spurs latest potential poster boy. Any match preview would be lacking if a mention for the incredibly impressive Dele Alli wasn’t present. Against France, Dele Alli had a truly brilliant full debut. For a game where football rightly took the back seat, the young and precocious teenager dominated the middle of the park both in the tackle and in breaking the line to find space just behind Kane et al. The tackle to dispossess Schneiderlin was a perfectly timed crunching old school tackle, matched by both Alli’s willingness to get back up and offer an option for Rooney before unleashing a hellish shot from distance. Pochettino’s pressing style could be seen in Alli (and Dier) throughout the game and when the England’s no.7 dispossessed Pogba to set Sterling through for the second goal, Alli’s star had risen and a potential place at France next summer really could be achievable at this rate of progress and maturity.

Whether regular international football will hamper Tottenham’s progress through the course of the season again is hard to call but Tottenham could soon become an England fan’s second favourite team as Pochettino continues to develop English talent that is young, hungry and wanting to learn.

If Pochettino has taken a couple of transfer windows to build a team in his image, Bilić for his next miracle will walk on water. Slaven Bilić came into West Ham after a time with Beşiktaş and has turned West Ham from Victorian long ball hopefuls into a devastating flair side going forward. West Ham fans are licking their lips after over-throwing Big Sam in a bid to see the club return to the ‘West Ham way’, and even the most ardent Anti-Allardyce fans must be amazed at how grand a transition they have witnessed in Upton Park’s final swansong. To fully praise Bilić for this transformation from caterpillar to butterfly would be an injustice. Sam Allardyce, the great dinosaur of football tactics, should still garner a lot of credit for the defensive foundation he instilled at West Ham. As seen in the post-Pulis reigns of Pardew and Hughes at Palace and Stoke respectively, Bilić is another manager reaping the rewards of the previous tenure’s foundation building tactics but results against Manchester City, Arsenal, Liverpool and Chelsea certainly scream a team to watch out for.

The back 7 for West Ham are fairly unchanged from last season (fitness and suspension dependent) as Adrian, Jenkinson, Tomkins, Collins/Reid, Cresswell, Kouyaté and Noble will probably line up on Sunday, providing the foundations and organisation that have seen West Ham being so tight in the big games. It is in the transitions from defence into attack and the options at West Ham now that Bilić has really stamped his authority on to this team. Two of the more noteworthy signings from the summer in the Premier League have to be Dimitri Payet from Marseille and Manuel Lanzini from Al-Jazira. The injury of Payet until January is a massive blow to the Hammer’s faithful, not only for this Tottenham game but the impending Christmas madness of the Premier League fixture list. Payet has been fantastic, 28 years old and at the peak of his powers, you wonder why a bigger team never came in for the Frenchman but the signing of Payet encompasses more than a talented player. He is the signifier for West Ham’s next chapter and the stadium move. This season Payet has 12 appearances with 5 goals and 3 assists in the Premier League, and with the security of the players behind him, Payet can focus on his strengths – chance creation. In Payet’s absence, the Tottenham game marks a key moment in Lanzini’s development as a West Ham United player. Whilst everyone knew Payet was going to be good, the young Argentinian came into the Premier League as an unknown quantity from the Middle East but the comparisons with the great River Plate and Valencia No.10 Pablo Aimar are now abound. Lanzini boasts a massively impressive passing completion rate so far this season and as proven with his goal against Everton he is thriving in the hustle and bustle of the Premier League. With the loss of Payet however, the pressure of impressing at White Hart Lane for ‘The Jewell’ is certainly growing as the creative fulcrum behind the frontman. A strong performance really could lead to Lanzini being the key that unlocks Tottenham’s vastly improved defensive solidarity this season.

For any neutral, this London derby certainly could upstage the City/Liverpool game for goals and excitement. Here we have two form teams, on the cusp of a very bright future but for this season a win for Tottenham will see a further marker laid down for their ambitions of Champions League football. For West Ham, another away victory at White Hart Lane will really start wetting the appetite of the Hammers faithful for potential European football being played out at their new home. I just can’t help but think the loss of the truly scintillating Payet places Bilić on the back foot, and now we can really see how Bilić will react to his first real crisis at West Ham.

Prediction: Tottenham 2-1 West Ham United

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