Still ravaged by injury, Tottenham Hotspur look to remain within striking distance of the Premier League lead Saturday when they make the short trek to London Stadium for a derby encounter with West Ham United.
POTENTIAL STARTING XIs
Spurs (6-0-2) are fifth in the table, trailing Arsenal on goal difference, but are only two points out of first place behind the logjam of Manchester City, Liverpool and Chelsea. The Lilywhites, whose hopes for advancing in the Champions League are precarious after losses to Inter Milan and Barcelona, limped into the international break playing without regulars Dele Alli, Christian Eriksen, Jan Vertonghen, Mousa Dembele and Serge Aurier.
Vertonghen looks like he will be sidelined the longest, with December a target date of return for the central defender and Belgium international. Alli has been ruled out of this match and next week Champions League tilt with PSV Eindhoven, but Eriksen and Dembele could feature in this contest. Spurs manager Mauricio Pochettino avoided a further thinning at the midfield position when Kenya international Victor Wanyama’s hamstring injury was not as serious as first feared.
Still, Spurs do not lack for quality among those who can play in the middle of the park. Eric Dier and Harry Winks were crucial contributors to England’s UEFA Nations League victory over Spain during the international recess, and Erik Lamela is more than capable of providing a creative spark in attack underneath star striker Harry Kane.
“I’m happy because I’m feeling good and I’m featuring in lots of games,” said Lamela, who has four goals and two assists in his last six matches across all competitions, to the club’s official website. “I’m happy to be playing and I’m enjoying it.
“The difference is that I started this season at the start of the summer while last year at this stage I was still recovering from my hip surgery. I started last season in November (he returned at Leicester on 28 November). At the beginning I was still having a few problems, which is normal when you come back from surgery, but now I feel more comfortable.”
While Lamela looks to continue his fine form, Kane continues to lay claim to being among the world’s best strikers. The England international had two assists in the 3-2 victory over Spain, showing tactical nous in tormenting standout defenders Sergio Ramos and Nacho Fernandez and plowing through the fatigue of an arduous calendar year between Tottenham’s two-track domestic and Champions League responsibilities around England’s run to the World Cup semifinals last summer.
Kane has recorded a brace in three of his last six matches against West Ham and had the match-winner in last term’s corresponding fixture as Spurs held out for a 3-2 victory. The star forward has seven goals in nine matches versus West Ham while playing for the Lilywhites.
The momentum West Ham United (2-1-5) had been building after a slow start under new manager Manuel Pellegrini came slightly undone before the break with a 1-0 defeat at Brighton and Hove Albion. That ended a four-match unbeaten streak in all competitions, highlighted by a win over Manchester United and draw versus Chelsea, and the Irons will look to kick on and improve on their 15th-place standing in the table to avoid a potential relegation scrap later this term.
Striker Marko Arnautovic also continued his fine form during the international break, scoring the winner for Austria in a Nations League victory over Northern Ireland, but perhaps more important for West Ham is the European side played only one competitive match during the recess, allowing their striker some extra rest before resuming his role leading the line for the Hammers.
While getting goals is important, stopping them is equally vital, and keeper Lukasz Fabianski is eager for the challenge of the Spurs as he faces them in a derby atmosphere with a second side. The Poland international made five appearances versus Tottenham while with Arsenal and is excited to get another positive result at home.
“We just have to prepare ourselves well during the week and have a good game on Saturday, and make sure that the fans will be proud and happy after our performance,” he told the team’s official website. “You can see that we have improved, especially playing at home and the recent results here have been very good so hopefully that will continue this Saturday.”
After shipping 10 goals in losing their first four league matches, West Ham have conceded three in the last four. The Irons will also set out to improve a poor track record in London derbies as they have gone 1-6-3 in their last 10 such contests dating back to the start of last season.
West Ham have held their own against Tottenham in recent seasons, going 6-2-4 in the last 12 across all competitions dating back to 2013-14. The Irons have scored in all but one match during that stretch and netted two or more in seven of those contests.
Per Ladbrokes, the short-handed Spurs are the oddsmakers’ choice to emerge with three points and are established as 20/23 favourites. The odds of a draw are 27/10, slightly better than the Irons emerging with their seventh win in 13 matches between the teams at 29/10.
It is not surprising goals are expected in this contest, with 13/8 odds for a Tottenham victory with more than 2.5 goals. There are similar 17/4 odds for Spurs clamping down for a 1-0 or 2-0 victory and a 0-0 or 1-1 draw, while West Ham are 9/2 picks to claim a victory with more than 2.5 goals. Not many are expecting Fabianski and the Hammers to stifle the Spurs, with 17/2 odds for a 1-0 or 2-0 victory.
Despite not scoring for England during the international break, Kane showed enough to be the favourite to score the first goal of the match with 13/5 odds. Spurs reserve forward Fernando Llorente is 4/1, just ahead of West Ham top pick Arnautovic (11/2). There’s a grab bag from both teams at 13/2, with Lucas Moura, Heung-Min Son and Chicharito all listed just ahead of Lamela (7/1).
Kane is better than even money to continue tormenting West Ham, with 3/4 odds to score during the match. Llorente (11/8) and Arnautovic (17/10) again round out the top three options while Chicharito, Son and Moura are all 2/1. Down the list a little further at 23/10 after helping Ukraine win promotion to Group A of the UEFA Nations League play is Andriy Yarmolenko, who has not scored in three league matches since his brace against Everton to account for his two goals with the Irons.
While Chelsea-Manchester United is the marquee match of Saturday’s slate, this contest has the potential to be the most entertaining. Even with the spate of injuries Tottenham have endured, the offensive triangle of Kane, Moura and Lamela has more than enough class and quality to give a still inconsistent Irons back line plenty of issues. The potential return of Eriksen gives Pochettino the flexibility to use either a 4-4-2 like he did against Cardiff City or a 4-2-3-1 in which both Son and Moura are wide and Kane is up top alone.
The challenge for Spurs will be to control possession through the middle of the park since West Ham tend to operate their offense through the flanks with Yarmolenko and Felipe Anderson. Just like Kane to West Ham, Arnautovic will give Alderweireld and Sanchez some issues up front.
The man of the moment in this contest could be West Ham defensive midfielder Declan Rice as he continues to settle into his role in front of the back four. It has stabilised the Irons — they have given up three goals in their last four league matches since Pellegrini switched to a 4-1-4-1 formation, but Kane’s wiles and Son’s industry will make this an intriguing game of cat and mouse in West Ham’s final third.
PREDICTED FINAL SCORE: West Ham United 1, Tottenham Hotspur 2.