Opposition Q & A
This weekend West Ham entertain Spurs at home in the early Saturday game. The atmosphere will be rocking at the London Stadium as we try for our 4th clean sheet on the trot, and hopefully another home win against the old enemy. Ahead of the game I spoke to the Political Sketch writer on The Guardian – John Crace to discuss the game.
I suppose you will be quite happy to be playing West Ham away this weekend given your record playing at Wembley so far?
Absolutely. Much as Mauricio Pochettino might try to suggest otherwise, the team is struggling — as it did last season — to get used to Wembley. Apart from the Dortmund game in the Champions’ League, we have looked nervous and laboured at Wembley. Away, though, we have been looking like the real deal and have beaten both Newcastle and Everton at a canter.
After successively improving position over the past couple of seasons do you think you will finally reach the top spot, or do you think that will remain tantalisingly out of reach again?
Not a chance. Both Manchester clubs have hit the ground running and look a class apart from every other team in the League. And with our Wembley form showing no sign of improving, even a top four finish might be a big ask.
Where do you think West Ham can realistically finish the season?
In the top 10. It’s hard to imagine West Ham breaking in to the Champions League places, and the team would need to have an exceptional season even to make the Europa League.
Which three teams do you think will suffer relegation and who will lift the title this season?
Too early to say. Crystal Palace have had a dreadful start, so must be in the frame, though Roy Hodgson has plenty of time to change that round. Huddersfield may also struggle for consistency over the full season, though people said that about Bournemouth when they first got promoted. That said, this year could be Bournemouth’s last!
Are you happy with your transfer dealings during the window? We know a little about Fernando Llorente, but what about your other purchases?
I’m happy enough with the players we bought. Llorente hasn’t had a great start, but he has the pedigree to make an impression up front if Harry Kane is injured or rested. Edinson Sanchez has fitted in comfortably at the centre of the back three, though probably needs to become a little more savvy; too often he makes rash challenges and gives away unnecessary free kicks. Serge Aurier also looked promising against Dortmund at right back: pacy down the flanks and good in defence. Juan Foyth also had a solid debut against Barnsley in the Carabao cup. Not quite so happy about selling Kyle Walker; I know £45m is a lot of money, but Spurs have missed him so far this season. Also not thrilled that, as usual, Spurs left so many signings to the last day. This invariably unsettles the side. Far better to get dealings done early in the window so the squad gets a chance to get to know each other
Pochettino seems to be a perfect fit for Spurs, what has he brought to your team since his arrival?
The main thing he has brought is stability. He knows how he wants his team to play and he knows his favoured starting XI. Over the three seasons he has been in charge the nucleus of the squad has remained pretty much the same. His real test is to come, though. There’s far less pressure on a manager and a team when expectations are low. Now Pochettino has raised the bar to where not qualifying for the Champions League would be considered a failure, he faces a different sort of challenge.
How do you rate West Ham’s Slaven Bilic as our manager?
Highly. I like his passion and his combative in-your-face approach.
Any particular memories of West Ham/Spurs games of the past?
I would have to go back to the game at Upton Park a few years ago when Gareth Bale scored THAT goal. To get a late winner when you are playing away is always somehow more satisfying than when you are at home; to get one of that quality is just the icing on the cake. I was right behind the goal and saw the ball from the time it left Bale’s foot to the time it hit the back of the net.
If you could have any current West Ham player in your first team who would you choose and why?
Manuel Lanzini. He has pace and vision and the all important knack of making things happen. He has the skill and imagination to play the killer pass that breaks down stubborn defences.
Which Tottenham player(s) will be key to your hopes this season?
I’ll go for the obvious. Harry Kane. If he gets injured or loses form for any length of time then it’s hard to see Spurs’ making a serious challenge for a top four finish.
How do you expect Tottenham to setup against West Ham on Saturday/ Team/formation prediction?
Five at the back, with Serge Aurier and Ben Davies playing as attacking wing backs. Eric Dier as central defensive midfielder just ahead of the back five. Three in midfield — Christian Eriksen, Mousa Dembele and Dele Alli. Kane up front.
Prediction for score?
2-0 to Spurs. We’re due a decent performance against West Ham having lost the last two away league fixtures 1-0 playing well below our best. And the team have looked much more comfortable on their travels than they have at home.
My thanks to @JohnJCrace for his comments, however I don’t think I can share his North London optimism, I’m going for a repeat of the last two years’ scoreline 1 – 0 to the Hammers – Come on you Irons!