It’s Hamster time and it’s another chance for our young but maturing side to measure itself, strange though it may seem given the name of the opponents, against one of the country’s better outfits.
At times this season West Ham have been mightily impressive (not a sentence one sees very often) especially away from home. At other times though they’ve been inexplicably lacklustre. Their defeats to Bournemouth, Leicester and Watford stand in stark contrast to their victories over Citeh, Woolwich, Liverpool and Chelsea. Slaven Bilic’s brief in August will have been to avoid being in the bottom three come May, to move into the Olympic stadium playing Championship football would’ve been hugely embarrassing.
Far from flirting with danger though he’s quickly put together a well-organised, speedy and skilful side that will provide a test to our unbeaten run even without the injured Payet and Valencia. In Lanzini, Zarate, Sakho and Moses they have an attacking quartet full of movement and if one of those isn’t available (or been picked up by the cops, again) there’s the prospect of Andy Carroll taking up where Giroud left off a fortnight ago; he might start anyway given the vulnerability of our Belgians in the air. Two of Kouyate, Noble and Song will give good protection to the back four and it’s probably safe to say that it’s here, in goal and in defence that their biggest weaknesses lie.
So how do we cope with this multi-pronged attacking threat and get to their fragile back line? Well by hassling and chasing and trying to make the most of their mistakes of course as we always do. In the absence of the suspended Lamela we’ll be without our hassler in chief but by the sounds of it he picked up a muscle injury in Argentina so the suspension is good timing. Pochettino will have to decide who to bring in as a replacement with Son probably the favourite given his potential for a goal or two. He won’t be match fit but has had a couple of outings with South Korea so should be well on his way. Dembélé, Eriksen, Dier, Alli will take their places behind Son and Kane with the back four, assuming nobody’s picked up anything strange during the week, the same as it was a fortnight ago. If Poch decides that Son isn’t ready yet then Mason is the obvious alternative.
A win against a good side will be a real feather in the cap and those sides at the top will start looking over their shoulders. Leicester are due a bad run, Man Utd are scaring no-one and we’ve got a head start on Liverpool, Chelsea and Southampton.
Anthony Taylor is down to referee.
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