Spurs have enjoyed near total dominance of their East London rivals in recent seasons but this opening day fixture provides them with the chance to correct last season’s wrongs. Following three shambolic performances against the Hammers last season, Spurs need to go back to basics to ensure their superior quality is enough to take all three points. Spurs were both complacent and naïve in their approach to last season’s game and opening their account at the Boleyn Ground provides Spurs and Pochettino (whose Southampton side were beaten 3-1 at Upton Park last season) the perfect opportunity to demonstrate that lessons have been learnt.
Despite the addition of Teddy Sheringham as West Ham’s new ‘attack’ coach, it would be very surprising to see Allardyce veer from his functional style of football. They will be physical and direct. They will look to use the aerial prowess of Andy Carroll and they will look to exploit a perceived soft centre to the Spurs side. Inevitably, the hosts will launch the ball into the air numerous times and will look to impose themselves on the game early on.
This said it made Spurs’ approach to last season’s encounter all the more baffling. Admittedly, it was end of season fair but the game should have been an opportunity to salvage some pride against a side Spurs are used to dominating. It was also an opportunity for Sherwood to dispel the criticism of his tactical acumen. Instead, Sherwood made a number of startling tactical errors. Firstly, in insisting on continuing with his favoured 4-4-2 system he failed to compensate for the fact West Ham employ a 4-5-1 and would look to over-run Spurs in midfield. Spurs’ midfield consisted of Lennon, Sigurdsson, Paulinho and Eriksen who were overwhelmed by a motivated and physical West Ham. Consequently, Spurs’ backline were under intense pressure from the off and Kaboul’s early red card compounded the issue. Were it not for the heroics of Hugo Lloris, the 2-0 scoreline would have become even more one-sided and embarrassing.
Compare this to the 3-2 victory Spurs secured at West Ham in the 2012-2013 season and key differences (beyond Bale) are identifiable. The team lined up in a 4-5-1 system with Scott Parker patrolling the space in front of the Spurs defence. Jan Vertonghen, although not in his favoured position, was also employed at left-back to help the Spurs backline cope with the aerial threat posed by West Ham. Doubters may point out that Spurs relied on Bale’s magical intervention and that Spurs still conceded two goals but a brief statistical comparison of the two games highlights the need for such a prudent approach. In this fixture, Spurs enjoyed 62% of the possession and registered 25 shots on the opposition goal. However, last season Spurs enjoyed a mere 53% of possession and registered 12 shots on the West Ham goal (West Ham managed 20 on ours).
In light of this, Pochettino must show pragmatism in the way he approaches this fixture. His Southampton side were beaten 3-1 at Upton Park last season and questions could be asked about his team selection. He replaced Dejan Lovren in his backline with rarely used Maya Yoshida in central defence and for once, his agile full-backs appeared unable to cope with the direct and physical approach taken by West Ham. Southampton’s defensive midfielder, Victor Wanyama, also missed the game due to injury. The outcome was a surprisingly straightforward victory for the hosts who finished well below Southampton in the final Premier League standings. These encounters seem to suggest that preparing the team for the challenges posed by West Ham will be crucial if Spurs are to begin with a winning start. It is therefore, the perfect opportunity for Spurs and Pochettino to show the fans that they have learnt from last season and are ready to sustain a convincing assault on the Top four this season. COYS.
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