Two sides struggling for form meet after the International break looking to return to winning ways in the London derby, as Jose Mourinho takes charge of his first game as Spurs manager.
Without a win in six league games stretching back to the 2-0 win over Manchester United in September, Manuel Pellegrini’s side will be looking to bounce back from a disappointing run of form with victory over Tottenham side who have undergone a turbulent week, having seen the exit of long-term manager Mauricio Pochettino on Tuesday night.
Second guessing the tactics Mourinho will choose to employ in his first game makes it a tough one to predict, whilst also factoring in Spurs’ Champions League clash with Olympiacos on Tuesday night, there could be a number of surprises the Portuguese manager opts for.
Tottenham come into the game on the back of a poor run of form, but they will be buoyed by the lengthening injury list of West Ham, as well as the improved form from players on International duty. Harry Kane, Harry Winks and Christian Eriksen are amongst those who had successful trips away with their national sides, and Mourinho will be hoping this confidence continues into the London derby on Saturday.
His predecessor showed tactical flexibility this season by swapping between a back four and five, as well as a tendency to rotate, particularly ahead of a busy period including Champions League games, meaning that it was often hard to predict who the Argentine manager would opt for.
The uncertainty around Mourinho’s team choices heading into this week makes it equally as hard, but it would no be surprise to see him look to improve the defence before worrying about the attack, and a counter attacking formation, similar to how Spurs set up against Everton and Liverpool in recent away games, would be expected. The utilisation of quick wingers in these away games under Mourinho at United, through Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial, could see starts for the likes of Heung-Min Son and Lucas Moura on the wings, although Son’s travels with South Korea could see him elect for a different option.
Who he opts for centrally awaits to be seen, however Mourinho will need to find the balance between Winks, Tanguy N’Dombele, Eriksen and Dele Alli, as well as who can offer the defensive solidity, with Moussa Sissoko and potentially Eric Dier being used
as the defensive midfielder. With the creativity expected to come from the front four, Dier could be utilised in this role, particularly with his aerial advantage against a direct Hammers side, however he has looked off the pace and struggled against both Sheffield United (at CB) and against Brighton when thrown in at the deep end. The balance to the midfield is hard to predict, but it would be surprise to see solidity prioritised.
Pellegrini has favoured a 4-2-3-1 formation throughout the season so far, and it would be no surprise to see this tactical consistency continue for Spurs’ lunchtime visit. However, Pellegrini has got a huge task to replace Argentine playmaker Manuel Lanzini, who’s creativity will be sorely missed for West Ham. The lack of creativity was highlighted in defeat against Newcastle, where he was used as a second half substitute to help instigate a fightback, helping to contribute an assist. Reintroduced to the starting eleven against Burnley, he went off injured after 31 minutes, and West Ham’s subsequent expected goals for the game only reached 0.47. His two assists this season is only topped by Felipe Anderson on three, whilst he tops the West Ham stats for key passes (1.9 per game) and completed dribbles (2.5 per game). This loss of creativity, as well as ability to drive the team up the pitch effectively will be missed by Pellegrini’s side, and how he replaces the Argentine will have a huge bearing on the game.
Without Lanzini in the side for West Ham, and with the possibility of Mark Noble and Jack Wilshere also missing out, the make-up, and tactical set up of West Ham’s attack and midfield could well be interesting. The Spurs full backs have consistently shown themselves to be vulnerable defensively this season, and a susceptibility to crosses was highlighted under immense pressure by both Everton and Liverpool in recent weeks, as well as Watford’s opener on the break in the 1-1 draw. This is certainly an area which West Ham will be able to exploit, and the Brazilian attacker Felipe Anderson will be key to any hope that Spurs have of getting a result.
Potentially up against the inconsistent, and often defensively worrying Serge Aurier, Anderson’s dribbling ability and speed on the break will be key to the hopes of West Ham. It would be no surprise to see Spurs target the flanks of West Ham as well, given their vulnerabilities highlighted by Burnley, particularly down the right with Andrey Yarmolenko’s lack of tracking back, however this could also play into the hands of West Ham if they are able to exploit this space vacated by the overlapping full backs, and brings into play the impressive hold up play of Sebastien Haller. The Frenchman is West Ham’s top scorer with four goals this season, and up against Toby Alderweireld and Davinson Sanchez, he will be confident of showing his aerial dominance once again. Winning 6.9 aerial duals per game, he ranks first in the Premier League, and it could tempt West Ham into operating in a more direct fashion than normal. Eric Dier started and struggled against Sheffield United last time out, so
a switch back to Alderweireld is expected. If Michail Antonio was to return on the wing, he offers a further aerial threat to the West Ham attack, particularly up against Danny Rose. The goalkeepers are often instructed to kick long, and it could see a percentage-based approach in an attempt to gain a result, especially with the missing Lanzini.
The direct approach, coupled with an impressive ability to break particularly through Anderson, was key to their last victory against Manchester United, as they soaked up large amounts of pressure comfortably, defending deep to help stifle the United attack’s pace, and could see a similar tactical set up once again to warn against Son and Lamela. However, by sitting deep, it puts a large influence on the likes of Declan Rice and would allow the space for Spurs’ creative midfielders in front of the box. However, Spurs have struggled to break teams down and have at times struggled with being one-dimensional, relying upon crosses into the box from full backs and wingers to try and create chances. Their xG of 12.87 from open play highlights this, and as a result it would require an upturn in form, or potentially the introduction of the likes of Lo Celso to add a new dimension to the Spurs attack, and allow them to break down the West Ham defence.
How Mourinho tries to adapt this awaits to be seen, however one weakness he will certainly look to exploit is West Ham’s poor defending from both corners and set pieces this season. With an xGa of 5.27 from corners and 1.68 from set pieces, Mourinho will not be afraid to utilise set pieces, an area where Tottenham have struggled to attack this season. There is a lack of height in the Spurs side, however Kane, Alderweireld and Sanchez are amongst those who do possess enough threat to pose problems, so this is certainly a tactical element Spurs could look t exploit.
It becomes a traders nightmare on a number of markets trying to guess how Tottenham will set up, but by trying to second guess both Mourinho and Pellegrini’s tactics, it does open up some intriguing options.
When considering the defensive frailties of both sides, it is understandable to see why goals are considered such a short price. However, there could be an angle to oppose a high scoring game, when considering that Mourinho, as well as Pellegrini, may look to stem the tide of attacking threat for the opposition, prioritising this over attacking creativity. West Ham’s issues surrounding replacing Lanzini lie over the squad, and without him they have struggled to create. Although there are obvious weaknesses in both sides defensively, both teams not to score at 17/10 (BetVictor) looks to be too big to ignore, especially when considering Tottenham and West Ham’s struggles from open play according to xG.
The injury concerns for West Ham also tend to make me favour a Spurs win, and although Mourinho will have only had since Tuesday to work his magic, there is enough talent, particularly going forward, to break down a potentially weakened West Ham side, who will particularly miss Mark Noble in the middle if not passed fit. A big if, but if Mourinho harnesses the sleeping attacking talent in his side, 5/6 (BoyleSports) against a struggling West Ham side is a worth option.