March 2, 2016
Just a quick one from me in light of what we have just witnessed, as I feel like I need to unburden myself. Spurs’ main strength this season has been the ability with which we have implemented and stuck to our game plan. Tonight, against West Ham, we came up against a side who did the same, only better than us.
It is a huge compliment to Spurs that West Ham effectively set up like an away team, or a lower league side in a cup match. They could be forgiven for being confused and thinking it was a cup match, since they do treat this fixture like an annual final. The home side were happy to concede possession tonight, confident in their ability to keep us out.
Whilst we played our usual 4-2-3-1, West Ham opted to line-up in a 3-4-3. They had a back three (with Cheikhou Kouyaté as a makeshift centre-back), four across the middle (with Aaron Cresswell pushed up to the left of midfield), and — most importantly — Dimitri Payet (and, to a lesser extent, Manuel Lanzini) very high in support of Emmanuel Emenike.
Their front three put us under intense pressure from the beginning, and Kieran Trippier, Ben Davies and Hugo Lloris in particular struggled to maintain their passing quality. Trippier could not cope with Payet, Emenike occupied our centre-backs (giving Kevin Wimmer several scares along the way) and chased down Lloris terrifically, and Lanzini and Michail Antonio worked Davies over on the left.
But whilst there were poor individual displays, it was West Ham’s system which floored Spurs. We found it difficult to transition from back to front, and ended the first half having had zero shots. Their front three wouldn’t let us pass out, and their midfield two worked hard to stop us having any time on the ball.
No Mousa Dembélé in midfield meant that we could not just give him the ball and bypass the first line of defence – Ryan Mason and Eric Dier had a tough ask, and they struggled in a tough midfield battle with Mark Noble and the impressive Pedro Obiang, who made eight tackles (the same number as Mason).
The second half was somewhat different. Whilst we started fairly flat still, we played with more purpose, and with a ruggedness which at least gave the impression that we would not take defeat lying down. But ultimately it became a war of attrition, and West Ham seemed quick to the second balls and did well to keep us away from goal.
Harry Kane looked shattered, Nacer Chadli was ‘bad Chadli’ — he does that sometimes — and Son Heung-min’s touch eluded him when he came off the bench. It was not our night.
I felt at half-time that Mauricio Pochettino should change tactics and go to a midfield diamond and two up top (Kane and Chadli/Son). He could even have matched up to their 3-4-3/3-4-2-1, given that he had the versatile Dier at his disposal. But I can forgive him for having faith in our side to break them down, since we have done that so often of late.
We have shown this season that we are wonderful at bouncing back, and it is now up to the coaching staff to lift the team for the big one on Saturday. Win that and the feel-good factor is back again. COYS!