This is a particularly difficult line-up to predict. I don’t get to watch the players train – I don’t even know if that’s today, yesterday or both. I don’t get to ask the players how they’re feeling in terms of fatigue. And I don’t get to run late fitness tests on those returning from injury.
What I’m pretty sure on is our back 6, our front 1 and that there will be some, but not much, rotation. Here’s about as good a guess as I can manage:
Onomah, Carroll and Bentaleb continue to threaten for game time.
So once again I’ve predicted that Alli will be rested and time and time again I’ve been wrong. I didn’t think he’d start last Thursday against Fiorentina and then he spent 84 minutes endlessly hounding Fiorentina’s defence. But, although he did once again start against Swansea, despite me suspecting otherwise, he did finally look tired. So, I’m doubling down and saying that this is finally the game he gets a nice sit down for – at least until he comes on as a sub. Does that mean Eriksen starting his 3rd consecutive game with a 4th (giant) game to come soon? Maybe he’ll be rested and Lamela or Son will get a stint in the middle.
Moving on to Eriksen: he played as a ‘deep-lying playmaker’ (the ‘2’ in a 4231) against Swansea and as a heartbroken Luka Modric fan it’s something I’ve been hopefully waiting for, for a long time. (With a renewed anticipation following Eriksen playing deeper and deeper since we last played West Ham.)
I thought he played very well in the role, especially in the second half, but even though his defensive play was impressive I suspect it’s a party piece that Poch will save for playing against teams that will set up to play defence-first rather than his main role going forward.
Although West Ham would be stupid to play their usual attacking game I don’t think they’ll go as far as playing defensively enough to count as that ‘parked bus’ style that would see us play Eriksen deeper, especially as they’ll be at home. Instead I expect them to play more of a pro-active counter-attack; desperate to win the ball and break forward in numbers at every opportunity.
When we played West Ham before they were missing Dimitri Payet. He’s become more than the excellent player he is for West Ham, he’s a talisman that has come to represent the change to exciting, attacking football under Slaven Bilic. The difference in West Ham’s performances with and without Payet are night and day even to the extent that his returning substation against Liverpool seemed to lift the whole team in a way that made made me think they might overcome their 2 goal deficit.
It might be tempting to think suffocating West Ham is as simple as man-marking Payet but we must be careful of other attacking influences such as Lanzini and Antonio – although the latter may well be forced to play at right back due to an injury crisis there.
I think West Ham will use something of a 4321 (not entirely different to our own shape). This will help them to flood the centre in attempt to match our narrow attacking overload. They’ll have a lot of creativity, centrally, between Payet, Lanzini and Song and will look to use that to supply the full-backs as they in turn try to put early crosses into Carroll.
Before the 4-1 victory over West Ham earlier this season I wrote about Tottenham’s difficulty dealing with target men like Andy Carroll. We silenced Carroll that day by cutting off the supply but I doubt we’ll be entirely successful in that at The Boleyn Ground. Instead we now have the aerially dominant Kevin Wimmer.
Wimmer’s been so impressive in Vertonghen’s absence that the question of who takes the role upon Vertonghen’s return isn’t entirely preposterous. Okay, so Jan is still the favourite but I wonder if Wimmer might get a look-in for games, like this, against tall forwards or if one of the three CBs will be considered an option in defensive midfield in order to rest Dier. What a predicament to have.
Davies and Trippier will have their work cut out as they try to pin back and beat Cresswell and Antonio whilst staying mindful of Payet and Lanzini. Eriksen, or whoever starts in the 10 role, will bet set to mark Song.
Last time against West Ham we pinned Noble and Kouyate back into very defensive roles and if we can do that again (but this time with Song too) whilst finding a way to encourage Payet and Lanzini to stay forward we will create a gap in the midfield area from which we can dictate our play and isolate their attack.
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