After getting favourable results around them mid-week, Tottenham Hotspur can take a huge step towards securing a top-four spot Saturday at White Hart Lane – provided they do not look past London derby rival West Ham United.
The Lilywhites (23-1-11) are third in the table on 70 points, three better than Chelsea and four ahead of Arsenal with three matches remaining. Should Spurs win this game, they will eliminate fading Manchester United from the top-four chase, and a victory coupled with an Arsenal loss at Leicester City on Sunday would do the same to the Gunners.
It is understandable to look beyond the permutations of the magic number for a top-four finish considering Tottenham Hotspur have their first-leg Champions League semifinal tie versus upstart Ajax at home Tuesday. But Spurs boss Mauricio Pochettino should have the attention of his side for this derby after they needed nearly all 90 minutes to grind past Brighton and Hove Albion on Tuesday.
Despite holding an overwhelming share of possession, playing most of the match in Brighton’s half, and amassing a 30-6 edge in shots, Spurs lacked a cutting edge in the final third. The match called for a moment of magic and Christian Eriksen delivered with a low 25-yard drive that beat Mathew Ryan inside the right post on 88 minutes.
“It was relief, yes, unbelievable,” Eriksen told the Spurs’ official website. “We know these games are very close and very tough. Brighton are a difficult team to play against because they are waiting for us, everyone was in their box so it’s difficult to find any space to play any football and create any big chances.
“Before the season started we would have signed up for being in the semi-finals of the Champions League and being where we are (in the Premier League). Of course we would love to have gone even further in the Premier League as well, but at the end you need to win the games you can. We’ve done that in the Champions League and we also need to do that in the Premier League to secure our place in the Champions League again next season.”
The new White Hart Lane has quickly proved to be an imposing atmosphere as Tottenham have won all four of their matches in all competitions, scoring eight goals without conceding. The Spurs have won three of their last four in league play after a five-match winless spell (0-1-4).
Pochettino’s side have fared well in London derbies this season, taking 19 of a potential 27 points (6-1-2) and going 3-1-0 at home. Three of the four matches were at Wembley, with only their 2-0 victory over Crystal Palace coming at their new digs.
Spurs are still without talisman Harry Kane and likely without injured midfielder Moussa Sissoko, who was forced off of Tottenham’s 4-3 second-leg Champions League loss at Manchester City with a groin injury. There could be midfield reinforcements, though, as Harry Winks and Erik Lamela could return to the fold.
With Heung-Min Son suspended for the Ajax match, he will likely lead the line, though Spurs’ second forward could be any one of Lucas Moura, Fernando Llorente or Vincent Janssen.
On Tuesday, Janssen made his first appearance of the season as an 80th-minute substitute and at the very least will likely be included in the 18 for this match, as he is not on the Champions League roster.
West Ham United (12-7-16) need a victory to entertain any hopes of a top-half finish as they enter this contest 11th in the table, five points back of Leicester City. The Irons have come undone defensively of late, shipping 13 goals in taking just four points from their last six matches (1-1-4).
Manuel Pellegrini’s team settled for a point in their last outing after a 2-2 draw at home versus the Foxes. Lucas Perez gave West Ham hopes for all three points with a goal in the 82nd minute, but had a second goal chalked off for offsides and the Irons let Leicester City off the hook in stoppage time through Harvey Barnes.
Midfielder Robert Snodgrass was quick to move on past the disappointment of dropping two points and to the challenge of this derby. Like Spurs, West Ham have been mainly positive in their matches against London rivals with four wins and two draws among their nine matches.
“You want to be testing yourself against the very best and Spurs are in the semi-final of the Champions League, so it’s one where the fans will want to obviously go and win,” Snodgrass said. “It’s doesn’t motivate me any differently 1/8that they’re in the Champions League semi-finals 3/8. It’s Spurs and if you’re not motivated for that, there’s no point in turning up. There is so much at stake, with the rivalry between the two clubs, so I think that’s the game you obviously want to win and get the bragging rights, finish the season on a high and get the three points.”
Michail Antonio scored West Ham’s other goal, following up his strong effort as a substitute in the loss to Manchester United a fortnight ago. Pellegrini will likely have Chicharito Hernandez available after the Mexico international sat out the Leicester match with an ear problem.
Lead striker Marko Arnautovic’s starting spot could be up for grabs after going a 10th straight contest without a goal last weekend, and the Austria international has just two shots on target in the last four matches as part of the first XI.
Lamela’s goal just before halftime separated the sides in east London in October when Spurs posted a 1-0 victory in the reverse fixture. The Lilywhites also bounced West Ham from the Carabao Cup at London Stadium with a 3-1 win behind a brace from Son.
Tottenham have not done the double over West Ham since 2012-13, and the Irons’ lone win in their last 16 league visits to Spurs (1-6-9) was a 3-0 victory in October 2013.
PREDICTED FINAL SCORE: Tottenham Hotspur 2, West Ham United 0.
(Christian Eriksen/Dele Alli photo courtesy Tottenham Hotspur official Twitter account)