Can Big Sam’s Hammers inflict Tottenham’s fourth straight Premier League defeat?
It has been 18 months since Tottenham last crossed swords with West Ham in March 2011, when the gap between the sides could hardly have been wider.
Spurs had just overcome AC Milan and secured their place in the Champions League quarter-finals, while Avram Grant’s Hammers were about to be relegated.
The Irons actually performed well against the Lilywhites that season, taking four points from a possible six after a 1-0 victory at Upton Park and then a goalless draw at White Hart Lane.
However, those two results could not save them from the drop – and Harry Redknapp took advantage by raiding his former club to sign Scott Parker for �5million.
Fast forward to the present day and, having returned to the top flight at the first attempt via the play-offs, Sam Allardyce’s outfit are currently ahead of Spurs.
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The Hammers’ position is hardly an accident and, having held Manchester City to a 0-0 draw at the Boleyn Ground two weeks ago, they triumphed 1-0 at Newcastle before drawing 1-1 with Stoke at home on Monday night.
It is a measure of West Ham’s form that Allardyce was disappointed with that result – and the heavyweight contest certainly emphasised certain similarities between the two sides’ approach.
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Like Tony Pulis, Allardyce is renowned for embracing the physical side of the game and using it to keep his teams in the top flight.
Critics might call it ‘winning ugly’, but Big Sam has never been relegated from the Premier League – and Blackburn and Newcastle both went down within a couple of years of sacking him.
Now his current side are now hammering away at Premier League defences again, and they have eagerly added Andy Carroll to their ranks, managing to get the �35million battering ram on loan from Liverpool and adding him to a striking department which includes 6ft 3ins Carlton Cole.
Carroll is yet to score this season, but his aggressive displays up front have been a key factor in his side’s success, and his old Newcastle chum Kevin Nolan has benefitted with five goals.
Nolan was one of Allardyce’s first signings at West Ham following their time together at Bolton – and he is not the only ex-Trotters man in the Hammers side, with goalkeeper Jussi Jaaskelainen joining defender Joey O’Brien in the rearguard on a free transfer.
Mohamed Diame also cost nothing when he arrived from Wigan in June, and the Senegal international has been a revelation in the engine room of the Irons’ 4-5-1 formation.
On the other hand, winger Matt Jarvis cost �7.5million – but the ex-Wolves man is likely to miss today’s derby so Matt Taylor, who is returning from injury and appeared as a substitute against Stoke, could start on the left.
While the Hammers often look for a direct route into the box, the likes of Mark Noble and Gary O’Neil are happy to keep the ball on the deck, and some of the passing against Stoke was hugely impressive.
Allardyce took Yossi Benayoun on loan from Chelsea in the summer to add further intricacy and flair to his side, but the Israel international is also likely to miss out so O’Neil should keep his place.
While it would be harsh to brand West Ham a simple long-ball team, Allardyce will be aware that Spurs have been bullied in the air this season – as Olivier Giroud showed last Saturday at the Emirates.
Indeed, Andre Villas-Boas was sufficiently concerned about Edin Dzeko’s introduction at Manchester City that he responded by bringing Michael Dawson off the bench.
Dzeko ultimately got the better of his marker to hit the late winner at the Etihad, but there is a strong case for pitting Dawson against Carroll today.
With Younes Kaboul sidelined, Dawson may be the only defender who can handle the Hammers’ front man in the air – as he did so successfully when Spurs beat Carroll’s Newcastle 2-0 at the Lane in 2010.
The verdict: West Ham have only conceded one goal in their last three games, and they look well set up to cause Tottenham problems.
Of course, the Hammers have also had six days to rest and prepare for this game, while their hosts were in action in Rome on Thursday night.
If Allardyce’s side can use their size to dominate the Lilywhites in both boxes, while also packing the midfield and keeping Spurs’ wingers quiet, they could win this – 1-0 to the Irons.
Follow me on Twitter @BenPearceSpurs