The 35th round of the 2016/2017 Premier League season saw Tottenham given the chance to put pressure on Chelsea with a rare Friday night kick off against West Ham at the Olympic Stadium.
A win for Spurs would give them a 3-day period being just the 1 point behind Chelsea, and testing, for the first time this season, the true resilience of Conte’s side, while a win for West Ham would take them past the magical 40 point ‘safe’ barrier.
Thus far the results have been very much ‘Parry and Thrust’ over the past few weeks, with the two leaders of the table matching the others in grit, determination and result. With 4 games to go it has very much been a question of ‘who blinks first’.
The recent form of both teams might make one believe that the result was a formality, but that would be to ignore the pressure involved in a London derby, and the requirement for the 3 points by both teams, for very distinct reasons.
West Ham’s record at their new home has not been a good one, but certainly this was not the thought in the opening 15 minutes, where they more than matched Tottenham for pace and aggression. Playing Tottenham at their own game in closing-down and snuffing out any chances of attack before they had a chance to develop. As a result, the play was mainly congested in midfield with only small out breaks of attacking football.
Until that is, the 21st minute, when a swift Tottenham break saw Adrian save smartly with his legs from 2 Harry Kane shots. The second of which was an instinctive flick away when Kane should probably have done better. From the resulting corner Adrian once again showed fantastic reflexes to save a sharp header from Dier that was angling into the top corner.
West Ham began finding gaps through Tottenham’s midfield at will, having tremendous success down their right-hand side. Walker seemingly neglecting his defensive duties on several occasions and having to rely on his speed to track back. One gets the impression that perhaps his head has been turned by Manchester City. Certainly, his game was nowhere near the level of his previous games over the last few seasons.
Lanzini for West Ham by contrast was dictating play in a way that the Hammers have been crying out for since the departure of Payet. He was instrumental in much that was great about West Ham’s play, dictating the pace and organisation of the attacks.
The main talking point of the first half involved Hugo Lloris on 26 minutes, after a Mark Noble through-ball to Lanzini. With the Tottenham defence split down the middle, it was left to Lloris to charge out of his goal to meet the oncoming ball before Lanzini could reach it. At first glance it seemed that Lloris may have handled the ball outside the box and taken out Lanzini completely. The referee, however, let play go on and this was vindicated upon seeing the replays. Lloris clearly took the ball and did not touch with his hand. Indeed, Kouyate could and should have done better as the ball came clear of the melee with nobody in the goal.
The first half ended with Tottenham in the ascendancy although the possession was mainly just within the West Ham half without really threatening the goal.
The second half was much of the same: Fast attacking, hard defensive play, although West Ham were beginning to see more of the ball, and cause the Tottenham defence real issues almost every time they went forward.
In the 65th minute they got their reward. Tottenham were once again all over the place in defence, after been given a number of chances to clear the ball, a bout of ping-pong in the box ensued, which resulted in the ball falling to Lanzini, who thrashed home from 7 yards.
Spurs answer was to make a number of changes to step up their attack: Trippier, Jansen and Dembele all came on with Vertoghen, Wanyama and Walker making way. This did little to stem the tide, however, and Tottenham were limited to long range efforts with little success.
Indeed, West Ham had the better chances to increase their lead when Alderweireld – usually an absolute rock in the Tottenham defence – was caught in his own box trying to play himself out of trouble. Calleri stole the ball, and probably should have scored except for a fine save from Lloris.
As the half wore on, tempers began to flare, but West Ham had done their job of frustrating Tottenham, and probably handing the Championship to Chelsea, with possibly their best performance of the season.
As of now Tottenham look to have, once again, fallen short. Chelsea now have the chance – by playing twice before Tottenham’s next game – to seal the Championship before the week is out, and the worry is that Tottenham will fall away again in their remaining fixtures. Second place is a must for this team though, one feels, if they are to keep this group of players together and hope to strengthen the squad for next season.
Written by John Baker
Anything to add? Feel free to leave a comment below.
You can like/follow us on social media using the links below.
Facebook , psfootball