Tottenham Hotspur-West Ham United Preview
Tottenham Hotspur could be the kings of London by week's end. It could go a long way in them being Premier League champions by season's end as well.
The big-city club with even bigger dreams of winning their first title since 1961 play the first of their two crunch derby encounters this week versus West Ham United on Wednesday in their final league match at Upton Park.
It's a heady time to be a footy fan in London with Spurs (15-9-3) and Arsenal chasing Leicester City for the Premier League crown while West Ham United (11-10-6) have put themselves in contention for their first Champions League appearance in club history. Reigning champions Chelsea have regained the plot to attain top-half status after their disastrous start to their title defence, though Crystal Palace's recent form has them moving in the wrong direction from mid-table.
But the focus here is on Spurs and Hammers, with The Boleyn Ground in east London once more bathed in the spotlight. The heated rivalry extends from the pitch all the way up to the clubs' respective boardrooms, the animosity between the latter ratcheting high earlier this decade when West Ham outflanked Spurs to move into Olympic Park, which was built for the 2012 London Olympics and has been refurbished by Hammers, who will move into the grounds full-time for the 2016-17 season.
Both clubs are in the ascendancy, though the north Londoners make the trek from White Hart Lane and Seven Sisters with the more urgent need for three points - a victory would put Spurs atop the table over Leicester City on goal difference - but also to hold Arsenal at bay ahead of their pivotal clash with the Gunners on Saturday at home.
"We're looking forward to it this week - we don't fear anyone so these next two games for us are just about going out there and doing what we've been doing," Harry Kane told Tottenham's official website. "It's going to be tough at Upton Park first of all. West Ham are good at home, they're on a good run of form but so are we so it's going to be a good game.
"Obviously their fans will be up for it but so will ours so it's going to be a great atmosphere on the night and we're looking forward to it. Hopefully we can go there and get the three points."
Spurs have gained those three points in all types of fashion, entering this match with six wins on the bounce in league play. They rallied for a 2-1 victory over Swansea City on Sunday, getting goals from Nacer Chadli and Danny Rose seven minutes apart in the second half for a deserved victory during which the Lilywhites unloaded 34 shots - 14 on frame.
"At times, you play much better than the opponent and it was fantastic to score that second goal," Spurs manager Mauricio Pochettino said. "We deserved the result and three points is very important. I'm very pleased for the team. ... We have a squad that deserves to be in the position we're in and for that, I'm very proud."
Coming from behind to win is nothing new for Spurs. They have a Premier League-best five victories and 17 points in matches they've conceded the first goal this season, and the 34 points they've claimed in such instances since Pochettino took over are 10 more than the second-best team in that span.
For this match, Tottenham will again be without first-choice regulars Mousa Dembele and Jan Vertonghen, and winger Dele Alli is a match-time decision. Pochettino will have Tom Carroll, who is healthy after missing three matches across all competitions with an Achilles injury.
With 43 points, West Ham are sixth in the table, one point behind Manchester United for the division's Europa League spot and four back of fourth-place Manchester City - though the Citizens have a match in hand in the race for the final Champions League spot.
Hammers are unbeaten in four matches overall after Saturday's 1-0 victory over Sunderland, with Michali Antonio netting the winner on the half-hour. West Ham also are 8-5-0 at Upton Park since losing to Bournemouth on Aug. 22, with three victories in the spin.
"He has worked very, very hard, and he has had to wait, he didn't moan or sing, then he got his chance which he took," manager Slaven Bilic told West Ham's official website about Antonio. "His pace and energy was always there, now tactically he is also getting there, and he is a very important player for us."
Bilic will need to make one change since defender Sam Byram has accrued 10 yellow cards - seven while at Leeds before his move in the January transfer window. Forward Diafra Sakho may be available after returning to training this week. The Senegal international has been sidelined since late November with a thigh injury.
West Ham chairmen David Sullivan and David Gold released a statement warning the team's supporters that there will be a zero-tolerance policy of discrimination, which includes "racist, anti-Semitic and homophobic behaviour."
The fan bases have clashed repeatedly in recent years, with a stabbing outside White Hart Lane before Spurs' 4-1 victory in the reverse fixture in November, and two Hammers fans were arrested for anti-Semitic chants and Nazi-style salutes - Spurs have a large contingent of Jewish fans - during a 2012 match at Tottenham.
In November, Kane scored on either side of Toby Alderweireld's first-half marker and Kyle Walker added the fourth before Manuel Lanzini netted a late consolation for West Ham.
Even with a double over Spurs in 2013-14, Hammers are 3-3-11 against Tottenham in the top flight since the start of the 2006-07 season.