West Ham United-Tottenham Hotspur Preview
Dele Alli is on cloud nine as he and his Tottenham Hotspur teammates take to the field in a fifth-versus-sixth clash with London rivals West Ham United on Sunday.
19-year-old Alli has only been a Premier League player for a little over three months, but has taken his debut top-flight season by storm and his performances to a new level with first a man-of-the-match display in the north London derby a fortnight ago before being voted the best player on the pitch in a goal-scoring full England debut against France on Tuesday.
Now an almost certain starter for Tottenham (5-6-1) when they take on their London rivals West Ham, there will be more focus on Alli than he's ever experienced, and manager Mauricio Pochettino knows he needs to shield the youngster from the limelight as much as possible.
"I think we need to be careful with him because a lot of things have changed with him now, in his new reality," Pochettino said. "We need to protect him.
"It's impossible to stop all of that around him, but we need to protect him to try to make sure he keeps his feet on the ground so he can keep developing his potential."
But it's not just Alli whose star is in the ascendancy at White Hart Lane. Fellow midfielder Eric Dier was also extremely impressive for the England national side in midweek, excelling in a central midfield role that he moved into just a few months ago.
"When I look back I think I've surprised myself, but everything has happened so quickly that I haven't really had time to think about it," explained the English youngster, who joined Tottenham as a centre back but has also played at right back. "We play game after game after game. We don't really have time to stop and think.
"I'm enjoying it at the moment as well and I'll try to play as well as I can, enjoy it and keep improving."
Both Alli and Dier are likely to start against West Ham, but fellow midfielder Nabil Bentaleb will miss out after picking up a knock on international duty with Algeria. Nacer Chadli and Alex Pritchard remain absent for Spurs, while the much-improved Erik Lamela is suspended. Summer signing Heung-min Son is expected to make his first start in two months after recovering from a foot injury.
Injuries are also a worry for high-flying visitors West Ham United (6-3-3). Slaven Bilic's side have been hugely impressive so far, particularly away from home in producing eye-catching displays to beat Arsenal, Liverpool and Manchester City.
But the driving force behind the Hammers' form - midfielder Dimitri Payet, who has five goals and three assists - is set for a three-month absence due to an ankle injury.
"Payet is our best player and our most important player, especially when it comes to scoring goals, assists or keeping the ball, so we are going to miss him and it is a big blow for us," Bilic said. "We are not going to play with ten players but he is irreplaceable. He is one of those players who make your team better by ten, 20 or 50 per cent.
"The others have to step up and do more for us to make his absence feel less than huge for us."
West Ham also have injury worries over Alex Song (ankle), Enner Valencia (ankle) and Diafra Sakho (hip), but do have Andy Carroll available, and the big striker will be a useful weapon against a Tottenham defence that looked shaky defending the high ball in their last game. Carroll has scored in two of his three appearances against Tottenham for West Ham.
West Ham are enjoying their best start to a Premier League campaign, winning four of their six away matches, and have lost just one of their last nine. Spurs are unbeaten since the opening day of the season, have yet to lose at White Hart Lane this season and dropped just two in 19 at home dating back to last season.