Big Sam's pragmatism vital vs. Spurs
With a relatively decent win against Sampdoria in the final warmup game of the summer under his belt -- and with the endorsement of no-lesser figure than Sir Geoff Hurst ringing in his ears -- Sam Allardyce approaches West Ham's opening game against Spurs with something resembling a little less trepidation than might be expected. Exactly what state the club will be in by 5 p.m. on Saturday is anyone's guess.
Much will be made of West Ham's three wins over Spurs last season, and the North London club will be desperate to prevent it from reaching four. In truth, though, these are the types of things that bother fans more than players.
Tottenham's new manager Mauricio Pochettino will only be concerned with getting off to a winning start and won't place much importance in what happened last season. Some of the Spurs players involved in the last campaign may be inspired to ensure they don't get another beating, but anyone who thinks this is all about local pride is living in another decade.
Not so the fans, of course. There was a time, before the Year Zero of the Premier League, when Spurs and West Ham played each other pretty much on an equal footing and, although that's not the case any longer, most Hammers fans don't see Tottenham in the Champions League mold, and they view games against their bitter rivals as easier than those against Chelsea and Arsenal.
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Three points should certainly be obtainable. It's likely, though, that both managers may see this game as one best not lost, and Allardyce will face his first test -- his own desire to ensure he gets a point, up against the owners' expectations to attack to win.
Against Sampdoria, there was much debate about what exact formation the manager had employed. Although Allardyce should be applauded for attempting something new, the fact remains that if Big Sam did use his first-choice team in the friendly against the Italians, then Carlton Cole as front man and Kevin Nolan just behind is exactly the same formation that rightly brought the former Bolton manager so much criticism last season.
Some of the midfield play was impressive in Saturday's game. Cheikhou Kouyate looked a vital addition in a holding role, while Mohamed Diame played superbly when he came on at halftime.
In defence, Stewart Downing appeared more than accomplished in a right wing-back position, but elsewhere others looked unsure of what to do. James Collins is one of those backs-to-the-wall-type players who always seems at his best when under pressure, hoofing and heading the ball away to great effect. Against Sampdoria, though, the affectionately named "Ginge" was noticeable only for some poor clearances -- some while not even under pressure -- that had the midfield and defence immediately funnelling back.
It's unpalatable to most, but if the Hammers lose their "hard to beat" tag, yet retain their toothless attack, then this will be a long, hard season. Saturday's result shouldn't be vital in terms of 38 games but, in order not to start early panic, a point apiece might well suit Allardyce.