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Madrid aim to keep UCL run alive vs. Spurs

Five Aside
Read
 By John Crace

Tottenham need Dele Alli, Christian Eriksen to step up against West Ham

Don Hutchison looks at three key things that could help West Ham beat London rivals Tottenham on Saturday.

Take a look at the Premier League table and it's hard to believe that Tottenham are in fifth place. OK, so we're only five games into the season and Spurs are only ahead of five other teams based purely on goal difference, but the defeat by Chelsea, and the two disappointing draws against Burnley and Swansea at their temporary Wembley home, would have suggested something much worse.

That Spurs are still within touching distance of the two Manchester clubs at the top of the table is entirely down to one thing, and one thing only: their away form.

Manager Mauricio Pochettino has tried to play down the effect that playing at Wembley has had on his team, but the longer Spurs' poor results continue the more explaining he will have to do. The only game in which Spurs have looked close to their old selves at the national stadium has been against Borussia Dortmund in the Champions League. It's unlikely to be a coincidence that was the one match from which little was expected of them, given the quality of the opposition and the struggles Spurs had at Wembley in European competition last season.

In the Carabao Cup on Wednesday, Tottenham laboured their way to a 1-0 win over Championship strugglers Barnsley, while in the league they have already dropped seven points at home. That's four more than they dropped in the whole of last season at White Hart Lane. It's the kind of home form that will kill their chances of a top-four finish. Only Pochettino and his players can know for certain whether the problem is a mental one or whether they are still adapting to the larger dimensions of the Wembley pitch.

Away from home it has been a different story. In the 2-0 win at Newcastle on the first weekend of the season, they moved the ball around confidently and might easily have scored more, especially after the home team were reduced to ten men, while against Everton they looked entirely untroubled from start to finish as they ran out 3-0 winners. So it must come as a relief -- to fans, if not to players -- that Spurs' next two fixtures are away from home. The first is at West Ham on Saturday lunchtime, followed by a trip to Huddersfield seven days later.

That said, West Ham hasn't been the happiest of hunting grounds for Spurs in recent years. After the excitement of last-minute winners from Gareth Bale and Eric Dier in past meetings, Tottenham have come unstuck in their last two visits. In the 2015-16 season, Spurs froze when they had a chance to edge ahead of Leicester in the run-in and lost 1-0 at Upton Park after conceding an early goal. And last year at the London Stadium, Spurs lost by the same margin in an uncharacteristically disjointed display as they sought to keep the pressure on Chelsea in the title race.

Dele AllI celebrates after scoring a goal for Tottenham in their Carabao Cup win against Barnsley.
Dele Alli has struggled to capture his finest form in the early weeks of the season.

The question on Pochettino's mind will be whether these two results were just a one off or whether West Ham manager Slaven Bilic has discovered a weakness and come up with a strategy to nullify Spurs' attacking options. The most probable answer is the former, as surely Bilic hasn't spotted something that all the other Premier League managers have missed. But even so, Spurs will need to be at the top of their game if they are to make it three away wins out of three. West Ham won't be in the mood for giving Tottenham any freebies in a needle derby game.

Crucial to Spurs' success will be the midfield. In particular, Christian Eriksen and Dele Alli. At Wembley, Eriksen has all-too-often tended to drift out of games. He has been unable to find the killer pass and has dropped deeper and deeper when he is needed in attack. Despite his three goals - two in the league, one in the Carabao Cup - Alli has also been not quite himself all season. He has got frustrated at being closely marked and his little flicks and touches have been going astray. If all the talks about his future at the club have got to him, someone needs to remind him that he is a Spurs player for the rest of the season at least.

Spurs need Eriksen and Alli to refind the form they showed at the end of last season. To be fair, Eriksen has looked more his old self away from home. If he can repeat his performance against Everton then he could cause trouble for the west Ham defence.

Though Tottenham have a Champions League away game against Apoel Nicosia coming up on Tuesday, Pochettino must send out his best available side. Spurs can't afford to drop any more unnecessary points so early in the campaign.

Mousa Dembele must come in for Moussa Sissoko, who has done nothing to justify Pochettino's faith in him. Serge Aurier should also come in for Kieran Trippier at right-back. Trippier has been out of sorts all season, not least with his crossing, while Aurier has injected some pace and threat down the right flank in his early appearances since arriving from Paris Saint-Germain.

Most of all though, it's time for Spurs to relax and enjoy themselves. At Wembley they have looked overwhelmed by the burden of expectation they have created, and they have made their football look like joyless, hard work. What better place to rediscover their sense of fun than at West Ham?

John Crace is one of ESPN FC's Tottenham bloggers. Follow him on Twitter @JohnJCrace.

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