Hammers clash a big chance for Tottenham to highlight development
With Tottenham's confidence sky-high after a draw against Real Madrid and a 4-1 triumph over Liverpool in the past week, Wednesday's League Cup clash at home against West Ham looks an enticing opportunity to book a cup quarterfinal as well.
After all, while Spurs have won six of their last seven games, their London rivals go into this match on the back of a 3-0 home defeat against newly promoted Brighton, with Slaven Bilic under pressure.
Yet that very dichotomy could make this a tough tie for Tottenham. The north Londoners' last two results will do little to change Mauricio Pochettino's view that his side can aim higher than League Cup glory and should be focusing on Premier League and Champions League success instead, while Bilic desperately needs a result -- beating Spurs to reach the last eight of a cup would be the perfect tonic.
The two managers are therefore likely to take different approaches when selecting their lineups, possibly narrowing the gap between the sides. There would of course be great disappointment and no little anger if Pochettino, with his side flying high, picks a weakened side that crashes out of the tournament against struggling West Ham, of all teams.
Of course, this was also the stage when Spurs were eliminated last season, bowing out as soon as they came up against another top-flight side (Liverpool) in the fourth round.
A repeat, this time on home turf, would seem another wasted opportunity given the north Londoners are fully capable of winning this trophy and ending their wait for silverware. There is also value in maintaining momentum and nurturing a new-found feelgood factor at Wembley.
However, Tottenham visit Manchester United on Saturday before hosting Real Madrid next Wednesday -- two difficult fixtures which nonetheless hold great possibility if recent evidence is anything to go by. Few could therefore blame Pochettino for resting a few key players against West Ham.
Indeed, after watching Harry Kane drag himself off the floor and seemingly hold his hamstring as he left the fray late on against Liverpool on Sunday, most fans would probably be concerned rather than pleased if he started again.
One thing is for sure though -- Spurs' squad is stronger than last year, and Pochettino can rotate with greater confidence. Seven players were missing for the 3-0 victory over Apoel Nicosia in Cyprus -- a fixture Borussia Dortmund drew 1-1 -- and Tottenham have achieved other impressive results without Mousa Dembele, Victor Wanyama, Ben Davies and Danny Rose, while Dele Alli has been suspended for all three Champions League matches. Eric Dier was additionally only fit enough for a 10-minute cameo against Liverpool due to illness.
A Tottenham lineup featuring six changes this Wednesday, potentially, would be rather stronger than the side that was knocked out 12 months ago at Liverpool, when Pochettino selected Cameron Carter-Vickers, Kevin Wimmer, Josh Onomah, Tom Carroll, Georges-Kevin Nkoudou and Vincent Janssen.
The question is just how strong Spurs' squad is these days -- good enough for a weakened side to beat West Ham's seniors, if Bilic does indeed put all of his resources into this derby duel?
Having made his only Tottenham appearance in the third round tie against Barnsley, this would certainly be a test for 19-year-old Juan Foyth -- especially if he finds himself up against Andy Carroll. The same applies for 20-year-old Kyle Walker-Peters, even if he faced Newcastle on the opening day. Having played on both flanks in his two starts this term, Walker-Peters seems likelier to line up at right-back on Wednesday, if selected, given Pochettino has suggested Danny Rose could start.
But Tottenham's manager will want to mix youth with experience and ensure his side are not outmuscled -- anathema to the uncompromising ex-Argentina centre-back.
Moussa Sissoko is sure to start after only being a substitute against Liverpool, probably with this match in mind. And if Dier is well enough to be involved from the off, that would give Pochettino extra power. Fernando Llorente would provide a physical presence too.
Llorente lacks Kane's pace and mobility but Son Heung-Min is in line to operate behind the Spaniard and offer his pace, having been withdrawn in the 69th minute against Liverpool, Dele Alli could play again -- as he did against Barnsley -- after getting an enforced rest against Real Madrid last week.
There is then a chance that Erik Lamela may be among the second half reinforcements, making his return from injury exactly a year to the day after his last match, when Spurs exited the League Cup.
Tottenham's strength in depth has improved since Lamela's last match but it is set for a fierce examination by Bilic's side, who have had an extra two days to prepare and may view this as one of their biggest games of the season.
Will it be deja vu for Spurs or will they show just how far they have come since that deflating night at Anfield, and this time keep fighting on all three fronts?
Ben is ESPN FC's Tottenham blogger. Follow on Twitter: @BenPearceSpurs.