LONDON — West Ham United edged out Tottenham Hotspur 1-0 at Upton Park on Wednesday in a huge London derby under the lights.
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Here’s what we learned from Upton Park as Spurs head into Saturday’s North London Derby against Arsenal on the back of a defeat.
PRESSURE IS GETTING TO SPURS
We haven’t really seen this from Spurs so far this season. Even in their home defeats to Leicester and Newcastle United they dominated most of the play and created chances. There was none of that on Wednesday as Pochettino’s side lost away from home for the first time since the opening day of the season.
After winning six-straight PL games to move within three points of first-placed Leicester, Spurs’ run had to come to an end sometime. But on his 44th birthday Pochettino would not have expected his side to go down in this disappointing manner. Spurs were outworked, especially in midfield, as Ryan Mason and Eric Dier gave the ball away cheaply time and time again, plus the decision to switch full backs backfired as both Kieran Trippier and Ben Davies struggled in possession. Even the ever-reliable Harry Kane fluffed his lines with a glaring miss in the second half from six yards out with the goal gaping.
That missed chance summed up Spurs’ night. Nothing went right and whether you can put that down to the law of averages or struggling to cope with the rising pressure on their shoulders, it’s hard to judge. A win would have sent Spurs to the top of the table but their away fans had absolutely nothing to shout about after perhaps their worst display of the season. West Ham bullied and pressed them high, but Spurs were out-of-sorts and have now put more pressure on themselves ahead of the North London Derby this weekend. Pochettino needs a response from his young side in a pressure-cooker environment and he’ll hope their shocking display at Upton Park was no more than a blip. Spurs hadn’t been top of the league in March since 1964. Perhaps the weight of expectancy is finally impacting Pochettino’s young side.
ANTONIO’S HOT-STREAK CONTINUES
Forget his Homer Simpson celebration after his goal against Sunderland on Saturday. Forget his Carlton Banks celebration after scoring against Tottenham on Wednesday. The most impressive thing about Michail Antonio is his incredible work rate.
Antonio, 25, only made his Premier League debut earlier this season but after scraping away in the non-league scene and the lower leagues, he’s taking his chance in the top-flight by the scruff of the neck. I’ve been watching Antonio closely since he was in League One with Southampton in 2009. He has always had raw pace and power but you’d question his final ball or cross into the box. That’s improved. So has his finishing. He even scored another but it was ruled out with Emmanuel Emenike offside and flashed a volley over from another Payet free kick in the second half.
Antonio has now scored six goals in his last seven appearances at the Boleyn Ground and his deft flicked header at the neat post beat Hugo Lloris when perhaps he should have done better. Take nothing away from Antonio, it was a powerful header and the winger from south London is in the form of his life. And oh yeah, he was deployed out of position at right wing-back on Wednesday as his defensive duties were warmly applauded on multiple occasions by the home fans. West Ham have all of a sudden launched themselves into a top four challenge. They sit one point behind fourth-placed Manchester City with 10 games to go and are 14 games unbeaten at home, a run which stretches back to August. Antonio, more than anyone in Claret and Blue, epitomizes the relentless work rate of Slaven Bilic‘s side who were set up in a 3-5-2 formation. With just five games left at their famous Boleyn Ground home, the Hammers look well-placed to secure their best ever finish in the Premier League. Through sheer hard work and desire they continue to impress and delivered a special performance for their fans against one of their fiercest rivals.
STATUS QUO, DESPITE DEFEAT, FOR SPURS
Despite this dismal display, Spurs are in the same spot they were before the game. Three points behind leaders Leicester City and three points ahead of Arsenal who they face on Saturday in the hugely pivotal North London Derby.
This was a big opportunity missed for Tottenham but it certainly isn’t the end of their title hopes. With Leicester drawing on Tuesday, Arsenal losing 2-1 at home to Swansea City on Wednesday and Manchester City losing 3-0 at Liverpool, they haven’t lost any ground. Speaking after the game, Pochettino pointed to the incredibly competitive nature of the PL this season to try and explain why the big teams are slipping up. Pochettino also mentioned that Spurs have played three games in a week, but failed to make excuses for their first half display.
“The Premier League is the most competitive league in the world. You can see this every week,” Pochetino said. “For different reasons, it is not easy to play every week. We are at the top and come from a very busy period where we play Europa League, FA Cup and Premier League in one week. This is tough. But there are no excuses, only that we were poor in the first half.”
With 10 games to go, perhaps this defeat will give Spurs a wake up call and spring them into life. They can’t afford to waste this golden opportunity to challenge for the title, especially with everybody else slipping up around them. They remain in the hunt but will have to pick themselves up.