West Ham vs. Tottenham: 4 Key Battles to Watch
The last time these two teams met, it resulted in a resounding success for the hosts. Oh, and also for a certain former Hammer...
Jermain Defoe struck twice in the 3-1 win for Tottenham over West Ham at White Hart Lane, with the only positive point for the visitors being that the overly expensive Andy Carroll scored a rare goal. It was an important victory for Spurs, who ended an unsavory run of three consecutive defeats.
At that moment, just a point separated the London rivals. That gap is now a whopping 18 points.
With Tottenham flying high in the league—just a point behind manager Andre Villas-Boas' former club Chelsea—West Ham have gone back to their more natural way of living in the Premier League; inconsistent, frustrating and certainly in danger of slipping into the relegation zone.
And that's why this weekend's clash at Upton Park is so crucial.
A win for the Irons would lift them comfortably onto 33 points, just seven short of the "40-point mark," widely seen as the amount of points needed to survive relegation, with 12 games to go.
But after their last-gasp equalizer against Lyon, which saw them progress to the Europa League Last-16 draw, confidence in Spurs camp will be at an all-time high. A win, with Chelsea facing a tough clash with Manchester City at the weekend, would be a timely boost in their Champions League conquest.
It promises to be an exciting clash filled with high-octane play and crunching challenges. And the odd squat from Villas-Boas. Let's look at the key battles in the game, shall we?
Jussi Jaaskelainen vs. Jermain Defoe
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He may be on the wrong side of 30 years of age, but Jermain Defoe still possesses the attribute that the 19-year-old version of himself had: striking fear into the opposition.
And Jussi Jaaskelainen, with all of his 14 years playing in English football, will know better than most people that Defoe is an opponent he just cannot ignore.
Defoe put two past the former Bolton stalwart in November's clash at White Hart Lane, and ran the West Ham defenders into the ground with his intelligent attacking play.
And 39-year-old Finland international Jaaskelainen will be desperate to keep a clean sheet, or at the very least, prevent Defoe from repeating his success in the previous fixture.
Defoe is currently 50/50 to make the clash after recovering from an ankle ligament injury, and Jaaskelainen will be hoping to be put up against the out-of-sorts Emmanuel Adebayor instead of the England forward.
Andy Carroll vs. Michael Dawson
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It's fair to say that Andy Carroll's last two years have not gone to plan, but the England international will be desperate to return to top form when West Ham play Tottenham.
The towering striker has been plagued by injuries and poor form ever since his £35 million move to Liverpool from Newcastle United in January 2011, and has moved on loan to the Hammers until the end of the season, with a view of a permanent move in the summer.
While his form has been poor—just two goals in 11 games for the Irons—he scored his first West Ham goal was against Spurs, which is surely a good omen for the 24-year-old.
His only other goal was against Swansea three weeks ago, and the former Newcastle man will be determined to stay injury-free and prove himself. But commanding center half Michael Dawson, who turned down a move to QPR in the summer, will be up to the task of halting Carroll.
With West Ham's aerial style usually benefiting Carroll, it could be an emphatic battle with both players eager to impress their respective managers.
Mark Noble vs. Scott Parker
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It's the battle of the cliched "tireless midfielder," but Mark Noble of all people will be disappointed he will be lining up against Scott Parker, not with him.
The two used to form the fearsome center midfield for the Hammers before Parker opted to exit Upton Park in a £5 million deal to join Tottenham in the summer of 2011.
The 32-year-old midfielder played a key part under Harry Redknapp before he was sacked, and has seen his chances limited under current boss Andre Villas-Boas. Nevertheless, he can play an integral part in ensuring the midfield stays solid at Upton Park.
Noble is one of the dark horses for the Irons; his efforts, both in terms of creativity and tackling, provide the Hammers with the spirit and determination they need in tough times.
It will be interesting to see how Noble comes up against his former teammate, but the former England Under-21 international's fitness levels could enable him to get the edge over Parker.
Gareth Bale vs. the Whole West Ham Defence
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Is there player more in form at present than Welsh wing wizard Gareth Bale?
The obvious mentions of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo are predictable, and people should not get carried away with comparisons of 23-year-old Bale.
On the other hand, ignoring Bale is just not an option. Fail to deal him, and you'll suffer as a result. Just ask Lyon, Newcastle, West Brom...need I go on?
It's not often that a left-back goes to being a left winger before being used as a main striker, but Bale's pace and eye for goal—he's scored 17 times this season—means he's too valuable an asset to leave out.
His pace and confidence on the ball allows him to skip past defenders without too much trouble, but the small pitch at Upton Park and physical nature of this West Ham squad could make it difficult for Bale.
However, it seems that the ruthless Sam Allardyce will be hoping to keep the former Southampton man quiet. And if the likes of Winston Reid and James Tomkins close him down quickly, they should have some success.
Surely, stopping Bale scoring would be an achievement with his form right now.