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Back under 2.5 goals when Tottenham Hotspur do battle with West Ham United this weekend. Antonio Conte’s charges have not played well in their last two games, and this could be a cagey affair.
One step forward, two steps back. That is a succinct summary of Tottenham Hotspur’s season. After back-to-back 1-0 victories over Fulham and Manchester City, it looked as if a corner had been turned. The latter triumph was especially impressive, coming as it did against the current favorites to win the Premier League title.
Tottenham headed to the King Power Stadium last weekend striving to win a third consecutive top-flight match for the first time this campaign. They fell well short.
A 4-1 thumping by Leicester City meant they lost ground in the race for the top four, with Manchester United picking up three points and Newcastle United gaining one. Many Spurs supporters are even starting to look over their shoulders at Liverpool, who are now seven points behind the north Londoners having played two fewer matches.
Antonio Conte’s side then followed up that defeat by Leicester with another in midweek. In the first leg of their Champions League last-16 tie, an early goal from Brahim Diaz brought AC Milan a 1-0 victory at San Siro.
It was not a disastrous result for Tottenham, who still have a good chance of turning the tie around. Indeed, the best online sportsbooks offer odds in the region of +125 on the Premier League team advancing to the quarter-finals at Milan’s expense.
However, Spurs’ insipid performance is cause for concern. They had more of the ball against AC Milan but created only 0.5 expected goals and landed just three shots on target.
Tottenham can still make this season a success. They are in the Champions League and the FA Cup, and chasing down the top four in the Premier League. But they are unlikely to achieve their objectives if they continue to be consistently inconsistent.
West Ham United have performed below expectations this season. After sixth- and seventh- place finishes in David Moyes’ two previous full campaigns at the helm, the expectation was that West Ham would once again challenge for the Europa League or the Europa Conference League - or perhaps even more.
But the Hammers have found things tough going this season. Surprisingly, that is despite them possessing the strongest squad they have had for some time.
Perhaps that has actually been part of the problem. Moyes has done an excellent job at the London Stadium, and in his first two full seasons he tended to stick with a settled side in which every player knew his job. With more options at this disposal this time around, the Scot has struggled to find the right balance.
There is also the issue of Moyes not being particularly well suited to coaching players like Lucas Paqueta and Said Benrahma, off-the-cuff talents who can win a game with their skill but are not always the best at following detailed tactical instructions.
West Ham have at least inched clear of the bottom three in recent weeks, but they have not left the relegation battle behind just yet, as a gap of just two points indicates.
Moyes’ men have won less than a quarter of their matches this term (five of 22) - that is a ratio that needs to improve if they are to open up a larger buffer above the relegation zone. West Ham have at least gone three games unbeaten in the Premier League, their joint-longest stretch without defeat this season.
In the 2020/21 and 2021/22 campaigns, West Ham were always a difficult team to play against. They were physical, competitive and solid, and it was often hard for opponents to break them down. They have regressed in that regard this season, but the last few weeks suggest Moyes’s men may have recaptured some of the old steel.
One defeat in their last seven matches in all competitions is undoubtedly an improvement on what went before. It is probably no coincidence that West Ham’s uptick in form has coincided with a reduction in the number of goals in their matches. In each of their last six outings, there have been two goals or fewer.
That is one reason why we are tipping under 2.5 goals on Sunday. The Hammers will keep things tight at the back and aim to frustrate a Tottenham team that is not particularly adept at unseating deep defenses.
Harry Kane is enjoying an excellent campaign, even though he is unlikely to finish as the Premier League top scorer, but Tottenham’s other attackers have mostly been disappointing. Do not expect this London derby to be a thriller.
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Greg Lea is a freelance soccer journalist from London. He is the former editor of The Set Pieces, and has contributed to the Guardian, FourFourTwo, and ESPN. A Crystal Palace fan, he is a long-time subscriber to the belief that it's the taking part that counts. Email: [email protected]More info on Greg Lea
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