As far as local derbies go, West Ham versus Tottenham is a particularly nasty one. The Hammers really, really hate Spurs, and they will not hesitate to tell all and sundry about it. There is nothing they love more than beating the lot from north London.
For Spurs, the feeling is not quite mutual. One need only look at the celebrations that followed Sunday’s 2-0 win over Arsenal to see that the Gunners are the ones they really love to hate.
Maybe this comes down to status. Arsenal have won titles, and previously a win over them were the only bragging rights Spurs fans could truly earn. This year, however, there really is a power shift, and it has been proven emphatically in the league table. Spurs are 17 points ahead of Arsenal. They are 38 ahead of West Ham.
But here’s the rub. Spurs must win every game between now and the end of the season if they are to be champions. They lie four points behind Premier League leaders Chelsea and they cannot expect the Blues, who have been truly irrepressible for the majority of the season, to endure such a dip as to allow Spurs to rein in a seven-point margin.
Thus, West Ham can end their bitter rivals’ albeit faint title hopes this Friday night, under the lights at the London Stadium.
There are echoes of last season in this. Mauricio Pochettino’s men travelled to Upton Park for a midweek game in March knowing that a win would send them top, ahead of Leicester City, for the first time in the run-in. Spurs were on a six-game winning run but turned in one of their worst performances of the season and lost 1-0 to a West Ham side that turned in one of their finest.
The result would set the tone for a late-season collapse that ultimately handed the title to the Foxes, and how the Hammers would love for history to repeat itself.
While Pochettino’s men have won admirers for their swashbuckling play and numerous exceptional victories, Slaven Bilic and his charges have not been quite so impressive.
West Ham moved into the London Stadium at the start of the season but the problems have been innumerable. Security issues, some truly shambolic performances, and the departure of Dimitri Payet to Marseille have left the Hammers in a position that few will have foreseen in the summer.
Bilic is under pressure, with newspaper reports even suggesting that his side’s performance against Spurs, as well as in the upcoming game against Liverpool, could decide his future.
The reality is far from that stark. Sources have told Goal that Bilic is planning for next season, and expects to retain his job if the club stays up, but the feeling of unease persists. The club are not yet mathematically safe from relegation, though they do lie seven points ahead of 18th-placed Swansea. Another victory is surely needed to put any doubts to rest.
There is, then, an argument that this game could not have come at a better time. Spurs are indeed riding the crest of a wave – they have not lost since February and are in the midst of a nine-game winning run – but the fact that West Ham can derail their title hopes adds an element of intrigue to what would otherwise be seen as a London derby that Spurs should, surely, win.
The Hammers’ current defining result at the London Stadium is a 2-1 win over Chelsea in the League Cup, though that game was marred by crowd trouble and generated several negative headlines, and they remain on the hunt for a marquee victory.
Beating Tottenham, the rivals who regard the Hammers as little more than an annoyance, would shut down the critics, and ensure that, as the chant goes, “it has happened again”.
And perhaps more importantly, it would surely deprive Spurs of the title they so desperately crave.