That there is no such thing as a Wembley hoodoo for Tottenham Hotspur was established with last week’s 3-1 defeat of Borussia Dortmund, a team that tops the Bundesliga without the concession of a single goal.
Wednesday’s 1-0 Carabao Cup defeat of Barnsley further buried the cliche, but ignoring that Spurs have a problematic relationship with their temporary home would be a sincere mistake. With Manchester City and Manchester United streaking away at the top of the table, Tottenham can barely afford to drop points as they undergo a process of acclimatisation.
West Ham United
“Home” Premier League draws with Burnley (1-1) and Swansea (0-0) have announced that well-organised opposition present a problem for Mauricio Pochettino’s team at Wembley. “Genius,” said smirking Burnley manager Sean Dyche, while Swansea boss Paul Clement admitted drawing up a “very specific plan.”
“I love to play at Wembley,” said Pochettino on Thursday. “I prefer to play at Wembley, but it’s true the results there from the start of the season have not been the best.”
Tottenham have already dropped as many points at Wembley as they did in the entirety of White Hart Lane’s final season, and until the national stadium becomes a similar fortress, great pressure will be placed on away form. Their next three matches are away from home, with West Ham on Saturday lunchtime being followed by a trip to Cyprus’ Apoel Nicosia and next Saturday’s visit to Huddersfield.
So far, impressive wins at Newcastle (2-0) and Everton (3-0) have kept Tottenham on track on the road, but Saturday at West Ham is a visit to an unhappy hunting ground. Spurs fans will remember only too well that last season’s title challenge was wrecked by a 1-0 loss at the London Stadium, an occasion enjoyed to the fullest by the home contingent.
On a Friday night in May when West Ham’s home at last replicated the bear-pit atmosphere of Upton Park, Tottenham came up disastrously short and could never get back into the game after Manuel Lanzini had scored in the 65th minute. A nine-game winning run came to an unceremonious halt. “It was a big disappointment to us,” Pochettino said. “It is our enemy, our sporting enemy. We know very well what it means for our fans to play against West Ham.”
In the Premier League, Tottenham, despite being a far better team than their East London rivals throughout that period, have won at West Ham just once in the past four seasons and lost 1-0 there in their past two visits. Against an opposition that their fans enjoy beating more than anyone else, the Hammers always seem able to raise their game.
“Those are the patterns that we want to repeat on Saturday,” said Hammers manager Slaven Bilic on Thursday. “And knowing that we are playing against a top team, if we repeat everything — because against them you need a complete performance — then we have a chance.”
Bilic is an admirer of what Pochettino has achieved in North London, and expressed sympathy for the problems his counterpart faces in making Tottenham more comfortable in unfamiliar surroundings. The Hammers’ first season at the London Stadium was riddled with quibbles and queries about his team’s ability to play there, and Bilic suggested that Spurs are likelier to find life easier in surroundings that are more akin to White Hart Lane.
“It is only natural what happened to them,” he said. “It happened to us in the first part of last season. It happens to basically all the clubs who move stadiums. It affects your performances. It may be bad luck in some of those games, but it is a thing we have been talking about.
“Their away game wins were both at grounds that were like White Hart Lane. At St. James’ Park and especially Goodison, they have a small pitch and that reception.”
As Bilic acknowledged, West Ham cannot rely on Tottenham’s problems with playing in wide-open spaces to pull off a third successive home win. “They have the quality, and they won in the Champions League against Dortmund,” he said. “They have patterns, they have individual quality, they have pace and they are the team building up for three years now; they are improving the team, adding squad-wise, young players, and that for me makes them maybe the best team, or the most attractive, definitely.”
Judging by West Ham’s past two Premier League matches, a bruising 2-0 win over Huddersfield last Monday, and Saturday’s 0-0 draw at West Brom, which passed by without a single scoring chance, the Hammers are unlikely to match Tottenham for attractiveness. To continue their happy travels, Spurs will probably have to grind this one out.
John Brewin is a staff writer for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @JohnBrewinESPN.