West Ham moved above Tottenham and into the Premier League top four with Sunday’s win over their rivals, but neither the table nor the scoreline adequately reflected the growing chasm between the two clubs.
Spurs fans mockingly refer to this fixture as West Ham’s ‘cup final’ but yesterday the meeting felt far more significant for the visitors, who were beaten by Michail Antonio’s goal.
As Spurs supporters trudged away from the London Stadium, perhaps the most depressing realisation was that the result — and the manner of it — should not have come as a surprise.
These are two clubs on very different trajectories: one looking primed for another top-four challenge, while the other is in danger of being dragged into a mid-table scrap.
At best, Tottenham are stuck in a state of drift, desperately search for meaning and momentum under Nuno Espirito Santo. At worst, they are in the midst of a dramatic decline, which began long before the 2019 Champions League final and is showing no signs of slowing.
West Ham, though, are in the ascendency and continuing to improve under David Moyes. There is a buzz around the club, a sense that something exciting is happening.
This result was further evidence of their growing maturity under Moyes, as they rode out spells of Spurs pressure, delivered a characteristic sucker-punch from a set-piece and dug deep to see out the win.
The Hammers’ previous two defeats this season have come after Europa League fixtures — and both to last-gasp goals — so their strong finish against a more rested Spurs was further evidence of their development.
Moyes named a side with five of the same XI who started in the impressive 3-0 win over Genk on Thursday but were nonetheless the stronger after the interval, when Spurs failed to muster a single shot.
Spurs, by contrast, made 11 changes and Nuno Espirito Santo desperately needed a result to justify his decision to leave his entire first XI at home for Thursday’s defeat to Vitesse Arnhem.
Nuno’s selection decisions underlined the importance of the derby and risks creating a two-tiered squad, with midfielder Harry Winks having already suggested that splitting up the group has impacted morale.
The defeat felt like another blow to Nuno’s authority and raised more questions about his man-management and tactical acumen, as his side lost to a London rival for a fourth time this season.
The winning goal came when Antonio poked a leg in front of the statuesque Harry Kane to direct Aaron Cresswell’s corner into the back of the net.
It is tempting to say that the two strikers best emphasised the differences between the two club, but Kane looked threatening in the first-half, testing Lukasz Fabianski with a firm header and releasing Heung-min Son with a trademark pass from deep.
Antonio was full of menacing running but met his match in Sergio Romero, with their individual battle one of the game’s most intriguing subplots.
The striker twice outmuscled the Argentine to create chances in the first-half but you wondered if Spurs would have fared better had Romero been marking Antonio for the goal.
The stats showed Antonio and Kane covered roughly the same amount of ground but the West Ham No9 completed double the amount of sprints — 18 to Kane’s nine — which said plenty about Tottenham’s worrying malaise after the interval.
A better indication of the difference between the sides was the performance of Declan Rice, who was colossal again in the heart of West Ham’s midfield. Rice barely missed a beat on the ball and snapped into challenge after challenge to consistently disrupt Tottenham’s attempt to build rhythm and control midfield.
On paper, there is little choose between the two squads and Tottenham perhaps have an edge, given the quality of Kane, Son and Tanguy Ndombele.
Spurs’s problems are far bigger than Nuno but you were still left wondering about the impact of the managers, as West Ham saw out a result very much in Moyes’s image.
Nuno has had far less time than Moyes to make an impact but the problem is that it is still unclear what the Portuguese wants to do.