West Ham stun Spurs as Pochettino's squad depth fails Carabao Cup test
LONDON -- Three conclusions from West Ham's remarkable 3-2 win over Tottenham on Wednesday in the Carabao Cup fourth round at Wembley.
1. West Ham stun Spurs
West Ham recovered from 2-0 down at half-time to stun Tottenham and progress to the quarterfinals of the Carabao Cup with a 3-2 win at Wembley. Spurs were unbeaten in five matches at their temporary home before the game and they appeared to be coasting to victory at the break, courtesy of goals from Moussa Sissoko and Dele Alli. But a quick-fire double from Andre Ayew and a header from Angelo Ogbonna sealed a remarkable comeback and left the Hammers supporters celebrating wildly at the final whistle.
Just as against Liverpool, the hosts started quickly and the sixth-minute opener again came from a devastating counter-attack. Juan Foyth beat Andy Carroll to a header in the box and within seconds Son Heung-Min was galloping into acres of space after touches from Danny Rose, Ben Davies and the deftest flick by Fernando Llorente. The South Korean kept his cool to play in Sissoko, completely unmarked, who passed into the corner. West Ham had three centre-backs on the pitch but not one was close to the Frenchman.
The goal did not open the floodgates, although Alli nearly doubled Spurs' lead when he met Kieran Trippier's cross at the back post, only for Adrian to make an acrobatic save. It felt like Spurs could go up a gear and on 36 minutes they did. Son was the architect again, feeding Alli after a spell of possession and the England international opened his body and curled into the far corner. "Slaven Bilic, we want you to stay," sang the Spurs fans.
It felt like that was that, but West Ham came out fighting after the break. Ten minutes into the second half, Spurs' marking from a corner was lax and Edimilson Fernandes had space to fire a low drive towards goal. Michel Vorm saved but Ayew poked home the rebound. Suddenly the game was alive and Spurs were making sloppy mistakes, prompting groans from the home support. Five minutes later, it was 2-2 when Davies lost Manuel Lanzini and Ayew was on hand to convert the Argentine's cross from close range.
West Ham were in the ascendancy, their fans sensing an upset. They completed the turnaround when Ogbonna rose to glance home a near-post header from a corner. "Tottenham Hotspur, it's happened again," sang the West Ham fans.
Spurs piled on the pressure in the final 10 minutes in the search of an equaliser, and both Sissoko and Alli forced fine saves from Adrian -- surely in better form than Joe Hart -- in the second half. But West Ham clung on to seal a huge confidence boost ahead of the relegation showdown at London rivals Crystal Palace on Saturday.
Spurs, meanwhile, lose momentum ahead of their own six-pointer at Manchester United, which could go some way to deciding which team is best placed to challenge Man City for the title. On this evidence, it is not Spurs.
2. Pochettino's squad falls short
Mauricio Pochettino may say publicly that the Carabao Cup is not a priority, but his lineup suggested he wanted to beat West Ham and progress to the quarterfinals. He made seven changes but it was hardly the kids, and his strong XI included Toby Alderweireld, Eric Dier, Alli and Son. Pochettino's main gripe about the domestic cups is that they take too much out of the squad, derailing the club's progress in the "real trophies" -- the Premier League and the Champions League.
But on this evidence, Spurs do not have the squad or the mentality yet to win the bigger prizes in football. The way they collapsed in the second half without captain Hugo Lloris and vice-captains Harry Kane and Jan Vertonghen suggested a lack of leadership in the squad and they looked short of ideas at 3-2 down, at least until the introduction of Mousa Dembele and Christian Eriksen. Pochettino had called for his fringe players to show why they are at Tottenham but the second-half collapse will not convince him that he can afford to be without his stars for any important league or European matches.
Pochettino has dismissed the idea that Spurs need to win a trophy as a signpost of progress and to teach the players how to win -- a policy that has worked so well in Jose Mourinho's career -- but this defeat was an indicator that Spurs are still not quite where they want to be yet.
3. Bilic retreats from the brink
Whenever it looks like Bilic is about to be sacked, the West Ham manager beats Tottenham and saves his job. The 49-year-old was on the brink before West Ham's 1-0 win over Spurs at the London Stadium in May -- the second time the Hammers had derailed their rivals' title hopes with a 1-0 home win -- and he repeated the trick at Wembley, inspiring his team to a remarkable second-half comeback.
At half-time, West Ham looked down and out and the Spurs fans were gleefully singing for Bilic to stay in a job. But the Croatian's great strength is motivation and what he lacks in a philosophy, he makes up for in an ability to get his players going for important matches. There was no sign of that at in the first half, when his team were insipid and uninspired, but the fight they showed after half-time proves he has still got it and allayed any fears that he has lost the dressing room. The supporters are also on his side and, at 2-0 down, they were signing, "Sack the board," rather than calling for Bilic's head.
A defeat at bottom-club Crystal Palace on Saturday would plunge Bilic back towards the abyss but he will not, as the Spurs fans predicted, be sacked in the morning. Once again, he has won West Ham's cup final and potentially saved his job.
Dan is ESPN FC's Tottenham correspondent. Follow him on Twitter: @Dan_KP.