A lively encounter saw both teams give each other plenty to think about as it finished Bayer Leverkusen 0-0 Spurs in our Champions League clash.
Different pressing systems were on display at the BayArena as it finished Bayer Leverkusen 0-0 Spurs in Champions League Group E. Each team conducted and responded to it in different ways. Tottenham controlled the first half, but a change in tactics from Leverkusen swung the second in their favour.
Leverkusen’s central trap
The match opened with Bayer Leverkusen being very respectful to Spurs. Much had been said about Leverkusen’s high intensity press before the match, but here they opted for a more calculated approach. They were content to give our centre backs the ball and formed a wedge to stop us playing through central areas.
However, mainly this forced the ball out towards the full backs and up the line, where Leverkusen would then get three or four men to the ball. They were looking to create a turnover and then transition quickly back the other way to their twin strikers of Chicarito Hernandez and Stefan Kießling.
Leverkusen had identified Hugo Lloris as a target. They were content to let our centre backs have the ball, but if they had men forward from an attack, they would press our goalkeeper. Lloris’ kicking is a weaker point of his game and Leverkusen had pinpointed this. They would often close and force turnovers from his clearances. The most profitable was one straight to Admir Mehmedi at the corner of our penalty area, but he failed to do anything with it.
Spurs break the lines
Leverkusen’s press was calculated, but our swift one-touch passing often guided us around it. Neat triangles were being formed, and combined with one-touch play, saw us break their defensive lines.
It allowed us to gain a hold on the match and force Leverkusen backwards. That was until Julian Baumgartlinger came on and filled these spaces expertly, stifling and stopping us getting up the field in the second half.
Spurs attack the right
If Leverkusen’s press was more respectful of our attacking potential, ours certainly wasn’t. We were at them from the off, constantly hounding their centre backs and keeper. Followed by this first wave, a second band of pressers moved in with Victor Wanyama leading the way to recover the ball.
It saw us create problems for Leverkusen and thus chances. Being closed down, a stray kick by goalkeeper Bernd Leno went straight to Wanyama. He hoovered up the ball and moved it straight to Erik Lamela who in turn found Son Heung-Min and then Vincent Janssen. The striker rolled the ball home, but only after Son was flagged offside.
As the half wore on, Spurs gained increasing control. Chances became more frequent from the right. On this flank, Hakan Calhanoglu was slow to track and it created issues for his full back, Benjamin Henrichs. Kieran Trippier was able to steal in-behind him and whip in a number of dangerous crosses.
Trippier planted a beautiful ball in to the box on to the head of Dele Alli who nodded just wide. The better-positioned Son beyond him should’ve shouted louder for Dele to leave it.
Trippier then picked out Vincent Janssen to plant a header on to the bar that rebounded down to Erik Lamela. The Argentinean’s shot was then tipped over.
Trippier and Lamela on this side were causing a nuisance of themselves. However, as has been the theme recently, we couldn’t turn the chances created in to goals.
Leverkusen’s second half switch
Sky Sports did a good piece on Monday night at how Daniel Sturridge’s lackadaisical movement lets Liverpool’s press down and influences everyone else’s decision-making. Hakan Calhanoglu had a similar effect for Leverkusen. His lack of effort and energy had a knock-on effect on those around him and let us play through the spaces it created.
At the interval, Roger Schmidt replaced Hakan Calhanoglu with Julian Baumgartlinger. With Kevin Kampl filling Calhanoglu’s role and Baumgartlinger occupying the central spaces between the lines, Leverkusen was a different beast.
Whether they had decide before the match to conserve energy for a push second half or if the change made all the difference was hard to tell. Having respectfully sat off our centre backs in the first half they were all over them in the second. It created turnovers higher up the pitch, getting them closer to our goal to launch attacks.
Spurs lack of switches
Toby Alderweireld’s injury makes him a big miss. Not just for his defensive attributes, but his press-busting diagonal passes. With Leverkusen closing down and hounding, we needed these to escape the pressure.
Eric Dier is good on the ball and can play this long diagonal pass; he just didn’t attempt it enough. In fact he tried it just once.
Eric Dier did complete the pass though. A long, raking Alderweireld-esque diagonal to Son Heung-Min in space that got us in to a good attacking position. When he played it, you can see how Leverkusen have closed both Eric Dier and Jan Vertonghen down with the second wave pushing up behind them.
The pass should’ve shown what we needed to do more of to escape the relentless Leverkusen pressure. However, we didn’t play it and we were forced backwards in to some last-ditch defending.
Leverkusen attack the left
If Erik Lamela and Kieran Trippier were prospering in the first half, they were very much the focus of the Leverkusen attack in the second. Time and again the hosts would move the ball out to this flank in order to launch their raids. Chances and shots were created, but Hugo Lloris and the back four stood firm.
Leverkusen were so focussed on attacking here, presumably as they saw Trippier as a weak spot compared to Kyle Walker. However, their best chance came from the other side. Winning the ball back, they formed a neat triangle that sprung Lars Bender through the channel inside Danny Rose.
Bender squared the ball low across the six yard box to Chicarito who seemed as though he just needed to connect with it to score. However, an inspired, sprawling reaction save from Hugo Lloris somehow kept the ball from crossing the line.
Chicarito couldn’t believe it, remonstrating with the officials, but goal line technology showed the fine margins of how the whole ball has to cross the line.
Leverkusen were controlling the game and Mauricio Pochettino made changes. He went for strength and power, trying to incorporate more press resistant players.
Mousa Dembele came on and frequently spun out of two or three man challenges. Most un-Dembele like was a spree of unsuccessful and misplaced passes once he had evaded the pressers.
The sizeable Moussa Sissoko was also introduced to stop the flow of play and chances being created down the Leverkusen left. Erik Lamela, on a yellow card, was good in the first half, but equally as bad in the second. Sissoko gave us more going forward with the ball, but also allowed Kevin Kampl to run off him way to often. It didn’t solve the problem that he was brought on to answer.
What the changes did do was remove Vincent Janssen. The burly Dutchman was causing a nuisance of himself up top as the Leverkusen centre backs were just bouncing off him. Janssen posed little goal threat, but his hold up play and general irritation factor were causing problems and allowed us to have a long ball option.
After he went off, we found it increasingly difficult to clear and play over Leverkusen’s press. A curious decision from Mauricio Pochettino given he knows that teams need this option when being hounded. Fortunately, we hung on for a final score of Bayer Leverkusen 0-0 Spurs and what could be a valuable point.
Bayer Leverkusen 0-0 Spurs overall
Both managers will have learned plenty from this tactical joust ahead of the return at Wembley.
Spurs continue to lack the ruthlessness and clinical finishing in front of goal that we need at this level. The return of Harry Kane can’t come soon enough. His inclusion will be a big factor in the next meeting, not just for goals, but also so we have more options up top for longer out balls to break the Leverkusen press.
We also need to play more diagonal passes to switch the ball much quicker. The return of Toby Alderweireld is key to making this happen. Eric Dier needs to become more aware that this ball is on. Understandably, he seems to be re-adjusting to being a centre back after playing so long in defensive midfield.
A point at half time seemed unfair on the balance of play, by the end it was gladly taken.
Final score: Bayer Leverkusen 0-0 Spurs.
MOTM: Victor Wanyama.