A disappointed Dele Alli during Spurs 0-1 Leverkusen in Champions League Group E.

Spurs 0-1 Leverkusen: unable to make runs from deep count

A frantic and disjointed encounter sees Tottenham fail to turn runs from deep in to goals, as it ended Spurs 0-1 Leverkusen at Wembley.

Abject, dismal, wretched and disappointingly bad, Spurs were all that and then some. Leverkusen forced part of this dreary display through their co-ordinated pressing. However, poor decision-making, weight of pass and awful angles made the rest of it. Settled by an equally scrappy goal, the game ended Spurs 0-1 Leverkusen in Champions League Group E.

Leverkusen press

In Germany we’d seen a Jekyll and Hyde Leverkusen approach to pressing. They sat off and were duly controlled in the first 45. After the interval, they were relentless and we struggled to get out of our half.

Having seen how affected we were by their hounding of our centre backs, Roger Schmidt’s side were at it from the off here. Their pressing was highly co-ordinated. Javier Hernandez and Admir Mehmedi were on our centre backs trying to force the ball back so Hugo Lloris would have to kick long. If we tried to play out through our full backs then Julian Brandt and Kevin Kampl were on them.

Press with Brandt front screening our FB Kyle Walker during Spurs 0-1 Leverkusen in Champions League Group E.

Press with Brandt front screening our FB Kyle Walker.

The pressure on our full backs was a particular area of focus. Kyle Walker and Ben Davies struggled to get up the pitch as they were being forced back. They were also hounded in to errors and it ended up making their touches on the ball nervous and ponderous. Leverkusen frequently won the ball back from them in wide areas.

Bayer recover the ball from our full backs during Spurs 0-1 Leverkusen in the Champions League.

Bayer recover the ball from our full backs.

When a side is pressing like this you have three options. Firstly, to try and play through it with one-touch passing to skilfully move the ball around the danger. Secondly, to go over it from back to front. Thirdly, to switch the ball long from side to side in one pass.

Spurs struggle to get out

Spurs struggled in all of these three areas. On a tricky Wembley pitch that had been cut up by the NFL game days earlier, we failed to move the ball over the ground with one-touch passing. Every player needed at least one touch to get the ball under control. This was compounded by our passing ability. Without Toby Alderweireld we had neither the calmness nor good decision making at the back. Neither did we have the ability to play the long switch from side-to-side.

With Son Heung-Min up top, we struggled to play the long ball out. Mauricio Pochettino hinted that Son’s inclusion was to get him in to the spaces that Leverkusen’s press would leave. However, the problem was getting the ball to him in the first place so that he could exploit them. Son is weak in winning aerial challenges and holding the ball up, so he was a non-factor.

Recognising this, the injury to Mousa Dembele allowed Mauricio Pochettino to address this imbalance. Vincent Janssen came on and we started to gain more traction when we cleared long.  However, as has been prevalent in recent matches, we struggled to get runners going off and past him.

Spurs runs from deep

The introduction of Vincent Janssen pushed Christian Eriksen in to Mousa Dembele’s deeper role. Eriksen had another lacklustre game, but two minutes after the switch he had our best chance of the first half. Picking the ball up deep, he surged forward and unleashed a drive from the edge of the box. It was well struck, but straight down goalkeeper Bernd Leno’s throat.

The move saw Eriksen drift in to an area beyond the first Leverkusen line of pressing. Once this line was penetrated, there was space to quickly get in to. Janssen’s introduction meant Leverkusen’s back four couldn’t play as high with his aerial threat to flick the ball on. This created space between the back four and midfield for others to run through.

Dele Alli would be the next one to highlight this space. He picked up the ball from Victor Wanyama, freely charged forwards and was upended just inside the box. Dele and 83,000 Spurs fans inside Wembley expect a penalty, but none was forthcoming from referee Jonas Eriksson.

Kyle Walker was next to exploit it. Exchanging passes with Eriksen on halfway to navigate the first line of pressing; he surged forward through the space. At the edge of the box, he skidded a shot across goal that just went past the wrong side of the post.

Three runs from deep had seen our best chances of a goal. Our final opportunity of the night would come from a pass from deep. Good play at the back saw us navigate Leverkusen’s press. Harry Winks, who had come on for Eriksen, made the pass to puncture the Leverkusen press this time.

Winks finds Sissoko as Dele is free between the lines during Spurs 0-1 Leverkusen in the Champions League.

Winks finds Sissoko as Dele is free between the lines.

Winks longer ball was straight in to the feet of Moussa Sissoko who had pinned his marker. Dele Alli was lurking in the space between the lines this time and he took the layoff from Sissoko before being tripped.

The resulting free kick looked setup for Vincent Janssen, but Eric Dier smacked a beautiful drive off the underside of the bar. The closest we would come to salvaging a point.

Spurs sloppy errors

This was one of the most error-strewn performances from a Tottenham side since the Christian Gross era. Misplaced passes, bad decisions and poor touches were prevalent throughout the game. Leverkusen’s press was causing some of it, but so too was the pitch and nervy players.

It saw us commit some terrible mistakes at the back that almost let Leverkusen in. However, their finishing was equally as inept.

Kyle Walker’s poor touch saw Julian Brandt nick the ball on the edge of our area, but some heroic defending bailed him out. Jan Vertonghen slid in to deny Javier Hernandez once and then somehow deflected wide his second shot whilst lying flat on his back.

Eric Dier was not immune. His ill advised and under hit back header allowed Hernandez in once more. Again, Jan Vertonghen blocked his first shot. Hugo Lloris then flew along his line to stop and then gather his second.

Vertonghen was everywhere putting out fires, but he was not exempt from errors. His errant clearance with his weaker right foot went straight up in the air, coming down at the edge of our box. Julian Brandt gathered, but again, Leverkusen couldn’t profit.

Spurs slip-up

Our errors were giving Leverkusen opportunities, but they were not clinical in putting them away. That was until Kevin Kampl was presented with a chance he couldn’t really miss.

The passage of play had seen Moussa Sissoko make a surging run forward from deep, something we were gaining traction with. He then proceeded to shank an effort well wide of goal when he got to the edge of the box.

The resulting goal kick was sent long downfield and Hernandez won the flick-on. The ball was then quickly moved inside to Charles Aranguiz. With our back four caught extremely narrow, Aranguiz had options, but elected to shoot through the crowd. As befitted the game, it cannoned off Ben Davies and then flicked off the outstretched foot of Kyle Walker before landing at Kampl’s feet. Hugo Lloris was caught moving the other way from the initial shot. Kampl had the easy job of slotting home to make it Spurs 0-1 Leverkusen.

Although not a gifted error, like so many of the miscues, it was a scrappy goal that was in tune with what had gone on before. The disappointing thing was that Spurs struggled to muster much of a response. Eric Dier’s free kick off the bar was the sole moment when Bernd Leno was troubled in the Leverkusen net.

Spurs 0-1 Leverkusen overall

Once more Spurs struggled against a team that presses high. Leverkusen (twice), Liverpool and Bournemouth have all given us issues with their eager closing down.

We often try to play out through the press and it is not working. The return of Toby Alderweireld is key, but Mauricio Pochettino needs to carefully consider how we are going address this. Son is not the answer up top, but Vincent Janssen needs support closer to him.

The game was played at a frantic pace with both sides pressing and closing the ball down. It was probably too fast a speed for a pitted pitch and players that were feeling the occasion. Our Champions League qualification now hangs in the balance.

Final score: Spurs 0-1 Leverkusen.
Spurs MOTM: Jan Vertonghen.

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12 Responses to Spurs 0-1 Leverkusen: unable to make runs from deep count

  1. SonShine 3rd November 2016 at 2:36 pm #

    Are we destined to return to Europa League? Time will tell.

    Hopefully Dembele can play in NLD. Maybe Kane as well. If Kane can’t make it, Janssen for me is the man to spearhead our team. He can cause problems to Arsenal’s CB. One apparent thing about Janssen’s play is he is a real physical striker. He brought down Robert Huth before Huth fouled him back for the penalty against Leicester. Janssen can give us a different gameplay, target-man, hold-up play, layoffs and one touch passing .. it’s just the other players need to support him especially Alli and Eriksen.

    Poch should try Sissoko at CM or we need to bring reinforcements in January. A creative playmaker is imperative, but Dembele is a concern too lately. How about someone in Rome named Leandro Paredes?

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 3rd November 2016 at 3:28 pm #

      I’d prefer us out if Europe than having to play in the Europa League.
      Kane and Alderweireld are huge doubts for the NLD and I’d doubt either has anywhere near the required level of fitness to play anything other than a short spell from the bench. I’m genuinely concerned about this one!

  2. Karl 3rd November 2016 at 8:26 pm #

    Insightful as ever. They need a plan B. Having said that while the pitch and so on may have contributed they were awful against a pretty poor side. Some of Walkers decision making was beyond belief although he at least offered a threat. Sissoko has an excellent knack of breaking through, but he doesn’t seem to know what to do when he gets there although the lack of options doesn’t help. None of them save for janssen came out with much credit – they don’t seem to be able to think for themselves in game – at least in this one. Worst performance for a very long time. Obviously they should aim to qualify still, but I agree we don’t want Europa. And Alli needs a rest.

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 3rd November 2016 at 9:03 pm #

      Both games at Wembley have seen us freeze. I’m wondering if it’s champions league inexperience as our team is young or playing in front of 85000 at the stadium. The England boys should be used to it, but maybe it gets to the others?

      I’d like to see Poch play our full backs in tandem rather than mix and match. Walker and Rose together or Trippier and Davies. Mixing the pairings seems to unbalance the side.

    • YouShubes 4th November 2016 at 6:39 am #

      Ditto for me… but I think if we do end up there we treat it Redknapp style…

      Blood Youngsters and and play as much of our 2nd teams players as possible….

      CL dropouts don’t play till March IIRC?

      • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 4th November 2016 at 9:56 am #

        After the group phase, yes.

  3. Ilikespurs 3rd November 2016 at 8:56 pm #

    Thanks Mark, great analysis as always. Man, that game was hard to watch, easily our worst performance under Poch, and hard to believe this is the same team that was so fun to watch last year and looked thrilling against Man City in our last win, which seems ages ago. It seems our whole team is in a slump and playing well under par-the midfield in particular. Erickson, Alli, Son, Dembele, and Dier in particular seem shadows of their former selves. Only Lamela in my view has played fairly consistently well this year- he always gives you tremendous effort, something I’m not sure I can say for most of the other midfielders. (He’s a much bigger miss than most fans realize). So I find myself searching for answers, even wondering if all the new contracts has these players resting on their laurels. And Sissoko was so bad it almost seemed intentional-he couldn’t possibly be that bad, could he? And he seems to have put on 15 lbs since we signed him. He seemed slow, plodding, and often disinterested. Yesterday. I found myself wishing that we could pull an NBA move and substitute the whole team. And when the season started, I thought we were much deeper than last year, but yesterday when we looked to the bench for a game changer it seemed none existed. Missing our best offensive and defensive players has been just brutal-clearly having both on the pitch changes everything, including our overall confidence. And it’s hard to believe that we’ve only scored 1 goal from open play in the last 6 games. One thing that surprises me is how many problems we’re having against pressing teams. Don’t we train against our own press every day? You would think because of our style of play that we’d be excellent at breaking the press, but it’s just the opposite-we’re terrible! How can that be? So what’s the answer? How do we get back on track? I know 1 win changes everything-even 1 goal. But how to get back on the right track? And what do you think we need to do in January. Sorry for the long rant….feeling despondent after yesterday…… .

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 3rd November 2016 at 9:16 pm #

      I think Lamela and Rose were big misses. They both have great energy and give us a lift. As said above to Karl, I think we have to play our full backs in pairs and not mix and match. Rose and Walker have to play against the best sides even if it means playing in back to back games. We always seem unbalanced without one of them.

      Sissoko is more Sissjoko at the minute. He said he wants to play champions league and he’s still putting in the half arsed efforts he did when he wanted out of Newcastle.

      As for being pressed, we do need a strategy. Without Toby we play less long diagonal switches. Dier can play this ball, so why he doesn’t more often, I don’t know. I can’t believe the coaching staff haven’t spoken to him about it. If we are to go long from back to front, we need to surround Janssen with strength and power to gather the second balls like Sissoko or Dembele.

      In January we def need a number ten who is going to push and offer an alternative to Eriksen.

  4. Chas 4th November 2016 at 12:09 am #

    If we are going to play him any time at all, Sissoko needs to be CM. He isn’t, and never has been, a consistently successful wide man. He’s big, strong and very like Wanyama but fleet of foot, he aint!
    But this system we use where we play out from the back is fraught with danger. Lloris is well below par with his feet for the “one of world’s best goalkeepers” tag and Dier, Walker, Davies, Rose and Vertonghen always struggle with the rapid one-touch passing that’s required to negate fast pressing and I groan whenever I see a backpass to Lloris.
    No more excuses for Eriksen. I reckon your “lacklustre” description was overly generous and it’s time he was moved aside and Winks be allowed to show what he can do. Inexperienced he may be, but Winks shows grit and commitment which is nowhere in sight with Eriksen’s pathetic performances of the last 4 weeks. I’m so sick of watching him flinch out of tackles.
    And hopefully it’s the last we see of Son as lone striker. Not strong enough and I have no idea what Poch was thinking, but he must bear a lot of the blame for this dreadful team effort.
    A good half-time blast obviously was either not given or not strong enough!

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 4th November 2016 at 10:02 am #

      Sissoko looks a bit lost in Poch’s system. Either he doesn’t understand it yet or he’s better off used centrally. What is for sure is that he needs to step up his effort.

      I think we need a better system against the press, especially when we know the oppo will play that way. I can’t believe we don’t train against our own system i.e. Attack vs defence so we should be well schooled in this.

      Eriksen needs some competition and Winks may be it. He has looked better in a deeper role, but I think he prefers to float from the left.

  5. Jerry Ward 4th November 2016 at 5:06 am #

    The way we are playing, the only thing for fans to do is what we expected to do at the beginning of the 2015 season – grit our teeth while the new stadium is being built and hope for a few good moments. Wtf has happened? And why the ffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffff was Sissoko bought? Were we Leicester in disguise last season?

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 4th November 2016 at 9:56 am #

      were still good in the league at the minute, so hopefully this is our bad run! If any one can make a player if Sissoko then it’ll be Poch!