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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.