Spurs had every reason to be optimistic as they went to Bayer Leverkusen in the Champions League. With confidence high after good league form and that fine away win in Moscow, Pochettino was calling this a must-win game. Not really but it was a welcome statement of assertive intent.
We could have won it in the first half but by full-time we were hanging on grimly, grateful for a point but rocked back on our heels by our failure to take precious chances or defend as a team. Food for thought as MP plans for the stresses and strains of this seven game sequence culminating in Arsenal away. Two down, five to go, 3rd in the table and very much in a tight CL group but a few worries begin to niggle and chafe.
That we won a point was down to superlative individual defensive performances from Hugo Lloris, Jan Vertonghen and Danny Rose. Each of them made a fistful of outstanding tackles, interceptions and in Hugo’s case, saves, any one of which wold have be worthy of note in a match report. 3 tackles on the stretch from Rose plus a double block on the line, then later on Vertonghen heading away under huge pressure followed by two or three tackles deep in his area.
And Hugo. Low to his right three times, one outstanding save coming back across his goal, diving low to save a header with a strong right hand when you knew Hernandez was already half into his goal celebration. The ball rolled along the line but Hugo was still alert. Having blocked the ball, in the same movement as he continued to fall he enveloped his body around it. Safe in his embrace it didn’t cross the line.
Spurs progress this season has been founded on team play. We defend as a team, yet yesterday it seemed as if the midfield treated 4-1-4-1 literally. Wanyama as the only DM was excellent but he’s not supposed to do it all on his own. The full backs were exposed too frequently because of a lack of cover in front of them. This stretched the defence, especially after Leverkusen took hold of midfield after a canny half-time substitution. Too often Eriksen, Son and Lamela took the easy option of hanging around the edge of our box rather than getting their hands dirty with the risky business of defending danger areas.
It made for a grim last half an hour. It looked as if our hard work in taking control of the game in the first half would go to waste. Both teams play a pressing game, so a scratchy opening featured bunches of players descending on any opponent as soon as they had the ball. The Germans were more prepared to knock it long in those circumstances. Sometimes Spurs dazzled in the way they played the ball from back to front but these moments were matched by a couple of rank cock-ups, two clearances from Lloris in particular cranked up the pressure.
After a nondescript opening, Tottenham gradually got on top. We kept the ball better, won more tackles and had the best of the play. Wanyama was instrumental in bossing the middle, breaking up our opponents’ attacks and generally sorting them out. Trippier featured with his attacking play and searing crosses on the right. With Lamela over there and Eriksen drifting that way, we had an extra man often enough to look dangerous. Dele headed a great chance wide, Son had a rare shot blocked then Janssen hit the bar, Lamela’s follow up being tipped over the bar by the keeper.
At half-time, shaggy haired DM Baumgartlinger came on and did Wanyama’s job for Leverkusen. Spurs barely threatened over the next 45 minutes. Players took it in turns to give the ball away when all season we have looked so assured on the ball. Leverkusen made and missed a series of chances.
Never a good idea to read too much into a single game. However, it is concerning that Spurs did not adapt to the changing tide. They seemed fixed on an attacking mindset, a laudable approach but Europe is about having more than one string to your bow. Away from home, you will always have to absorb a period of pressure. The best sides learnt to roll with the punches. Sometimes this means retreating and covering up.
Also, missing chances is becoming a bit of a thing, not just in Europe. Janssen continues to look promising with his eye for goal, ability to hold the ball back to goal and good lateral movement, all of which means his link play with team-mates is accomplished for a newbie. He really needs one to go in.
Son seemed distant from proceedings last night. Maybe the occasion got to him, going back to his old club and not welcomed with open arms by everyone. Lamela did not have a good one while as the game went on Vertonghen was covering all over the box as Dier seemed uneasy. Sissoko made little effort to exert his experience on the game when he came on to do precisely that.
But a point, frankly not deserved. Wembley in a fortnight looms as a big night with much at stake for both sides.