Leverkusen leave Tottenham with no Wembley way out
Roger Schmidt gets his tactics spot on as German side take three points
Bayer Leverkusen’s Kevin Kampl scores against Tottenham Hotspur during the Champions League Group E game at Wembley Stadium. Photograph: Dylan Martinez/Reuters/Livepic
Tottenham Hotspur 0 Bayer Leverkusen 1
When Charles Aránguiz struck for goal midway through the second half everything seemed to lapse into slow-motion. It was Tottenham Hotspur’s misfortune the ball deflected first off Ben Davies and then off Kyle Walker to fall perfectly for Kevin Kampl. The Bayer Leverkusen midfielder took one touch before he swept low past Hugo Lloris from close range.
But this was no streaky Leverkusen success. They had a plan to stifle Tottenham which they executed to perfection and it was the Bundesliga team that had the best of the limited crop of chances. Not for the first time in recent weeks Tottenham failed to click in an attacking sense and it was difficult to remember Bernd Leno being truly extended in the Leverkusen goal.
Eric Dier rattled the crossbar with an 83rd minute free-kick, when Leno was beaten, but there would be no bail-out for Tottenham. They had been dismal in the first half and not too much better in the second. In front of a record crowd for an English club home game of 85,512 they once again slumped to defeat at Wembley. At least against Monaco they had played with purpose, in patches.
The frustration poured out at full-time in the form of boos from the supporters and, with Monaco beating CSKA Moscow, Tottenham face an uphill task to emerge from Group E. Their goal drought goes on – they have now scored three in six matches in all competitions – and Wembley feels like a long way from home.
The Wembley factor underscored the occasion. Mauricio Pochettino had spoken on Tuesday about how he had been lifted, as a visiting Argentina player in 2000, by the stadium’s legend and it could be argued that those of Monaco had felt the same way when they emerged with the 2-1 victory in September that put Tottenham on the back foot in this group.
Then again everything is relative, and it was Tottenham who had the backing of the huge crowd. Why could they not be lifted even higher? It was incumbent on Tottenham to fire the atmosphere and enjoy some good vibrations from the stands. Monaco was out of their systems. That was the theory anyway.
These two teams knew each other better. The 0-0 draw at the BayArena two weeks ago had been marked by slick passages of play – by Tottenham in the first half, Bayer in the second – and once again there was plenty of intensity. The visitors settled the quicker and made it plain they did not intend to afford their opponents any time on the ball.
Leverkusen pressed high and it was noticeable how fast they were to apply the pressure at the outset when Tottenham tried to build from goalkeeper Lloris.
On several occasions the man that Lloris picked out was crowded and ruffled. The French international had little time to play his passes.
By the midway point of the first half the Tottenham fans were edgy and they groaned whenever one of their players misplaced a pass, which was regularly. It was startling to see how poorly Pochettino’s men looked after the ball and so many of them were guilty. The number of unforced errors was galling. The heat, though, that Roger Schmidt’s team put on them was scalding.
The Leverkusen manager got his tactics spot on and, for most of the first half it seemed as though there were dark shirts everywhere. Tottenham gasped for breath.
Pochettino had started with a 4-2-3-1 formation, with Son Heung-min up front and Vincent Janssen on the bench. But he changed after 30 minutes. He had to do something.
He has talked of 4-1-4-1 as being his ‘Plan B’ and he actioned it, taking off Mousa Dembélé, who looked to have an injury, and sending on Janssen. Son moved wide. Dembélé stopped on the touchline to have a conversation with Pochettino. Neither of them could seemingly fathom what had gone on.
Leverkusen had the first half’s only clear chance on 43 minutes after Walker took a heavy touch and was robbed by Julian Brandt. He was stopped by Jan Vertonghen’s tackle but, when the ball ran for Javier Hernández, he looked odds-on to score. But Vertonghen stretched again to divert the striker’s shot narrowly past the far post.
Tottenham looked a little better after Janssen’s introduction. He was penalised for a foul on Jonathan Tah, before he saw a shot beaten out by Leno and Dele Alli sweep the rebound home; the whistle did go early. Early in the second half Janssen dragged past the far post on the second phase of a Tottenham break. The first had seen Alli tumble over Omer Toprak’s outstretched leg inside the area. No penalty. Alli looked to have initiated the contact.
Walker, who suffered sorely in a defensive sense, burst forward and dragged a shot wide of the far post but Leverkusen had advertised their breakthrough. Tottenham pockmarked their game with errors and, after one from Dier, Hernández had another shot blocked by Vertonghen. His follow-up effort was saved by Lloris.
Tottenham dug deep in a bid to respond to Kampl’s goal and the margins could not have been tighter when Dier’s free-kick thumped against the woodwork.
Janssen almost converted the rebound only for Toprak to make a last-ditch clearance. There was also the moment when Davies sent a low shot past the far post from distance. Tottenham, though, did not do enough to deserve reward.