Tottenham Hotspur can count themselves very lucky to have emerged from the BayArena with a point on Matchday 3 in this season’s UEFA Champions League.
Despite enjoying 56% of the possession, it was Bayer Leverkusen who had 16 goal attempts to Tottenham’s five, and had it not been for some goalkeeping heroics from Hugo Lloris, Spurs would surely have been staring down the barrel of a second group stage defeat.
Although Vincent Janssen hit the bar for Spurs, and Dele Alli missed a ‘sitter’, Mauricio Pochettino would have been the brow wiper and ‘phew’ exhaler after the game, while Roger Schmidt will have been ruing missed opportunities and wondering what might have been.
Spurs are unbeaten in the Premier League this season – the only club in England’s top flight – but they’re dropping points (another two at the weekend at home to Leicester City). It’s such a football cliché to suggest that they’re ‘lacking an edge in the final third’, but it sums up the current situation, and it’s a problem that needs to be addressed.
The problem is that with Harry Kane out injured, Spurs don’t have a striker who can play a similar role – despite Vincent Janssen’s ongoing improvement and indefatigable work ethic. It’s just not ‘like for like’ however – Kane has so much more of a physical presence in the box, and can serve as an aerial target man for Spurs’ rampaging full-backs.
With Janssen playing, even when the likes of Kyle Walker and Danny Rose (and Kieran Tripper for the recent game in Germany) get into decent crossing positions, opponents pretty much know that a high ball isn’t coming in, which leaves them to focus on cut backs and balls into the six-yard box.
Ahead of tonight’s game at Wembley Stadium, I would venture to suggest that Pochettino’s going to have to get creative – if not in his team selection, then perhaps in his tactical outlook. Son Heung-min could lead the line – he provides plenty of movement, and an attacking threat - but he had hardly a sniff at the BayArena, with his former team-mates seemingly knowing exactly how to play him out of the game.
Jonathan Tah and Omer Toprak had relatively quiet games at the heart of the Leverkusen defence, and there is little doubt that Kane’s presence would have kept them more on their toes. Spurs have to find a way of keeping them both busy tonight (should they both be selected), and exploiting the gaps around them – something that the darting runs of Dele Alli and the craft of an on-form Christian Eriksen should know how to do.
The problem is that Spurs have not hit top form this season – in any competition – with the possible exception of the home Premier League game against Manchester City in which they were nigh on irresistible, and they were very good away at Stoke.
While Pochettino is always keen to accentuate the positives in every performance, he must know that there are certain individuals who are not pulling their weight, and that’s worrying. Stat: Spurs haven’t won a game in their last five, in all competitions.
Group E is very tight, with three points separating all four teams and Matchday 4 represents all kinds of possibilities for any of the teams to stake a serious claim. We always knew it was going to be close, and four draws in the six group matches played so far is reflective of just how little there is to choose between the combatants.
Spurs in particular need a big performance and the right result at Wembley on Wednesday night - a venue where they struggled on Matchday 1, and ultimately tasted defeat against Monaco. Despite being roared on by more than 85,000 fans, Spurs didn’t look ‘at home’, and this is another issue that needs addressing, as it’s unlikely that Bayer Leverkusen are going to intimidated and, therefore, inhibited.
It’s yet another fascinating tussle in this season’s UEFA Champions League, with so many questions being asked, and everyone – particularly Mauricio Pochettino and Roger Schmidt - keener than mustard to find the answers.