Defeat for Tottenham on Wednesday night could be the beginning of a dangerous spiral. Bayer Leverkusen, who have had a poor start to the Bundesliga season, were unfortunate not to win heavily, as Roger Schmidt’s side harassed Spurs throughout. An eerie Wembley felt echoey, the Spurs fans must’ve been wondering just how bad the north London derby this weekend could be.
The pressing war was dominated by Leverkusen in the early stages of the game. Trapping Spurs’ defenders in possession, the German side gave Mauricio Pochettino a scare within the first 120 seconds on the night, as Jan Vertonghen skied a panicked clearance after some last-ditch footwork from Hugo Lloris. The first half continued in a similar vein throughout. A brief patch of Spurs ascendancy after half-time was as close as the Lilywhites came to nullifying Leverkusen.
Where the Germans looked to play direct balls through the high press of Spurs, Tottenham dallied in possession and invited further pressure. Kyle Walker was targeted by Roger Schmidt’s side from the off. When playing out from the back, passing lanes were closed to force the ball towards Walker (who subsequently had more touches than anyone else) in the right-back position, then he was hounded by pressing defenders who forced him commit a number of errors. Walker, unfortunately for Spurs, was not alone in his error-prone performance, with Eric Dier also nearly gifting the visitors a goal.
Spurs dominated possession and had a higher pass completion than Leverkusen, but even this was a reflection of the troubles they had. Schmidt’s side looked to move the ball quicker, passing through the lines as quickly as possible to catch out the initial wave of Spurs’ press. Despite the possession numbers, Pochettino’s side were unable to create many meaningful opportunities, largely because they needed far longer with the ball to get into dangerous areas and did not possess the pace in the final third required.
Spurs were dispossessed double the number of times that Leverkusen were – this game was always going to turn on who could execute their press most efficiently and Pochettino’s side were miles behind in this respect. The performance from Tottenham suggested the squad have slipped in confidence of late, as their results declined. This, or so Pochettino will hope, must be the bottom of the trough.
Coming up for the Argentine, though, is one of the biggest games of his club’s season. Three points off the top of the Premier League table, they now face an in-form Arsenal side in one of the most significant North London derbies in years. Arsenal’s current squad makes it a guessing game for how they will set up, but having seen Leverkusen unsettle and ultimately look comfortable on Wednesday night, there are significant weaknesses for Arsene Wenger to exploit.
Having seen his team look so vulnerable and out of ideas both in and out of possession, Pochettino has an enormous amount of work to do ahead of Sunday’s game.