Bayer Leverkusen 0 – 0 Tottenham
For perhaps the first time in recent memory, Tottenham were second best. Leverkusen created enough chances to take three points in their second half display. In fact, the second half was barely a contest at all. Right from the kick-off of the second 45, with the adjustment made by the home side in bringing on Julian Baumgartlinger for Hakan Calhanoglu proving decisive.
To concede 13 shots at goal whilst having none of your own in a half of football is very unlike this Spurs side. Hugo Lloris, as has so often been the case when Spurs have their backs against the wall, was epic. His save to deny Javier Hernandez more like universal class than world class. Fleetingly Spurs appeared to have gone 1-0 down. Lloris was surely beaten, but somehow the Frenchman pounced, commando-rolled and emerged with ball in hand. How did that not clear the line? Incredible work. Thanks to Lloris and the wonders of goal line technology the score rightly remained nil-nil.
Gaping holes were formed in between the defenders, the likes of which are unrecognisable. The shape and structure went missing, so much so that it was difficult to pinpoint exactly whom or what was at fault. Victor Wanyama had again been immense in the first, yet in the second half he was everywhere. But not the right type of everywhere. Trying to cut down and cover almost the entire Leverkusen squad, or so it seemed, took him way out of position.
The gap between Wanyama and Jan Vertonghen and Eric Dier gifted the Germans opportunities and put Tottenham under immense pressure. This could be moreso a result of the failings of others to track down and hunt than Wanyama’s own doing. Spurs looked tired, especially in the front half, but then football sides often do when they are under pressure and unable to play their own way. Much talk in the build up to this game was how Tottenham press their opponents high up the pitch, an element that went missing almost entirely in the second 45.
It wasn’t just Lloris who saved Spurs a crucial point, both full backs too were outstanding. Danny Rose was epic, with a headed clearance and a diving clearance and one or two crucial interceptions. Kieran Trippier was perhaps the best attacking outlet at various stages on the night, and put in one of his finest displays for the club.
Jan Vertonghen is nothing short of an expert at tracking with his back to goal and almost looking beaten, before sticking a timely foot in and knicking the threat away. It is a rare and crucial skill that Vertonghen has perfected, and it prevented shots on goal again here. Just when it looks like he’s cooked, he comes back with that awkward yet trusty toe-poke to save the day.
The final member of the back 4, Eric Dier, was steady. But he also showed just how important Toby Alderweireld is, and he was badly missed. His calm presence, his command of the back 4, he cannot come back quickly enough.
It is a sign of how far Tottenham have come that without their best defender and their best right back (Kyle Walker), they were still able to keep a clean sheet. This simply would not have happened as recently as two seasons ago. But the costly lapses and indifference in defending is a thing of the past. And so even though the threat going forward was non-existent, there was always the hope and even the belief that this team could hold on. Or even somehow pinch the three points.
Arguably Pochettino lost the tactical battle here, but he did at least try things. Bringing off Vincent Janssen though was perhaps one that didn’t seem right. Janssen was terrific and looked dangerous as a threat on goal while Spurs shaded the opening term. He looked far more threatening facing goal than previously, while still effectively using his backside to hold up defenders and play in runners. Janssen netted an off-side chance and headed into Leverkusen ‘keeper Bernd Leno’s outstretched glove; he could easily have scored on another night.
That Spurs did hang on, and in doing so stay second in the group, is a huge result. A loss would have been difficult to recover from, at least in terms of this competition. A draw in the CSKA v Monaco match too helps greatly, and means Tottenham still have their destiny completely in their own hands. 2 wins from the final 3 games, 2 of which are at Wembley, will certainly be enough to get through to the next round. That is the aim.