Glitch in the Matrix
Bayer Leverkusen 0 Tottenham 0
If you watch the first half in isolation you'd be gutted if we didn't go onto win the game. If you do the same with the second forty-five, you'd gladly take the point. A proper bite your hands off conclusion to this Champions League encounter.
We started slow then owned the tempo in what was a fairly impressive performance, showcasing our strength (creating golden opportunities), punctured with our persistent weakness (not scoring from golden opportunities). There's not a lot wrong with our shape and the way we approach games. However, once more, we are left discussing our inability to ruthlessly dismantle the opposition. Another exhibit of damning evidence.
Spurs make it persistently harder than it should be. Dele Alli just had to ping that header towards goal but couldn't. He also had a shot blocked. Vincent Janssen was desperately unlucky to strike the bar and not the net and Erik Lamela too close to re-position with the follow up. It was promising, it was ominous.
Cue the second half and the awakening of home side. Even though we out muscled them and stole the space they needed to be effective, Bayer were first to every second ball before the break and then first to pretty much everything after the 46th minute. This was never going to be an unexpected twist to the game (them taking it upon themselves to pulsate in front of their fans).
Our reaction to their fast paced attacks was to slumber and snooze. We don't often surrender turf territory, home or away. This wasn't very Tottenhamesque and there was similarities with the WBA score-draw.
Leverkusen were like ravenous wolves. Spurs were sheepish in comparison. We lost control and composure making for a messy, erratic forty-five minutes. Outplayed and outfight. Not in an overly dramatic sense. We were on the ropes, ducking headshots and dancing around, surviving. There was no mental capitulation and aside from lady luck throwing her knickers at us, when called upon, we had players stand up and defend admirably. Tottenham individually resilient in amongst chaotic team containment.
You can't discount the home side and their guile. Spurs might not have been pristine but the hosts smacked us about, tested us, and fair play to them for making it as difficult as they could muster. It's usually us dishing out this sort of swarming punishment. After our lung-busting opening 45 graft ethic, they changed gear and attempted to run us over. A weary smile on Tottenham faces when they also failed to find a way through.
In the last dozen games we've only conceded more than a single goal on one occasion. Even with Toby Alderweireld out (but thankfully back soon), we held it together. Jan Vertonghen superb at the back when called upon. However, for all the hard work defensively, if we don't start to stick our chances away we're going to keep forging in-game momentum in the favour of the opposing side.
Like the WBA game and one or two other matches this season, we've failed to find that killer instinct during our peak period. Spurs do little wrong from one week to the next and we shouldn't understate the loss of Harry Kane twice this season (first time, his form, and then his injury). Having him back in and on form, leading from the front, is now imperative to what looks like being another season that's on offer. If we so wish to accept it.
Bury the chances when we're on top and it's job done. It remains this simple but we're going to lag if we don't refine our final third possession and its end product. Drop a point here or there as part of building back up to top form is one thing. Remain in stasis and we could end up like that astronaut in the opening few minutes of The Planet of the Apes. Dead before we crash land.
I don't even understand the Hugo Loris save. To be fair, when you look at it from the perspective of Chicharito, it's a bad miss. He's hit the ball back into the path of the keeper. But regardless, holy sh*t balls. How? Just how? It should have gone in. It was enough of a touch for it to go in. He should have scored. He didn't.
Loris managed to save with his arm and then swivel his body around to then shield and claw the ball away from completely crossing the line...it's mesmerising in slow motion and incredible in realtime. Like a beautiful ballroom dance, fluid and effortless. He re-wrote code in those seconds, bending time and space to his advantage and not breaking sweat. Because sweat doesn't exist inside this computer simulation we call life. It's an algorithm Hugo chooses to ignore. A command he refuses to execute. Hugo took the red pill whilst the rest of the team collectively glitched.
Truly, a defining moment in our push to qualify out of the group (which is looking likely if we do the business at Wembley). Loris had no right to defy the goal-line technology, but much like Neo, he thwarted the machine. I guess I'm happy with Godly moments like this even if it means leaving the more simplistic of tasks (like ball distribution with his feet) to the mere mortals.
As cited, Jan was was superb without his cool and calm companion in the heart of defence. Danny Rose, battled and bruised. He's the epitome of modern day Tottenham; revitalised, energised and excelling. Kieran Trippier reminded us of his Carlos the Jackal accuracy. He has weapons for feet and attacked space, confidence and pin point targeting to die for.
Victor Wanyama continues to play at a world class level. Dominant before half-time, giving us the platform to counter. After half-time, he was involved enough to retain a sense of balance as we wobbled towards the final whistle. Dele Alli had a fairly successful (first) half but much like Son, not instrumental enough to make the telling difference.
Not so great were Christian Eriksen and Erik Lamela. Both well below par. Mousa Dembele (when subbed on) also looked like he's still readjusting with fitness and pace. It's expected. Janssen was subbed off (for Mousa) which perhaps highlighted a 'scratch your chin' moment for Mauricio Pochettino's decision making. His counterpart had far better success with the tactical changes.
Vinny was one of the very few crisp Spurs players. So much of our play was untidy but the Dutch forward kept it neat. He once more looked competitive, held the ball up and retained a sense of central movement. Perhaps one criticism was not anchoring himself to the penalty box enough to accept service and get on the end of something, anything. If he had scored that woodwork cursed effort, it would have been a very decent night for him. Some of his touches were delicious. Loves the foreplay does Vinny, needs to penetrate more.
So to summarise, a solid first half followed by an uncomfortable second. The game opened up far too much with Bayer bossing the tempo with zesty football. Spurs passing like an old timer at a retirement home...asleep. We lost control, no studs on boots but the likes of Rose and Wanyama dug deep, with no one 'losing their heads'. Nervous moments with the ball pinging in and around the box. Efforts often launched wide or smacking the head of a defender (big up Danny for that one). Add to it the anonymity from one or two key players and the 0-0 was just about fine with me. The Spurs contingent were also in fine voice. Making the very most of it - truly the lifeblood of any supporter.
Something I read post-match tickled me.
'This is the closest thing we get to a slump these days'
(@DanLouw dropping a truth bomb)
This is so true. A nil nil away in the Champions League is cause for complaint. It's what we do for dejection these days. Obviously, we live in an age where we expect more because we know we can produce more. But still, it's a reality that's enough to keep you warm at night.
Onto the next one.