Mauricio Pochettino’s Tottenham had the look of a side to whom football was of secondary importance tonight. Physically imposing, direct, quick but seemingly unable to string together more than four or five passes at a time.
Not once did Spurs look like creating a clear cut chance. There was no ingenuity, no one capable of getting on the ball, getting their head up and picking out a pass to cut through the Leverkusen defence. They lost Mousa Dembele, one of their more creative players, early in the game but their main string puller Christian Eriksen stayed on for over an hour remaining entirely ineffective throughout.
Has Pochettino created a side in which it’s extremely difficult for a traditional play maker to flourish?
The Argentine coach places a heavy emphasis on his players being in peak physical condition. Big, strong, quick players with high levels of stamina. Half way through last season they were being referred to a ‘cyborgs‘ after several impressive displays built upon immense athleticism. But has the Spurs coach sacrificed technical proficiency and game intelligence to build his team of destroyers?
On the evidence of Wednesday night you would have to say so. Spurs’ right hand side pairing of Kyle Walker and Moussa Sissoko is a microcosm of the problem. Strength, pace and power in abundance but a complete inability to link up with each other at any stage of the game. Poorly time runs onto misplaced passes were all they offered on the night.
Walker managed to burst through several Leverkusen players from a central midfield position to get a decent effort on goal. This just backs up the theory. When Walker runs in a straight line with the ball there aren’t many that can stay with him but the fact that he’s picking up the ball so far out of position and making more of an impact that he’s able to make from his own position is a damning indictment of his ability as a full back.
Eric Dier, Victor Wanyama, Ben Davies all willingly put their foot in and get up and down the pitch well but do any of them really offer anything other than pedestrian passing when on the ball? Summer signing Vincent Janssen has looked like a rabbit in the headlights so far and showed no signs that he’ll ever be able to convince playing at the level Spurs currently do.
In the absence of Harry Kane the form of Delle Alli has suffered immeasurably. Without Kane’s intelligent running ahead of him Alli is finding it increasingly difficult to find space having no effect on tonight’s game at all. Spurs moved the ball slowly, failing to stretch their opponents at all often pinning Alli into a tight area on the edge of the box.
Viable attacking options for the man on the ball are sorely lacking for Tottenham at the moment.
Pochettino has created a side with all the attributes his values most. In doing so, whether intentionally or not he has left his side devoid of the creative spark without which they’ll be unable to progress to the next level.