It took the save of the season, goal-line technology and plenty of luck for Tottenham to escape Leverkusen with a point. But they managed it, somehow, and flew back to Stansted with their Group E future very much in their hands.
Time after painful time in the long second half Bayer Leverkusen broke through Spurs’ defence. Every chance was wasted, though, whether off target or saved by the heroic Lloris. One stop, tumbling along the line, holding the ball that was mostly across it but never fully so, defied belief. And yet Spurs left with what they started with: a clean sheet and a precious point. With Monaco drawing in Moscow, even that thanks to a last-gasp equaliser, Spurs are now one point off the top. If they beat Leverkusen back at Wembley they will be almost through.
There will not be a more entertaining 0-0 in the group phase than this. There will be many far worse games which happen to have more goals. This was a tense balanced battle between two well-matched aggressive teams, each trying to play the same way. While Leverkusen ran through Spurs in the second half, the first half belonged to Tottenham. And for all Spurs’ fortune in escaping with 0-0, at half-time they looked by far the likelier team to score.
Spurs, despite a few early nerves, controlled the first half once they settled into it. Dele Alli, Vincent Janssen and Erik Lamela all missed good chances to put Spurs into the lead. It was another night when the glaring absence of Harry Kane was felt. When he plays Spurs can score against anyone. Without him it is harder. They need him back for the derby on 6 November, and are optimistic that he will be.
Another of Tottenham’s leaders, Toby Alderweireld, is aiming for the same game. He did not come to Germany either, recovering from a knee injury sustained on Saturday. Spurs just about survived without him. Eric Dier dropped back into defence and the Spurs back four managed to keep Leverkusen out, although it was a very close run thing.
This was always going to be the hardest game in Tottenham’s group, a trip to their strongest rival. The second half was the hardest pressure Spurs have been under all season, but there were warnings from the very start. Leverkusen tried to press Spurs from the beginning, with their aggressive high-pressure style quite similar to Pochettino’s. Spurs struggled to stay afloat, and if Leverkusen had scored early on, it would have been a very different game.
But the longer the first half went on, the more dangerous Spurs looked. They were stable in midfield and penetrative on the break, driving forward with incision and imagination. Vincent Janssen tapped in from Heung-Min Son’s pass, but the South Korean was offside.
With Kieran Trippier rotated into the side, Spurs had a constant threat down the right, a man always in space, delivering reliably precise crosses. One perfect ball found Dele Alli, bounding into the box, but his free header flew just wide. Trippier’s next cross was just as good, and Janssen headed it onto the bar. Lamela tried to swivel-volley in the rebound but Bernd Leno tipped it just over. Spurs went in at half-time wondering how they were not ahead yet.
But Roger Schmidt knew there was more to come from his team, and when he introduced Julian Baumgartlinger at half-time the game changed. Kevin Kampl moved out onto the left and started to orchestrate attacks. Every time Leverkusen went forward they looked like scoring, and it was only thanks to Lloris’ miracle moment, and a matter of millimetres, that they did not.
That was how close Hernandez’s shot was to fully crossing the line when he tried to convert Lars Bender’s cross at the far post. Hugo Lloris, producing the save of the season, threw himself back across goal, held the ball and rolled over it, always keeping enough of it just level with the line.
Leverkusen were shocked that the goal-line technology had ruled against them, but they did not let it get them down. Charles Aranguiz forced Lloris to save low to his right from his long-range free-kick. But it was Rose, not Lloris, who produced the next desperate heroics. First he blocked Aranguiz’s shot on the line, then he stopped a Hernandez volley. Both were going in.
When Lloris made another two saves, from Kiessling and Toprak, Pochettino knew that he needed to change. His midfield was being blown away, Leverkusen running straight through them with every attack. So on came Mousa Dembele and Moussa Sissoko, to provide some much-needed presence.
With those two back, Spurs finally had their stability back. The final minutes were not fully comfortable. There was one moment when Dier slipped, allowing the ball through to Kiessling, yards from goal, but he could not adjust in time. The ball hit him and flew away. It was a fortunate narrow escape on an evening full of them. But Spurs had escaped with their lives. They welcome Leverkusen back to London with the powerful sense that things are going their way.
Bayer Leverkusen (4-4-2): Leno; Bender, Tah, Toprak, Henrichs; Mehmedi, Aranguiz, Kampl, Calhanoglu (Baumgartlinger, 45); Hernandez, Kiessling.
Subs not used: Ozcan, Dragovic, Havertz, Volland.
Tottenham Hotspur (4-1-4-1): Lloris; Trippier, Dier, Vertonghen, Rose; Wanyama; Lamela, Eriksen, Alli, Son; Janssen.
Subs not used: Vorm, Winks, Davies, Carter-Vickers.
Referee: C Cakir (Turkey)Reuse content