Spurs' Wembley woe: Negative Poch got what he deserved
There have been countless theories over the last 24 hours as to Tottenham's current limpness in front of goal and specifically the lethargy the Lilywhites have laid on thick in two Champions League showings at Wembley this season, but it's important to not overlook a few home truths.
This isn't a hatchet job on the generally quite brilliant Mauricio Pochettino: the former Espanyol boss has added verve to an exciting young Tottenham side who managed to eke out a tilt at the title last term. But if Tottenham are still learning to play at a higher level in Europe's elite club competition, and new signings such as Janssen and Sissoko are taking a while to adjust to their new surroundings, then the man at the top of the table needs (and will) be taking stock of last night's poor showing too.
— Gregor MacGregor (@GeeMacGee) November 2, 2016
For a start, Poch seems to have escaped much criticism for his continued fielding of Heung-Min Son at the forefront of Spurs' attack. The South Korean has failed to impress in several games leading the line and last night only managed to get on the ball six times before a change of position enforced by Moussa Dembele's forced withdrawal on the half hour mark.
Once the Belgian midfielder had departed with a troublesome ankle, and the fleeting Christian Eriksen had dropped deeper, Son moved to wide left, got the ball more, Spurs settled and they suddenly looked more of a threat in the game.
Son received six passes before Dembele's removal…
But 18 thereafter as he moved to the left wing.
Sure, the former Bayer Leverkusen attacker arguably impressed against Manchester City in the resounding 2-0 win at White Hart Lane in early October, but that was an isolated performance in the spearhead position and hasn't been replicated since.
(Indeed, re-watch the chances from that game at White Hart Lane, and there's a strong argument that City were a little unlucky to not score on the day, even if they were bullied at times by Spurs' aggressive compression in the red zone.)
And by fielding Son further forward, Pochettino relegated his big money, attacking summer signing to the bench. Why would the Argentinean choose to dispense with a no.9-type forward who is far more comfortable with his back to goal and linking forward play than his South Korean counterpart? Maybe Janssen isn't fully integrated into the side yet but by continually putting him in and out of the team the Dutchman is unlikely to find the rhythm needed to overcome his current poor form.
Spurs unable to combine in the final third; too reliant on individual dribbling than recycling and probing. Leverkusen much better there. pic.twitter.com/CYPZ79gxlH
— Gregor MacGregor (@GeeMacGee) November 2, 2016
Out of form players
And why the persistence with the underperforming Christian Eriksen? Just one chance created over the course of the match from a player believed to be Tottenham's most creative. It's now no goals all season (hasn't netted since 20 March against Bournemouth) and just three assists in 13 league and European games for the Dane.
The former Ajax player was simply unable to connect with his team's forward players.
Eriksen only found Son with one pass during the entire game.
Son only passed to Janssen once during the match in return - Tottenham's players were nullified effectively in the final third.
And Eriksen only got one ball from Son too. The Spurs players couldn't find each other in the final third. Or didn't want to.
Compare the link-up play from the night before as Neymar found Messi ten times during the game.
And Messi in turn found Neymar nine times. Son, Alli and Eriksen need to combine more in the final third.
Is Poch running his most reliable players into the ground? Or are they suffering a lack of confidence due to recent results?
Would now be the time to give some of Tottenham's talented youngsters a go and freshen the team up? Pochettino seems strangely reluctant to throw in Josh Onomah and Harry Winks despite several other midfielders failing to perform; not what might be expected given the popular perception of the 44-year-old coach as a manager always willing to give youth a chance.
Kane factor? Kane's link-up combinations with his fellow attackers against Monaco. He received much better service - or was found - much more often than Son or Janssen against Leverkusen
That effervescent charge displayed by Spurs last campaign has quickly turned dull as a reliance on the more senior out-of-form internationals has taken root. Pochettino looks to have played safe with some of his recent tactical tinkering and has paid for it with just one win in the last seven matches.
Still, Spurs are heading in the right direction under Poch and the Argentine will be heeding Champions League lessons himself. We wouldn't bet against him finding a way to further improve over the next few campaigns, though spending much of next season domestically at Wembley is a shadow looming ever larger…