The Season Just Gone
Life near the top of the Bundesliga is tough, just ask Leverkusen and Dortmund. Bayern Munich have dominated the German league for years, and last year was no different. Bayern moved to the top of the table after five matches, and then stayed there for the rest of the season.
Dortmund took second on the same day, and would never be moved from that position either. This left the Leverkusen’s, Monchengladbach’s, and Schalke’s of the world in a dogfight for those third and fourth Champions League places.
Leverkusen ultimately claimed third in the Bundesliga, but perhaps their biggest success of the season was the play of one of their new signings.
Javier Hernandez signed from Manchester United in one of the summer’s most intriguing transfers. Leverkusen only paid £7.3 million for a striker who had played sparingly but had performed well on loan for Real Madrid the season before. He was an instant hit in Germany.
Finally getting consistent playing time, Chicharito bagged 17 goals in the league and 26 overall in all competitions. Bayer suffered a disappointing group stage exit in the Champions League, but they’d struck gold in signing a top European striker for such a paltry fee.
The Season Ahead
This year is already shaping up to be a more competitive season at the top of the Bundesliga. Through seven games, Leverkusen are down in 10th place.
It’s early days, but remember the Bundesliga only has 18 teams and thus only runs for 34 rounds. And there are new faces on the block who are determined to challenge for the European places. Cologne and Red Bull Leipzig have made great starts to the year. And familiar faces in Dortmund, Hertha Berlin, Mainz and Monchengladbach will be battling for those spots as well.
If Leverkusen are to finish in the top four again, they’ll need to start displaying some consistency. Their best result of the season so far is a 2-0 victory over Dortmund to begin October. But last time out in the Bundesliga they were defeated 2-1 by relegation candidates Werder Bremen.
This inconsistency is primarily the result of a mixed-bag of defensive performances. Conceding twice to Bremen was poor, as was conceding twice to CSKA Moscow at home. Moscow barely threatened Spurs, but had no trouble scoring two goals in two minutes at Bayer.
This type of inconsistency is to be expected when one of your main centerbacks is so young. Turkish veteran Omer Toprak partners at the back with 20-year-old Jonathan Tah. Tah is widely viewed as one of the best young defenders in Europe, but last year was his first full season played in the German top flight. The season before that, he was on loan to Fortuna Dusseldorf in the second tier.
Tah is learning on the job, so defensive errors will happen as he grows and gains experience. Tottenham’s constant pressing could force Tah and Toprak into mistakes. These are two centerbacks who already struggle to pass out of the back.
Instead, look for Bayer to play wide to attempt crosses for whichever two of their three strikers are starting this match. Admir Mehmedi and Stefan Kiessling can provide the height, while Chicharito and Kevin Volland can provide the speed to track down second-balls.
Their forwards are the ones to fear. Kiessling is past his prime, but they’ve got three quality strikers in Chicharito, Volland, and Mehmedi.
Oh, and we should avoid giving them free-kicks as much as possible. Hakan Calhanoglu is probably the best free-kick taker in the world. Give him enough chances and he’ll unleash a swerving strike that finds the net sooner rather than later.
I can’t overstate how important pressure will be in this match. If Spurs can close down quickly and make life uncomfortable for the Leverkusen defenders and midfielders, it will set things up very nicely for us on the road.
Leverkusen are also particularly vulnerable on the counter-attack. They’re not the paciest team at the back, and thus could struggle when Tottenham’s speedy wingers and fullbacks are able to bomb up the pitch.
Son’s skillset is quite well-suited to attack against his old team. His pace and dribbling skills have the potential to give Bayer fits. And you know he’ll be determined to pull one over on his old colleagues.
The injury to Toby Alderweireld adds a bit of a question mark to Tottenham’s lineup for this one. And there’s always the question of just how much Mauricio Pochettino will rotate after an international break, but here’s how I see both teams lining up tomorrow.
The late breaking news is that Kyle Walker has not traveled to Germany. So it’s Trippier time.
Leverkusen have a talented side, but they’ve already screwed up at home once in this group stage. If Moscow can get two against them surely we can as well. A lot depends on how Dier and Trippier can manage in defense, but we will have plenty of chances going forward.
I foresee quite a few goals in this game, but Spurs ultimately getting another big result on the road in their return to the Champions League.
3-1 to the famous Tottenham Hotspur.