Spurs' backline crumbling like a house of cards
Pochettino's plan to play out from the back is not working
BAYER LEVERKUSEN 1
(Kevin Kampl 65)
Don't tell anyone at Arsenal, but it's becoming rather easy to stop Tottenham.
Sunday's North London Derby comes at the worst time for Mauricio Pochettino's charges as the fatal flaw in their master plan finally reveals itself.
Spurs cannot play out from the back, not in their current guise and certainly not on current form.
Bayer Leverkusen's fully deserved victory at Wembley yesterday morning (Singapore time) was an exhibition in pinpointing their opponents' weakness and probing mercilessly.
Roger Schmidt, the Leverkusen coach, displayed the forensic callousness of a playground bully attacking the class coward.
He went for Tottenham's fragile defence. When Spurs pressed high, the Germans pressed even higher.
Schmidt countered Pochettino's whizz-bang tactics with a little old-school stuff, sending out a 4-4-2 with industrious wingers and a high back four.
On the road to a first victory on English soil, Leverkusen passed Leicester City on the way.
As Pochettino persisted with his laudable attempts to go back to the future, the German side borrowed from the Foxes and went retro.
And Tottenham's inability to beat either Leverkusen or Leicester in recent days presents a genuine problem.
Their manager appears to be admirably - or stubbornly - loyal to his idealistic, Guardiola-like principles of playing from the back.
It's admirable when he's winning. It's stubborn when he's not.
Tottenham have now endured six lacklustre games without victory, scoring just three times along the way. They haven't found the net from open play in their last five.
Only their unbeaten run in the English Premier League, which appears more impressive thanks to the erratic inconsistency of their rivals, keeps whispers of a minor crisis at bay.
With Harry Kane out, Tottenham cannot score, a longstanding issue that only further questions their decision not to add more substantial firepower in pre-season.
Without Toby Alderweireld, however, Tottenham are often calamitous.
Pochettino's defensive structure was a house of cards at Wembley.
Whenever Leverkusen pressed, Spurs' immaculate facade disintegrated, leaving shards of shattered defenders across the turf.
Kyle Walker's night was a comedy of errors, with almost every scuffed pass and botched clearance creating openings for the German side.
On the other flank, Ben Davies chipped in with his share of nerve-shredding blunders and Eric Dier seemed determined to conclusively prove that he was a midfielder playing out of position.
Just after the hour mark, the makeshift centre back miscontrolled a dropping ball and then nodded a dreadfully short backpass to Hugo Lloris.
It was not the urgent work of the last man, but the lackadaisical, risky approach of a central midfielder.
The jittery edginess proved contagious.
Even Lloris' distribution was awry, carving more slices than Jamie Oliver let loose with a cucumber.
As Tottenham's defence succumbed to the pressure, their forwards took the night off. Christian Eriksen and Dele Alli went Awol.
Son Heung Min was anonymous and Moussa Sissoko resembled the wayward Newcastle winger. At Wembley, he was out of his depth.
For the first time, Pochettino's Tottenham looked like dazed and confused men trying to reinvent the wheel for its own sake.
Playing from the back with a weakened, nervy back four was not interpreted as a bold statement of intent, but a potential suicide note.
More alarmingly, Leverkusen realised that it was relatively uncomplicated to contain Tottenham's attacking threat whilst poking a stick at the English side's defensive weak spots.
Utilising their lively wingers Julian Brandt and goal-scorer Kevin Kampl, Leverkusen maximised the width of the Wembley pitch and pulled the game away from Spurs' centralised playmakers. It was all too easy.
And then they went for the jugular. They went after Tottenham's traumatised fullbacks and the entire side unravelled.
Sloppy passes, missed tackles, inept clearances, negligent marking, slow running and an overwhelming lack of urgency and invention underscored an awful performance that quickly ran out of ideas.
And there was no Plan B.
If Tottenham come close to repeating the failing trick in Europe, their Champions League campaign will be over before it has begun.
And if they persist with the kamikaze defending against Arsenal, Mesut Oezil will dance all day long.
BY THE NUMBERS
Mauricio Pochettino has gone winless in six games as manager for the first time since December 2013 at Southampton.