When Tottenham announced plans to play this season’s Champions League fixtures at Wembley, chairman Daniel Levy had hoped it would allow more fans the chance to see a burgeoning Premier League outfit.
Two matches later, and Spurs have two losses to show for it.
Wednesday’s limp defeat to Bayer Leverkusen gave yet another reason why Wembley is more of a burden than a blessing. A wave of supporters left with 15 minutes remaining in an eventual 1-0 loss.
Despite setting a club-record 85,512 attendance, the atmosphere never picked up, and the travelling German fans took advantage of what was supposed to be a home game for the north London side. There were even boos from the lingering local contingent, those fans who decided to see out the match amid a spattering of empty seats.
Progressing to the last 16 is now a real task after four matchdays.
Kevin Kampl’s opportunistic strike decided the uninspiring match, as he jumped on a loose ball that took a fortunate deflection off Ben Davies.
It was one of only a few chances for either side, with Eric Dier crashing a free-kick off the crossbar later in the evening. Vincent Janssen, a frustrating summer signing from the Netherlands, missed an inviting rebound as well.
But Tottenham’s scoring woes aren’t exclusive to the Champions League: Mauricio Pochettino’s men have managed just three goals in six games.
Harry Kane’s absence is an obvious reason for the team’s profligacy – he’s now missed 10 matches across all competitions with an ankle problem – and while there’s always an abundance of effort on the pitch, it’s the overall shape and strategy that’s alarming. The Tottenham attack doesn’t appear to have a specific plan going forward, and the dynamite pressing that made a title push possible last season has disappeared.
If anything, it was Leverkusen who harried and hassled Spurs.
Wembley is certainly a factor. As former Chelsea and Aston Villa midfielder Andy Townsend noted, there’s a different feeling at White Hart Lane.
“When you play matches at home against top teams in Europe your advantage is being at home in familiar surroundings. You can generate an atmosphere and here at Wembley it is a different surface, different surroundings,” he said on BBC 5 live. “It is just not White Hart Lane and it looked like that tonight and it is being highlighted by the sticky run they are on right now.”
Since winning the 2008 League Cup, Tottenham’s lost the past six matches at Wembley. English clubs in general have struggled to make it a fortress: Not one has kept a clean sheet at the Home of Football in Champions League play in nine attempts.
But it’s obviously a bigger problem than real estate. Tottenham isn’t playing like the exciting newcomer on the European scene, but rather as a disjointed side that’s overcome by the occasion.
Injuries to Mousa Dembele and Toby Alderweireld certainly robbed Pochettino of two of his prime ball distributors. Getting touches in the opposition’s penalty area is also proving more difficult. On Wednesday night, Spurs enjoyed just 11 touches in the opposite 18-yard box. It’s not good enough.
“We were poor and it was a bad result. There’s no excuse – it wasn’t the pitch and it wasn’t Wembley,” said Pochettino afterwards. “We didn’t have energy and weren’t aggressive. The players are very disappointed. Now we need to lift them.”