Is this the biggest game of the Champions League season? It certainly feels that way. The pressure is created by losing the opening Wembley against AS Monaco, there’s a psychological barrier to overcome. That and four matches without a win.
It’s down to confidence. And goals, Mauricio Pochettino was very keen to make that very point:
“We cannot have all the pressure on our striker. Our second line need to score more, be more determined, and maybe we are lacking those goals this season.”
Very true and a nice line in distraction technique from Vincent Janssen’s lack of goals. Or lack of goals from open play to be more accurate. The longer the Dutchman’s run continues, the more psychological pressure he puts on himself.
Barren spells are part and parcel of the strikers’ lot; they have to by their nature, be immune to not scoring. Genuine concerns ought to be raised if they aren’t getting into the position to miss chances. There’s little evidence of this with Janssen.
But it isn’t just him, we’ve scored just three goals in four games but in the Premier League, we’re the lowest scorers of the teams in the European places. It’s a horrible comparison but in the corresponding fixtures last year, we scored six more goals – ignoring Middlesbrough.
Defensively, we’re a couple of goals better off this season. It hints at a palpable change of direction from the manager, scarred by the end-of-season collapse last time around. So what does this have to do with the Leverkusen game?
Fundamentally, I think we’re at a point where we need to be more expansive in attack. It came together in the home match against Monaco in last season’s Europa League; we need a performance like that to imbue confidence for the European and domestic campaigns.
There is talk of Harry Kane’s return on Wednesday but surely it will be as a substitute in preparation for the weekend’s fixture at Arsenal. You can never underestimate the benefits of a player of his calibre returning from an ability and a psychological perspective.
He hasn’t been at his best this season – a legacy of the disastrous summer with England, no doubt – but the reputation counts with his team-mates. They know how good he is and that fillip, the appearance of the ‘leader’ is entirely beneficial.
Leverkusen won at Wolfsburg at the weekend which sounds impressive but their opponents are third from bottom in the Bundesliga. But it’s a win and in one game, they took as many points as we have in three. There is no compelling case for either side to win Wednesday’s match on current form.
Which is good. We’re without Toby Alderweireld for Wednesday’s match or for the North London Derby on Saturday. Leicester, with their limited attacking inspiration, found it quite easy in the second half last weekend and we need to work on that but as I mentioned earlier, we’ve been focussing too much on defence.
Perhaps we need to trust that cheaply conceded equaliser is a lesson learned?
It’s a match we can’t afford to lose and I hope that it doesn’t inhibit the players. A win would be a bonus but defeat is not an option.