Easily the most open group in the competition, it’s still anyone’s guess as to who’ll finish where in group E as we approach gameweek 3. All four teams are separated from the next by a point each; Monaco top the group with 4 points, followed by Spurs on 3, Bayer on 2, and finally CSKA on 1.
Tottenham Hotspur and Bayer Leverkusen now face back-to-back visits to the BayArena and Wembley Stadium, respectively, in a tie that should hopefully give some shape and structure to the poor man’s group of death.
The sides have met only once before, in the 2006/07 Europa League group stage, when a Dimitar Berbatov goal gave Spurs a 1 – 0 win at the BayArena.
The German side have been a mixed bag of results this season; their 2 – 0 win over potential Bundesliga Champions Borussia Dortmund was sandwiched between a 1 – 1 draw against Monaco in the UEFA Champions League, and a 2 – 1 loss to Werderbremen on the weekend.
Bayer currently sit 10th in the Bundesliga table, with three wins and three losses in their first seven games, and third in group E of the UCL, after two draws against Monaco and CSKA.
Up front, Javier Hernandez has finally found form again, after an indifferent start to the league season. The Mexican now has five goals and an assist in 6 league games, and will be hoping he can inspire this side once more to a possible top 4 finish, and maybe a run in the Champions League itself. Given the open nature of the group, you certainly wouldn’t put it past them.
Alongside Chicharito, Hakan Calhanoglu and Joel Pohjanpalo have certainly pulled their weight, and while the performances haven’t been as good as last season, it’s not all despair over at the BayArena, with the win over Dortmund certainly raising spirits.
One area for concern has been the form of summer signing Kevin Volland. The German was signed from Hoffenheim for a fee of €20.0m, but is yet to get off the mark, failing to score in nine games in all competitions. Volland was signed to help relieve some of the pressure from Chicharito’s shoulders, and manager Roger Schmidt will be hoping he can find his scoring touch again soon.
Schmidt will be without the injured quartet of Lard Bender, Vladlen Yurchenko, Karim Bellarabi, and Joel Pohjanpalo for this game.
This is how Bayer Leverkusen are expected to line up:
Benjamin Henrichs, Jonathan Tah, Omer Toprak, Wendell Borges;
Julian Brandt, Charles Aranguiz, Kevin Kampl, Hakan Calhanoglu;
Javier Hernández, Admir Mehmedi.
Given how they collapsed in the dying stages of last season, Spurs had an understandably slow start to the premier league, this time around. Their campaign started off with two draws in their opening three games, accompanied by some very uncharacteristically dire performances.
The resurgence beyond that third league game is credit to manager Mauricio Pochettino, who rallied his side up and got them playing the slick, attacking football that almost won them the league last season. They’ve put together a wonderful run since then (with an admittedly shock loss against Monaco), that has seen them pick up 4 wins a draw in the league, including a 2 – 0 win over title rivals Manchester City, in a match where they completely overwhelmed the champions elect.
Spurs strengthened shrewdly in key areas over the summer. Moussa Sissoko, Victor Wanyama, and Vincent Janssen were all signed to add some much needed depth and quality to a rather thin squad, and all three seem to have settled in well at their new club.
Janssen too, like the aforementioned Volland, is yet to get off the mark for his new club in the league (he has scored once in the League Cup), but his presence has helped Pochettino rotate up front, as Harry Kane looks to rediscover the form that helped him to the golden boot last season (25 goals).
Amidst the strikers struggling to find their feet, Heung-Min Son has been the major beneficiary of Pochettino’s rotation policy, and the South Korean is finally coming good on the €30.0m Spurs paid for him in summer of 2015. Son has been in wonderful form of late, with five goals and two assists in the last seven games in all competitions, and his resurgence has been one of the reasons for Spurs’ excellent recent run of results.
With Spurs just one point behind group leaders Monaco, who face a trip to Moscow, Son and co. will be looking to go back to London with all three points, to make sure they keep their hopes of a decent run in the Champions League alive.
On the injury front, Harry Kane and Toby Alderweireld will miss the trip to Germany.
This is how Tottenham Hotspur are expected to line up:
Kyle Walker, Eric Dier, Jan Vertonghen, Danny Rose;
Victor Wanyama, Moussa Sissoko;
Christian Eriksen, Dele Alli, Erik Lamela;
*Team news as at time of writing.
Bayer Leverkusen 0 – 1 Tottenham Hotspur
Spurs’ recent resurgence, plus the instability in Leverkusen’s performances should mean a hard fought victory for Pochettino’s men. Harry Kane may not be travelling with the squad, but there are enough big names there to make sure Tottenham can see this one out.