Leverkusen and Tottenham are two sides with plenty in common. In winning at Wembley, Roger Schmidt’s side have taken a big step towards the last 16 of the Champions League and may have put their recent woes behind them.
The sight of every Bayer Leverkusen player, including the sockless match winner Kevin Kampl, celebrating with the jubilant traveling support at full time underlined the magnitude of their 1-0 victory over Tottenham Hotspur on Wednesday night.
This was a must-win for two sides that have stuttered in the Champions League this season. The prize for the winner was a significant stride towards the knockout stages, while the loser would be left to rue another false dawn. Both of these sides know a thing or two about that.
On the face of it, you wouldn't necessarily think Leverkusen and Tottenham Hotspur have a great deal in common, but there's more that unites them than meets the eye. Both sides possess a young, intelligent, highly rated coach with a tactical blueprint of hard pressing and putting in the meters. And both possess a smart transfer policy with some of the best young talent in Europe among their ranks.
But crucially both are also fragile, with a tendency to self-destruct at the crucial moment. Indeed, the word "Spursy" has even been coined in England to describe a football-related choke. This was indeed another familiar night for the North Londoners, but Leverkusen's victory was as impressive as it was deserved.
The high stakes made for a nervous night in front of 85,512 at Wembley, but it was Leverkusen who handled the occasion with the kind of maturity that gives them a good chance to reach the last 16 of the Champions League for the first time in two seasons.
Kampl kick-starts Leverkusen's Champions League campaign
The palatial surroundings of Wembley have proved a curse rather than an inspiration to Spurs this season and Leverkusen, buoyed by a relatively small but boisterous pocket of support in the stadium's southeast corner, made life hard for a Tottenham side who are now winless in six. But Leverkusen also had reason for trepidation, with last weekend's Bundesliga victory at Wolfsburg their first win in five, but hardly a turning point in their season.
Kampl proved to be the hero with a scruffy second-half winner, the kind of goal that suited a shoddy game, but it was a strike that could ignite Leverkusen's season. This victory was not only the vital signature win that Leverkusen had craved, but a potentially pivotal one for Schmidt, who has been under scrutiny following his recent touchline antics and inconsistent results.
The game unfolded as Schmidt, back in the technical area for the first time since being sent to the stands against Hoffenheim on October 22, had planned. His side defended aggressively and attempted to exploit Spurs on the break. The strategy worked a treat and, while Schmidt was agonizing on the touchline as chances came and went, his side remained patient before Kampl's winner eventually came.
Mauricio Pochettino's Spurs, suffering from the absences of injured central defender Toby Alderweireld and striker Harry Kane, seemed crippled by anxiety and lacking in confidence or any kind of game plan. Meanwhile, Schmidt's Leverkusen were disciplined, mature and executed their game plan perfectly.
"We were courageous and bold," Schmidt told the post-match press conference in the bowels of Wembley. "We pressed well going forward and created many chances. It was a very hard away game in a difficult atmosphere so I'm very pleased with the win."
Schmidt added: "We enjoyed our football, showed commitment and determination against a team that are unbeaten in the Premier League, and that makes the result even more special. Our minimum aim was to take one point here so to take all three is a great bonus for us. I think we can finish in the top two of this group, but it will go down to the last game."
In beating Spurs, Schmidt guided Leverkusen to their first victory in the Champions League this season, and into calmer waters than they were in a couple of weeks ago.
Judging by the hundreds of Leverkusen fans singing as they drifted along Wembley Way towards Wembley Park tube station, they will return to Germany with fresh belief.