Can Tottenham cope with rampant RB Leipzig in the Champions League?
Background image: Steffen Prößdorf, CC BY-SA 4.0.
The last time Jose Mourinho and Tottenham Hotspur squared up against German opposition in the Champions League was in December. The English side was humbled 3-1 by Bayern Munich. But the self-proclaimed Special One, in his usual style, played down the loss insisting he would like to come back to the Allianz Arena “for a proper match”. The former Chelsea boss reckons his team is capable of getting past the German champions in the knockout stages. Well, he will have to beat a fellow Bundesliga side in RB Leipzig to have a chance of setting the records straight against FC Hollywood.
Unfortunately, he’s unlikely to find RB Leipzig any easier to play against. After losing 10-3 over two legs to Bayern, there could also be goals aplenty when facing the Red Bull-owned club. Julian Nagelsmann’s team remains amongst the best on the continent as far as goalscoring is concerned. And with Tottenham's defence consistently shipping in goals, it could be a matter of which team outscores the other to progress.
Few teams can beat the German side at that, particularly on current form. That's why Nagelsmann's side has emerged as a serious title contender in the Bundesliga this term. In a league that has been dominated by Bayern in recent times, Leipzig is standing tall. The Red Bull side have done enough to convince many dethroning the serial champions is a real possibility.
Unfortunately for Mourinho, it may be time to lower his ambition for the season as his team has been hampered by injuries. The squad has been hit hard where it hurts the most. Captain and leader Harry Kane was ruled out for three months after undergoing a hamstring surgery back in January. Son Heung-Min took over the mantle as the main source of goals in his captain’s absence. But the South Korean could only hold off the pain to net a last minute winner against Aston Villa over the weekend. He is set to miss the better part of the remainder of the season due to a wrist fracture. Lacking the usual key figures upfront, Mourinho must improvise.
The Portuguese gaffer surprised many when he masterminded a crucial win against Pep Guardiola's Manchester City to move closer to the top four in the Premier League. He will need to do it all over again. This time to take Spurs to the next round of the Champions League. Mauricio Pochettino led the Lilywhites to the Champions League final last season despite adding no new faces to his squad in the previous summer.
Mourinho has made a few signings to improve the side. Portuguese defensive midfielder Gedson Fernandes joined from Benfica to fill in for the injured Moussa Sissoko. Winger Steven Bergwijn was also brought in from PSV Eindhoven, who showed his importance when opening the scoring against City during the aforementioned 2-0 win.
Players like Erling Braut-Haaland and Ante Rebic are showing how much impact new acquisitions can make. The young Netherlands international will need to follow their example. Lucas Moura and Erik Lamela are also available to provide support upfront. Lamela’s fellow Argentine, Giovani Lo Celso, has also filled in for Christian Eriksen. His understanding and combination with both Harry Winks and Dele Alli will be vital.
However, getting past a talented side like RB Leipzig will require the best from Tottenham. Although lacking the years of experience Mourinho possesses in the dugout, Nagelsmann has built a team capable of taking out any opponent. They currently boast one of the best goalscorers in the world. Timo Werner is a wanted man at the moment for his exploits in front of goal this season. He spearheads Leipzig's attack to devastating effect. With 20 goals in 22 Bundesliga appearances, he's proving his worth.
Although his return in the Champions League has not been as impressive, having netted thrice in six outings, Tottenham could provide the perfect opportunity to take things up a notch. Remarkably, Leipzig is filled with scorers. From Marcel Sabitzer to Emil Forsberg, Christopher Nkunku and Yussuf Poulsen, goals can come from anywhere.
In the end, Mourinho will need to draw from his wealth of experience in Europe to navigate safely through the double-header. The return of experienced goalkeeper Hugo Lloris will go a long way to help keep the ball out of Tottenham's net. But with centre-backs Toby Alderweireld and Davinson Sanchez struggling to rediscover their best form, will that be enough?