Hugo Lloris preserves Spurs’ dignity to keep them alive for trip to Leipzig
German side dominated throughout but Jose Mourinho’s side are still in the tie
RB Leipzig’s German striker Timo Werner (second from left) celebrates scoring from the penalty spot during the Champions League round of 16 first leg against Tottenham Hotspur at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium. Photograph: Glyn Kirk/Ikimages/AFP via Getty Images
Tottenham Hotspur 0 RB Leipzig 1
The good news for Tottenham is that the damage could have been more severe. Somehow Jose Mourinho’s side still have hope of reaching the last eight of the Champions League, even though RB Leipzig seemed to be playing a different sport for much of an uneven contest, and their history of escape acts in this competition means turning this tie around will not be beyond them when they travel to Germany on March 10th.
Yet while Spurs recovered from this position in their semi-final against Ajax last season, they are up against it. Whereas Son Heung-min’s fractured arm has left Mourinho without any forwards, Leipzig have Timo Werner. An attacker coveted by Chelsea and Liverpool settled this first leg with a cool penalty, ensuring they emerged with a deserved 1-0 victory. Julian Nagelsmann’s side were superior throughout.
It felt as though Spurs would need to summon the defiance that defined their run to last season’s final. Son had joined Harry Kane as a long-term absentee before the game, leaving Spurs desperately short up front, and Mourinho knew his players would have to fight against opponents who made it clear there would be no holding back from the first whistle.
What a start Leipzig made. While their young manager has been dubbed the Mini Mourinho, Nagelsmann has been at pains to suggest his style is closer to Pep Guardiola and it was astonishing to watch the Germans break through the lines with those electrifying early surges. The first two minutes must have felt like two hours for Spurs, who barely had time to pause for breath as the red and black shirts swarmed around them, and Hugo Lloris had to be at his most inspired to preserve his side’s dignity.
The first warning shot came from Patrik Schick, volleying just wide from 18 yards, and the next sequence of events beggared belief. A cross from the right reached Werner, who saw his goalbound effort blocked by Davinson Senchez. Angelino charged in from the left flank and struck a shot that Lloris diverted on to the near post. The danger passed after Werner turned and tried to thread a low finish only for the Spurs goalkeeper to smother.
The only thing missing was a goal and that allowed Spurs to gain a foothold. They shook their heads clear and remembered that Leipzig were stretched at the back because of Dayot Upamecano’s suspension and injuries to Ibrahima Konate and Willi Orban.
Lucas Moura, performing gamely as Spurs’ stand-in forward, caused a few problems for Marcel Halstenberg with his pace. Dele Alli almost latched on to a couple of teasing crosses and Spurs went close to taking the lead when Steven Bergwijn, who has impressed since joining from PSV Eindhoven last month, tested Peter Gulacsi with an excellent curling effort.
Yet Leizpig, moving the ball slickly, remained in control. There was so much to admire about their football during the opening period. Their 3-4-3 system gave them superiority, especially on the flanks, and Werner’s elusive movement, that easy way he drifted into pockets of space from his starting position on the left of the front three, made him a constant threat. The German forward’s only problem was finding a way past Lloris, who denied him again in the 36th minute.
It has been a feature of Spurs’ recent wins, that ability to ride waves of pressure and hang on in games, but relying on opponents fluffing their lines in front of goal is hardly a recipe for success in the long run. Mourinho could hardly bank on another 45 minutes of carelessness from Leipzig.
He had seen Marcel Sabitzer and Konrad Laimer outpass Harry Winks and Giovani Lo Celso in midfield. Gedson Fernandes and Alli were quiet. Spurs had to show more adventure and there was more aggression at the start of the second half, Serge Aurier charging down the right and whipping in a cross for Moura. Gulacsi saved the Brazilian’s flick and Bergwijn steered the rebound wide.
Yet Spurs’ resistance would not last. After 56 minutes Werner veered in from the left and chipped a ball towards Laimer, who controlled with his chest before falling over a clumsy challenge from Ben Davies. It was a blatant foul from the Spurs left back and Werner kept his nerve from the spot, fizzing his penalty past Lloris.
Leipzig might have killed the game soon after. Angelino burst down the left and Werner’s brilliant dummy left Schick in the clear, only for Lloris to push the Czech striker’s shot away.
Mourinho reacted by removing Fernandes and Alli, who threw his bottle away in frustration after taking his seat on the bench. Spurs raised their level, going close when Gulacsi tipped Lo Celso’s free-kick wide. Yet Leipzig held out. Ethan Ampadu, the on-loan Chelsea defender, cruised through the game, and Spurs have it all to do. – Guardian