Tottenham v RB Leipzig
Wednesday 19 February, 20:00
Live on BT Sport
Solving Leipzig puzzle will inspire Mourinho
Tottenham boss Jose Mourinho had plenty of time to digest what he learned from his latest personal scouting trip to watch RB Leipzig. Having seen his club’s last-16 opponents play out an intriguing goalless draw at Bayern Munich, Mourinho was then detained for longer than expected in Bavaria because of Storm Sabine (Ciara to her friends.) The Portuguese tactician will have seen plenty of weaknesses to encourage him in the first half, but also things to make him wary in the second.
This is the kind of challenge that gets Mourinho out of bed in the morning. Leipzig coach Julian Nagelsmann is arguably the best in the Bundesliga already (he is just 32) and many expect him to have a glittering career. Mourinho has been accused of being behind the times, using mind-games and parking the bus as the football world leaves him behind.
Not all of the football his Tottenham side has played has been pretty, but Spurs are on the charge. They have reached the fifth round of the FA Cup, and a run of three straight Premier League victories has taken the Lilywhites to within a point of Chelsea in the race for fourth spot. Given that fifth might be enough for Champions League qualification, Spurs are well placed to return to the big time next term.
Tottenham have won eight of their last ten home games in all competitions, with Chelsea and Liverpool the only teams to disturb that positive sequence. Their last defeat was over a month ago.
Star striker Harry Kane is still injured, but the outstanding Heung-Min Son is doing his best to fill the void. The South Korean international has scored six goals in his last five appearances, and has found the net in all five of those games. He got the winner in Sunday’s chaotic 3-2 win at Aston Villa.
Ben Davies is likely to keep his place at left-back after finally returning from injury, while Steven Bergwijn has impressed since arriving from PSV, and should start again here.
Leipzig a club in a hurry
This time 11 years ago, RB Leipzig didn’t even exist. In 2009, the Red Bull drinks company purchased the licence of a fifth-tier club called Markranstadt. By 2016, RasenBallsport Leipzig (contrary to popular belief, they are not called Red Bull Leipzig) had risen from the fifth level of German football to the first.
Last season, Die Roten Bullen reached their first ever DFB Cup final, and this term they are fighting for the Bundesliga title and have reached the knockout phase of the Champions League for the first time. The club’s progress is far from universally popular, but that progress has proven to be unstoppable.
On the field, there is a lot to like, as 32-year-old coach Julian Nagelsmann is one of the sharpest minds in the game, the club employs a thrilling brand of football, and the squad is packed with exciting young talents. Players like Timo Werner (20 Bundesliga goals this term), Christopher Nkunku, Dayot Upamecano and Dani Olmo all feel like stars in the making, and even if Werner and Upamecano move elsewhere in the summer, Leipzig have shown they have the infrastructure to find the next big thing.
Leipzig picked up their first win in nearly a month on Saturday, as they beat struggling Werder Bremen 3-0. RBL scored all of their goals in the first 46 minutes, and Nagelsmann admitted his team had been able to play in second gear. Perhaps more instructive was the recent trip to Bayern Munich – Leipzig drew 0-0 after being dominated in the first half, but having bounced back strongly in the second. If you look at Leipzig’s away games against title rivals this term, they have drawn at Bayern, Borussia Dortmund and Bayer Leverkusen, and they overcame Borussia Monchengladbach 3-1 at Borussia Park.
Leipzig have a big personnel problem in central defence. Willi Orban and Ibrahima Konate have been out for a while, and Upamecano is suspended. On-loan Chelsea teenager Ethan Ampadu has only made three substitute appearances in the Bundesliga, but Nagelsmann has indicated the Welshman may start as the central part of a back three.
Spurs worthy favourites
Tottenham’s home form under Mourinho has been generally excellent, and the unit can draw upon the experience of last season’s run to the final. Leipzig are growing as a group, but games of this magnitude are all a bit new to them, and their overall form has dipped since the winter break. The loss of Upamecano to suspension is a huge blow, and the likes of Son, Bergwijn and perhaps Lucas Moura will get chances to do damage.
My main selections lie elsewhere, but if you’re determined to pick a winner, back Tottenham Draw No Bet at [1.82].
Goals likely, but they’ll take time to arrive
If you look at the big games that Leipzig have played against title rivals, they have tended to make passive starts, and have then managed to recover. They went 2-0 down at Borussia Dortmund and drew 3-3, and they were outplayed by Bayern in the first halves of both league games, but came back to grab a draw on both occasions. At home against Borussia Monchengladbach recently, Leipzig went 2-0 down, but a storming second half saw them draw 2-2.
If you look at Leipzig’s recent Bundesliga games, you see that 14 of their last 16 goals in the German top flight have come after half time. On that basis, coupled with their defensive issues, I’ll make two recommendations. Back Tottenham in the First Goal market at 5/6, and back Second Half in the Half With Most Goals market at evens.