Tottenham host RB Leipzig on Wednesday night, as the Champions League knockout stage throws up yet another exciting clash, with the side sat second in the Bundesliga travelling to London, looking to build on an impressive group stage performance.
Leipzig have gathered a reputation as one of the most exciting, attacking sides in Europe, and whether this will be on show in on Wednesday night awaits to be seen, as they come fresh off a comfortable 3-0 win over Werder Bremen, courtesy of goals from Lukas Klostermann, Patrick Schick and Nordi Mukiele.
Tottenham left it late against Aston Villa as Heung-Min Son pounced on Bjorn Engels error to give his side the three points, and under Jose Mourinho, they are finding ways to win games even in the most unlikely of circumstances. Still finding defensive worries at the back, there appears to be a much more structured approach going forward, and Mourinho’s side will be confident of causing problems to Leipzig on Wednesday, particularly on the break.
On paper it looks to have the makings of a classic, but how these games play out over two legs can often be much tighter affairs, and must be factored in.
On paper, it should be an exciting, open affair with two sides more suited to attacking than defending matching up on Wednesday.
Leipzig have adjusted to a 3-4-3 in recent weeks since the winter break in the Bundesliga, however injuries and suspensions are a real issue for Julian Nagelsmann side, and must be factored into the clash. It is in defence where the biggest concerns are for the German side, and they are without their central-defensive lynchpin in Dayot Upamecano, who will be sorely missed at the back.
The Frenchman’s ability to play out from the back has been key to Leipzig’s playing style, whilst his aerial ability and pace to cover from centre back has also been a stand out in a side that can often look to play a high line, and be reliant on his covering ability. How Nagelsmann adapts his side to this will be particularly interesting, and it could either see a switch back to a back four or, continuation with a back five, with makeshift centre backs.
This is an area that Spurs are particularly well equipped to target on the counter attack, and they showed how potent they can be on the break against Aston Villa on Sunday, with Stephen Bergwijn and Son particularly impressing with their driving runs at the Villa defence, who operated a surprisingly high defensive line. The lack of pace at the back for Leipzig without Upamecano means that they will be relishing the opportunity on the break, and could see Spurs look to sit and soak up pressure, before hitting Leipzig on the counter, one of Mourinho’s favoured ploys in games like these.
The holding midfielders will have their work cut out for Leipzig, as they will have to be wary of this counter attacking threat, whilst looking to create going forward. Marcel Sabitzer has been used as a central midfielder well in recent weeks, with his runs from deep impressing against Bayern Munich in a 0-0 draw, but he could be moved outwide with Amadou Haidara moving centrally. Tyler Adams will be a huge miss after an impressive run of form in the midfield for Leipzig, but it is top where Leipzig are most impressive, and well equipped to cause problems for Spurs.
Spurs defensive line has been a real issue throughout the last few weeks, and further concerns were on show as Davinson Sanchez and Tody Alderweireld struggled to communicate and hold together a strong line, something that allowed Aston Villa plenty of joy in behind throughout the game. Norwich, Southampton and even Middlesbrough have been able to exploit this in recent weeks, and Leipzig themselves highlighted their threat in behind with Timo Werner’s movement, alongside Christopher N’Kunku’s driving runs from deep causing Bayern Munich a host of problems two weeks ago.
Particularly worrying will be Serge Aurier’s struggles against Jack Grealish on Sunday, and this could be an area Leipzig look to target, allowing N’Kunku and Werner to drift into this channel, rather than Spurs’ left where Ben Davies impressed on his return from injury. The defensive work from the wingers in front can often be questionable for Spurs and leave them open to overloads, so the role of Angelino will be crucial for Leipzig, as this is certainly an area that can be targeted. He should be given cover to push forward by the back three, whilst Konrad Laimer in holding midfield once again been particularly impressive for Leipzig in recent weeks, stepping up since Diego Demme has exited to Napoli.
The central midfield is looking more balanced for Spurs in recent weeks, and they will be requiring a similar defensive performance from Harry Winks and Giovani Lo Celso to that in the victory over Manchester City before the break. Winks and Lo Celso offer much more creativity and control on the ball than Eric Dier does, whilst their defensive work is improving, and this will give Mourinho faith in the duo, if fit enough, that they can control the midfield, in what will be a crucial battle on Wednesday.
On paper it has the makings of a cracking encounter, and whether Spurs can capitalise on Leipzig’s absentees awaits to be seen.
Although caution has to be taken with these two-legged games when considering the goal markets, as side can be keen not to lose out early, I believe Tottenham in particular will sense a real opportunity to pounce on Leipzig’s injury worries and try play on the front foot. Both sides are much stronger going forward than at the back, and factoring in the above thinking and tactical pointers, Over 2.5 goals and both teams to score at 1.83 (Bet365) is appealing.
Taking charge of the tie is Turkish referee Cuneyt Cakir, and in 18 games this season he has dished out 83 yellow cards and three red cards. His card happy nature stretches to the Champions League games where others can often show leniency, and the open, tactical nature of this game appeals on cards. Both sides can be left open from an attacking point of view, and cynical fouls to stop tricky attackers will be no surprise. Priced at 2.60 (Bet365), each side to have over 1.5 cards is appealing, and with no fit centre backs for Leipzig, out of position players may carry value on the card markets when the line ups are announced, and is something to watch out for.