The UEFA Champions League’s most fascinating thing isn’t the games or the quality of action. It is the number of plots and sub-plots that lead to these games and quality of football. In every single game, there is a plot that leaves everyone fascinated. In the upcoming Tottenham Hotspur v RB Leipzig tie, the subplot will be just as interesting.
It isn’t a plot that jumps out on the first look though. It isn’t as obvious as Pep Guardiola returning to Spain to tackle Real Madrid or Thomas Tuchel facing Borussia Dortmund. It is about two varying styles and a battle of the new, flashy manager against an older, pragmatic manager. It is Julian Nagelesmann against Jose Mourinho.
Nagelsmann has a fair share of his admirers not just in Germany but all over the world. One of those in the line were Spurs themselves, as the Lilywhites had tried to sign Nagelsmann as Mauricio Pochettino replacement not long ago. While that interest had come a year late. But that only adds spice to the plot.
Spurs could look at the result of the game and see whether they made the wrong choice or not. If Jose gets Spurs over the line, they will be glad. But if Leipzig do progress into the quarter-finals, Spurs could easily be full of regret. They could have gone the other way not long ago.
Nagelesmann has finally settled to playing a 4-4-2 shape at Leipzig on a consistent basis. He did experiment with other shapes, thanks to his ability to be flexible with shapes. But the style has been the same, as Leipzig usually play an attacking brand of football.
They like to keep possession and rely on vertical passing- something that the RB style has become known for. They press high up the pitch and constantly look to nick the ball off in areas close to goal.
While Spurs were a lot like this under Pochettino, they’ve made a change under Mourinho. While they have shown glimpses of some good attacking football when Harry Kane was fit, they’ve become a counter-attacking side without the England captain.
They like to force the opposition into mistakes, invite them forward and hit them with pace. The addition of Steven Bergwijn from PSV Eindhoven has helped them in that regard. They do have some problems in midfield but playing deeper helps them negate them to an extent.
Mourinho- like he usually loves, wants his teams to be strong at the back. They can change from being a 3-2-4-1 out of possession to being more 4-2-3-1 in possession. It is a sign of being flexible in shapes- like Leipzig. Like the East Germany side, they too have quite the same system irrespective of the formation.
So it clearly is a contrasting situation. Both managers haven’t exactly been at their clubs for long and are still getting their sides to get into the systems fully. Both of them have often been slipping up- Spurs more often. But Leipzig have shown that they can be prone to leaking goals, having let in 25 goals so far.
It is also important to note that Leipzig have created an XG of 49.90, while Spurs have created an XG of 32 only. It shows what sort of approach Mourinho will take since Leipzig clearly score more goals than Spurs.
And the game will shape up to be a very decent tactical battle. But what comes before that is the subplots. At the end of the day, it will be make or break for both teams. Especially for last season’s finalists.