After losing 1-0 to RB Leipzig at home, Jose Mourinho’s Tottenham Hotspur were hoping to turn things around in the second leg at the Red Bull Arena. It was an uphill battle for Mourinho to overcome the deficit and proceed to the next round in the competition.
RB Leipzig played Tottenham on the evening of 10th March, hoping to keep their 1-0 lead. Though the structures used by both managers in the game were very similar, the tactics used by Julian Nagelsmann helped RB Leipzig to dominate the game and win it 3-0. In this tactical analysis, we will show you how RB Leipzig overpowered Mourinho’s Tottenham in the 2nd leg.
RB Leipzig started in their usual 3-4-3 formation, while Tottenham lined up using a similar formation; a 3-4-2-1. The lack of forward options for Tottenham forced them to start Dele Alli as the centre forward. Gradually as the game progressed, Tottenham changed their formation several times to adapt to RB Leipzig’s tactics and counter-press. This is how both the managers tactically set-up their teams.
RB Leipzig’s build-up play
In this match, RB Leipzig started their build-up in from the back in two distinct ways, which is in a back four and in a back 5. However, the similarity between both systems is that the full-backs/wing-backs stay high up the field in the initial moments of the phase when they start the build-up. It helped in providing width and forced Tottenham to defend in a wider block. Hence, the RB Leipzig midfielders exploited the space created in the centre, because the defensive block got stretched.
Upamecano can play as a centre-back in a back five and as a deep lying playmaker in front of the back 4. Hence, as a deep-lying playmaker, Upamecano can pick passes from the defenders and help his team in the build-up. This gives Nagelsmann more freedom to change his tactics during the match according to the opposition.
RB Leipzig’s double pivot system
The notable difference between both the systems is that, when RB Leipzig built from the back, the centre backs split wide in chains of two or three. In a back four, Lukas Klostermann and Marcel Halstenberg were splitting up, then Dayot Upamecano moved into the midfield to form a double pivot with Konrad Laimer. This gave freedom to Marcel Sabitzer and another attacker to get into the half spaces. In this way, Leipzig could outnumber Tottenham in the midfield in a 4 v 2 situation.
When RB Leipzig started their build-up in 3-4-3 formation, Klostermann, Halstenberg and Upamecano would split up. This enabled Laimer and Sabitzer to become the double pivot to give passing options to their centre-backs. Therefore, Tottenham had to commit more men in their high-press. Nagelsmann used the two different double pivot system in this match with great effect. The players in the double pivot system never operated in the same line and, hence we could always see verticality. This allowed Sabitzer and Upamecano in their respective double pivots to move into advanced positions while Laimer stayed back.
Creating numerical overloads
Here, RB Leipzig have a numerical advantage over the Tottenham defenders. Laimer cuts the ball back to Werner and; he took a shot from the edge of the box which one of the opposition defenders blocked. As a result, because of a deflection, the ball landed right onto the feet of Sabitzer. He finished in style to give RB Leipzig a 1-0 lead in the game.
Timo Werner always looked to move wide and, then cut inside whenever one of the opposition’s wing-backs could not fall back. Therefore, Werner could drag one of the centre-backs wide which stretched their block. Hence, RB Leipzig could create numerical superiority on counter-attacks because of their pacy attackers.
The RB Leipzig attackers again have a numerical advantage against the opposition team’s centre backs in a 3 v 2 situation. Werner is standing out wide on the left-wing, unmarked and waiting to receive a pass. Hence, after beating the high-press from Tottenham, their attackers could move quickly high up the pitch in this transition phase to launch a counter-attack. Therefore, this move resulted in the third goal of the game, which Emil Forsberg scored.
Three of the RB Leipzig’s attackers sit comfortably on Tottenham’s line of defence. While two of their midfielders occupy the half-spaces in between the lines which the Tottenham midfielders have left open. This creates a numerical superiority for RB Leipzig’s midfielders and attackers. As a result, RB Leipzig’s attackers created many chances by playing one-two passes in the half spaces.
The rotations between the midfielders and attackers of RB Leipzig was a bit too much to handle for the opposition. Werner constantly disturbed the opposition defence by moving in the wide areas and in the half spaces in the midfield. Thus, his movement allowed his teammates to move forward and join the attack. The fluidity of RB Leipzig’s attack allows him to drift in and out of the wide areas. For Nagelsmann, Werner has always been a special player. He knows exactly how to get the very best out of him.
Werner drops into the space between the lines to receive a throw-in from Nordi Mukiele and plays a back pass to Laimer. Simultaneously, Laimer opened up the left flank by playing a long-ball to Angelino over the head of Serge Aurier. RB Leipzig constantly used this tactic to overload the opposite flank to beat Tottenham’s press.
Tottenham’s pressing tactics
Tottenham pressed aggressively from the very first minute. They started marking every RB Leipzig’s player man to man and got tight to force them to play long passes. In the first ten minutes, Tottenham shifted to a 3-4-3 formation wherein, Eric Dier dropped in between the centre-backs. And, whenever Tottenham lost possession, they looked to counter-press RB Leipzig to win the ball back quickly.
We can see here that Tottenham are marking the central defenders and midfielders tightly to force their goalkeeper to play long passes. Also, their aim was to prevent the RB Leipzig from progressing up the field through the middle, forcing them to play to their wing-backs on the touchlines.
Tottenham’s Weakness – Ryan Sessegnon
After conceding two goals in the first 21 minutes of the game, Tottenham were still pressing their opponents high. They were trying to match RB Leipzig’s high tempo. It didn’t stop RB Leipzig because Ryan Sessegnon was not committing to the press despite the rest pressing high up the pitch. RB Leipzig started most of their attacks from their right flank to target the weak defensive capacity of Sessegnon.
Tweaks in tactics by Jose Mourinho
The Tottenham defenders were finding it very difficult to break the first line of press from RB Leipzig. They could not pass to their midfielders, so they kept playing the ball along the defence line. Even, when they could find Harry Winks or Giovani Lo-Celso, the RB Leipzig midfielders pressed them. Tottenham struggled to find their way through the middle. Mourinho had to change his tactics. He instructed Dele Alli to drop into the midfield to help in the build-up which changed their formation to 5-3-2.
After almost reaching the end of the first half, Tottenham were already 3-0 down on aggregate. They started taking more risks by committing more players forward as part of their high-press. So, RB Leipzig cannot start their build-up from the back. Later, Nagelsmann had to change his tactics again. He instructed Laimer to play as a single pivot close to the defence line. He positioned himself between the first and the second line of press to disorient Tottenham’s man-man pressing. As a result, this enabled one of the centre-backs to drive forward with the ball and start the build-up. Forcing Lo Celso, former PSG midfielder to engage, leaving Sabitzer unmarked behind the Tottenham midfielders.
RB Leipzig’s aim to play with a high tempo both in and out of possession, by attacking vertically through quick forward passes and counter-press aggressively when they lose the ball was quite successful. Not to mention, they dominated the game by progressing the ball freely through the wide spaces around the Tottenham defence and in the half spaces. As this analysis shows, they won the game 3-0 comfortably. This is how Julian Nagelsmann tactically outclassed Jose Mourinho. Now, RB Leipzig face Atletico Madrid in the Round of 16 in the UEFA Champions League. This will be their first appearance in the quarter-finals in their history.