What promised to be a very exciting tactical game before the actual kick-off, turned out to be a rather one-sided one, where RB Leipzig took all the initiative and controlled possession for the majority of the game, creating several lethal attacks and chances. The only goal of the game came from a penalty even though Leipzig had more chances to score more. The final score was a 1-0 result in favour of the German side, with Timo Werner’s penalty giving Leipzig the advantage going into the 2nd leg.
Spurs lined up in a more rigid and deep 4-4-2 formation without the ball, where Alli formed a forward pair together with Lucas Moura. In possession Alli acted as a #10.
RB Leipzig played in a 3-4-2-1 with Ampadu playing as the central centre-back together with Klostermann and Halstenberg forming a 3-man backline. Angeliño played at left wing-back and Mukiele right wing-back.
Laimer and Sabitzer played as the central midfield pair with Werner and Nkunku ahead of them as #10’s and Schick as the lone forward.
Nagelsmann’s Positional Play Versus Mourinho’s Defence
From the start, Mourinho’s game plan was clear. He organized a very deep and rather passive approach from his side.
The deep and passive approach gave Leipzig a lot of time in on the ball, allowing them to progress quite cleanly in possession and try to create different superiorities against Spurs’ defence.
One of Nagelsmann’s main principles in possession is to always have a spare man in the first phase of possession, in order to create a numerical advantage and to progress cleanly. This principle was evident as Leipzig were successful in creating the numerical advantage (3v2) against Spurs’ two forwards.
Alli and Lucas’ were tasked with closing central passing options and to prevent Laimer and Sabitzer role in contributing to the progression. However, this did not affect Leipzig’s progressions because they used switches to the wide centre-back’s to carry out the progressions.
If Spurs’ had access to the wide centre-backs they tried to force Leipzig towards the flank.
Ampadu did a fantastic job in progressing the play and switching sides quickly but was also good in dribbling into space in front of him to attract pressure from the first line of defence. This not only led to many progressions via passes to the wide centre-backs but also from Ampadu himself as he could dribble forward with the ball and progress in that way too.
From the half-space positions, Leipzig’s wide centre-backs created several successful attacks by finding the ball-near #10 through the second line of Tottenham’s defence and from there the #10 could combine with the ball-near wing-back.
An important role in providing an extra option and combining the progression for Leipzig was Schick’s false-9 position. He gave the centre-backs a further, option in high areas centrally. Schick’s positioning created a 3v2 centrally.
Not only did the half-space oriented centre-backs progress but as mentioned above so did Ampadu too. As the central defender of Leipzig progressed on the dribble he also played some terrific passes between the lines of Spurs and in the sequence above to Shick who played a pass to the 3rd man, Nkunku, who could switch or progress via Mukiele on the flanks.
As mentioned before, the passive approach from Spurs gave Leipzig more time on the ball, but the deep defending organization stopped Leipzig from playing vertically and exploiting spaces in depth. This was something Mourinho tried to adjust in the second half by starting the pressing earlier and in higher zones. This only led to more spaces between the lines for Leipzig to find.
Tottenham were rather good in slowing down Leipzig’s attacks and blocking the half-space option and shifting across to press the wide wing-backs of Leipzig.
The closer towards the goal, the more the Spurs’ full-backs were oriented to the half-space options thus keeping their backline compact horizontally which led to Gedson and Bergwijn having to take on the responsibility of pressing Leipzig’s wing-backs. A defensive formation which looked like a 6-2-2.
As the game went on, the more Leipzig found space in front of the midfield which gave them the option to have faster switches when circulating the ball, overloading one side and attacking the other.
Leipzig’s defensive approach was not typically energetic and aggressive. However, they were hard to beat and must be given credit for the organisation and execution of their counter-press and rest defence.
Nagelsmann expressed after the game, that he thought that Leipzig were the better team and deservedly won the game. Although many attacks were unsuccessful which led to several turnovers, Leipzig displayed several ways of getting through Spurs’ low-block which in the end led to them scoring the only goal of the game thanks to Timo Werner’s penalty. It was a positive result in the end for Leipzig, leaving Mini-Mourinho’s side as favourites for the upcoming second leg.