The top clubs in Europe return to Champions League action and we’ll be previewing them all here! The round of 16 second legs begin this week and will carry on into mid-March.
Up next in our series of previews is English club Tottenham Hotspur from Group B traveling to Red Bull Arena in Leipzig, Germany to face Group G’s RB Leipzig. Tottenham enters this match with a poor run of form having had two losses and a draw in their last 3 Premier League games. RB Leipzig have been better on the road all season, but are experiencing their own Domestic dip. Tottenham will not be well served by scoring a single goal, because the Champions League tiebreakers would yield extra time if Tottenham can keep Leipzig scoreless and win 1-0. If extra time wasn’t sufficient to sort it out, it would go to penalties. Tottenham would have to score at least two goals and win this leg to avoid the tiebreakers.
Here’s a look at the clubs:
Tottenham’s form since our article on the round of 16 first leg ties has not been good. They have lost their last two games to Chelsea (2-1) and Wolves (3-2). They will play one more game on March 7th against Burnley but they will be without two of their better players in Son and Harry Kane. Their chances of securing a Champions League place have decreased markedly with those two consecutive losses. They currently reside in seventh place in the Premier League and are five points outside the Champions League spots at the time of this writing. There is the possibility of Harry Kane (and even possibly Son) returning before the end of the season, despite originally being written off.
Tottenham was unable to spoil RB Leipzig’s visit to the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium and they really struggled to find a rhythm. In particular, Tottenham was able to generate five total shots on target (which the visitors matched) but the injuries on the attacking side were visible. Ben Davies has struggled throughout his Champions League appearances this year, and this match was no different. This time, however, his mistake led to a RB Leipzig penalty after a foul in the box on Konrad Laimer. The Spurs fell well below their Champions League average 3.3 goals scored at home and have made it even more important for them to at least score two in the away match. They will need to have an inspired performance from Ben Davies on that left side to shore up the defense and find some attacking threats.
Players to Watch:
Lucas Moura: Moura has taken a substantial hit to his playing time and appearances this season. That said, as expected he got the start alongside Dele Alli and combined to produce a few shots but overall it wasn’t a great day at the office. I’m not really sure Mourinho has much in line for an alternative with a dramatically shortened bench. But now would be a great time for Moura to regain some of his prior form, as without it current and future year champions league hopes may dwindle. He’s showed last season that he’s a very capable scorer, but for whatever reason he hasn’t been able to find his touch yet this season.
Hugo Lloris: Lloris made his long awaited return from injury in their last match and looked pretty good while doing it. The Spurs will really need the man between the sticks to trade in gloves and kit for a cape and some red and blue spandex. Leipzig got one over the Spurs on the back of a phenomenal showing from the opposing keeper, Peter Gulacsi, who made five great saves (where Lloris came up just one save short). Honestly, Lloris has had a long injury layoff and it’s reasonable to expect him to need a few games to return to his prior form. After two consecutive losses (and a third possible), I expect Lloris to be as motivated for this match as he could possibly be.
Serge Aurier: In our last write up we discussed the role Aurier would need to play going forward while also discussing his limited involvement in games this season. However, after a rather mediocre performance in the first match Spurs will need him to step up in a big way. Aurier normally provides lots of crosses and key passes, which he did not contribute to the expected levels in the first leg with 1 key pass and zero corners. He also only managed to rack up a 66% pass completion rate and was dispossessed several times. Aurier needs to find his form, quickly, if the Spurs want to have a chance at overcoming RB Leipzig in this tie. With so much of the attacking force and creativity missing with Kane and Son injured and Eriksen gone, Aurier might need to step up and provide the service.
RB Leipzig has maintained their form in the games played between the two legs with a five-goal drubbing of Schalke and a 1-1 draw with Bayer Leverkusen. They continued to increase their second-best in the Bundesliga goal differential from +31 before the first leg to +36 where they currently stand. They have fallen from their place at the top of the Bundesliga to trail Bayern Munich by three points where they currently reside in second.
In the first leg of the Champions League, Leipzig won but not through any major statistical advantages in the game. They obviously made one more save than Tottenham did resulting in the 1-0 scoreline, but the goal was ultimately the result of a penalty that was neatly tucked away by one of our players to watch, Timo Werner. The main difference in the game came from a foul in the box by Ben Davies (on Laimer — another player to watch) that put Werner at the penalty spot. Leipzig did not attain their average goals scored of two goals, though they kept a clean sheet and performed better than anticipated in terms of goals against (average of 1.6 goals allowed). Leipzig is one of the unique teams that actually performs better on the road (scoring double), so they will be thrilled to bring a 1-0 lead to the Red Bull Arena in Leipzig.
Players to Watch:
Timo Werner: Werner literally won the day for RB Leipzig, he managed four shots. Two of which were on target while the other two were blocked. Werner also managed a 83% passing success rate on thirty passes. I expect Werner to continue to bring his 3.5 shots per game, a key pass, and he has provided good, consistent performances in the Champions League. Given all of those, I expect Werner to find even more options this time around because it’s all or nothing for Tottenham which will force Mourinho to play for the win.With the lack of options on the striker front, i expect him to deploy creative midfielders further forward and bringing in some other options to deal with the Leipzig strikers.
Emil Forsberg: Forsberg did not play well off of the bench in the first leg, but still remains as the second highest goal scorer for the team in the Champions League. As a result, I still think there is a good chance that he adds to his tally. He should get more opportunities as Tottenham pushes forward trying to get back into this tie. Mourinho has had a tendency to park the bus when he’s undermanned, specifically with goal scorers with his previous employers. And that’s not going to work here against an attacking Leipzig team which could lead to them being exposed for Forsberg to take advantage of.
Christopher Nkunku: Nkunku hasn’t been a huge part of the team’s Champions League success, however he’s done very well in the Bundesliga. In the regular season, he’s made only 15 starts (eight more substitute appearances) for about 700 fewer minutes than the clubs leading goal scorer and our first player to watch. Despite that, he leads the team with twelve assists in the Bundesliga, however, so far, like Forsberg that form has not transferred to the Champions League. This is a good opportunity for Nkunku to elevate his form to that of his Bundesliga play.
What to Expect:
I think Tottenham will try their best to avoid extra time and/or a shootout, that means they’ll have to come out swinging. I’m just not sure that Tottenham has the firepower to score two goals right now, and if they do, what the costs will be to reach that target. The latter two Leipzig players to watch seem primed to have a bug game against a chasing Tottenham team. I think this game is going to be wide open and feature lots of goals.
Last Updated: March 8th, 2020