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Nagelsmann proves he's no 'Baby Mourinho'

March 9, 2020

Comparisons made between Julian Nagelsmann and Jose Mourinho were thrown out on Tuesday night, as RB Leipzig beat Tottenham 2-0 in the Champions League. Nagelsmann has shown that he's treading his own, innovative path.

Image: Reuters/A. Hilse

RB Leipzig 3-0 Tottenham (4-0 agg.)
(Sabitzer 10', 21', Forsberg 87')

Julian Nagelsmann chose to suit up for the biggest match of his fledgling career, and while the questionable beige number could have invited brutal heckling, his team certainly looked the part.

RB Leipzig outclassed Tottenham in all aspects across 90 minutes. They were more alert, determined, and clinical than their Premier League opponents.

Once hailed 'Baby Mourinho', Nagelsmann proved on this night just how far from reality comparisons with the current Spurs coach are.

The 32-year-old outwitted his opposite number, even as Mourinho attempted to overturn a first-leg 1-0 deficit by mimicking Leipzig's 3-4-3 formation. The ploy failed spectacularly in the face of a ruthless RB Leipzig.

"Wolfsburg and Leverkusen made life a bit harder for us than Tottenham did today," Nagelsmann told Sky afterwards, perhaps adding insult to injury to their Premier League opponents.

While Mourinho is less than three months into his Spurs tenure and missing the injured Harry Kane and Heung-min Son, Nagelsmann and Leipzig ensured they exited the competition with a whimper.

First-half blitz

Timo Werner has been the main man when it comes to assessing RB Leipzig over the past two seasons, yet the in-demand forward was once again overshadowed by the impressive Marcel Sabitzer.

Nagelsmann has given the Austrian almost a free role this season with outstanding results. Sabitzer has moved fluidly between the forward line and midfield, kick-starting attacks, linking up play, and finishing his own chances with aplomb.

Spurs just couldn't find a way through against RB Leipzig
Spurs just couldn't find a way through against RB LeipzigImage: Reuters/M. Childs

Sabitzer's opener from the top of the box left Hugo Lloris scrambling. His second, a sharp, first-time header, was perhaps even more impressive. The brace took the 25-year-old's tally to 15 goals for the season.

"These two are so important for us, both in terms of their ability and their character," Nagelsmann said of Sabitzer and Konrad Laimer afterwards.

On the sidelines, Mourinho looked lost and frustrated. Nagelsmann pumped his fists, knowing his gameplan was once again paying dividends.

Superior style

There are, of course, a few similarities between the two coaches. Both started off young, with lofty ambitions and winning personalities.

Attention to detail, an ability to analyze matches on the spot, and innovative tactics are also common themes.

Where Nagelsmann's 3-4-3 system, cultivated since his time with Hoffenheim, has somewhat influenced Bundesliga tactics (11 of 18 Bundesliga clubs have regularly played a three-man defense this season), Mourinho did the same in England when his 4-3-3 formation flummoxed more traditional 4-4-2 setups.

But there the comparisons end, especially when comparing their distinctive styles.

Nagelsmann's teams are proactive - brave, high-pressing machines, which value possession and look to control games with the ball.

Mourinho's teams have been traditionally reactive - cautious, risk-averse engines, which press aggressively within their own half and break forward on fast transitions.

This Champions League tie has addressed clearly which style is the more superior in the modern age. While Mourinho's star has been waning for some time now, Nagelsmann's masterclass on Tuesday has sparked the beginning of something special.

Hugo Lloris couldn't stop RB Leipzig on a night when the Premier League side looked second best
Hugo Lloris couldn't stop RB Leipzig on a night when the Premier League side looked second bestImage: picture-alliance/AP Photo/M. Sohn

Pedestrian second half

Nagelsmann said afterwards his side were a bit sleepy for the first quarter of an hour after the restart, noting that the score might well have played a role at that point. Even while competing at half-pace though, Leipzig found time to score a third in a second half that drifted by for both sides.

Substitute Emil Forsberg's goal, less than 30 seconds after coming on, left a scoreline that reflected a clinical performance. This was a one-team show, and even Mourinho knew it.

"I like that team very much. I wish them all the best for the quarterfinals," Mourinho said afterwards.

Nagelsmann's world

Mourinho has now failed to make it past the Round of 16 since 2014, and his last Champions League title came a decade ago.

While the Portuguese's exploits must be celebrated and respected, times have changed. This is Nagelsmann's world now, and his philosophy looks certain to start influencing football beyond the Bundesliga.

Nagelsmann recently spoke about the importance of remaining faithful to a philosophy. Tonight, the result of doing so was evident.

"It's an evening for the history books," Sabitzer said afterwards. "I'll probably sleep badly tonight because I'll have too much going through my head."

Nagelsmann also spoke of history books, acknowledging the special moment for the club.

The 32-year-old's proactive approach to football is not only effective, but entertaining. He's also proved an astute man manager, improving his players individually as well as getting them on board towards a common goal.

He's made RB Leipzig history by taking the club to its first Champions League quarterfinals. The fact that this victory comes amid a mini crisis back home — Leipzig have won just two of their last eight matches domestically — makes it all the more impressive.

After tonight, it doesn't feel like it will be too long before Nagelsmann starts emulating Mourinho's knack for winning major trophies.

As it happened:

Fußball Champions League - RB Leipzig vs Tottenham Hotspur
Image: Reuters/A. Hilse


RB Leipzig get the job and then some. They march into the quarterfinals with some authority as Spurs are swept aside. Hampered by their injuries, Jose Mourinho's side looked uncapable of challenging their Bundesliga opponents. Julian Nagelsmann got his tactics right, and Marcl Sabitzer and Konrad Laimer combined to deliver outstanding performances on a big night for the players and their young head coach.

90+1' Six minutes of added time start now. Mourinho hands 17-year-old Fagan-Walcott his debut. Must feel a bit sweet and sour.

87' GOAL! 3-0 RB Leipzig (Forsberg) Just 26 seconds after coming on, Forsberg is the first man to a loose ball in the box and he says thank you very much. Nice moment for a player who has been out of favor somewhat of late.

87' Sabitzer gets the standing ovation he deserves. Forsberg comes on for him.

84' Possession being heavily exchanged now. Nagelsmann will likely say that this second half could have been better. Upamecano races forward and nearly gets on the end of a through ball, but Lloris gathers. Tanganga arrives and rams into Upamecano. No sign of the ball. Ouch. Tanganga just bowls him out of the way and knocks him onto the ground. No penalty, but not sure why not? Anyway, five minutes of this pedestrian finale left.

80' Spurs are just limping towards the final whistle. Gedson is on for Lo Celso in what is Spurs' first change of the night. Not sure I understand that, but there we go. With perhaps a bit more cutting edge, Leipzig might have added another. Not that they needed to, mind...

73' Told that 42,146 people in the stadium in Leipzig tonight. Hope everyone washed their hands! Spurs roam forward but Halstenberg is there to make the tackle. They come again with Moura down the left, but Ali can only guide the cutback into Gulacsi's hands. Ali and Halstenberg are in a tangle afterwards.

66' Lamela gets away with a late stud scrap on Sabitzer. Spurs are trying to create chances out wide but there's no one in the middle to finish them off. Adams is making his Champions League debut tonight by the man. Nice moment for the US international, and likely the first appearance of many in this competition. Can't emphasize enough how much this game is just ticking away from Tottenham.

60' This game is drifting away from Spurs, who look blunt in front of goal. The injuries really are beginning to show now. Werner blasts over. He really wants a goal tonight. Nkunku has just come off, Haidara replacing him.

Fußball Champions League - RB Leipzig vs Tottenham Hotspur | Verletzung Mukiele
Image: Getty Images/Bongarts/A. Grimm

52' OUCH! Mukiele takes a ball to the face and looks in quite a bit of pain. The second half has started slower than the first, which is fine for RB but not so much for Spurs. Ali gestures for his team to pick up the tempo. Time is ticking away. Looks like Mukiele is going to have to come off, on the stretcher too. Tyler Adams comes on for him.

46' Second half is underway.


Only RB now can stop themselves from making the quarterfinals after a blistering first-half performance, inspired by Konrad Laimer and Marcel Sabitzer. Two goals to the good on the night, three in the tie and Spurs only had one chance of note in the whole half. Nagelsmann is loving life so far.

45' CHANCE! After Gulacsi makes a save, it doesn't take long before RB are back the other end testing Lloris. Dier's clearance pings off Schick and Lloris has to dive to keep it out. That would have been quite the way to concede.

42' CHANCE! Nearly a lifeline for Spurs. Lo Celso somehow gets a low curling effort creeping into the back post from the right hand side, but Gulacsi is there to palm it away. A good save, in what might have been a turning point in the game.

40' Leipzig are camped in Spurs' half, lingering with intent. Mourinho's men just need to get to halftime now, and so does the coach to be honest. He hasn't been able to match Nagelsmann and last year's finalists look like they're going home unless Ajax 2.0 happens now.

34' Ryan Sessegnon is booked for a late clip. Leipzig are dancing around Spurs now, just enjoying themselves. Not sure this is how Nagelsmann drew it up, but that is how it is playing out and I can imagine quite a few teams watching on will want to avoid RB in the next round.

31' Spurs are doing their best to get some control in this one. They just need a break, but the problem is that every time RB go forward they look like scoring. So fast, so intent on scoring. Werner bends one over from the edge of the box.

26' Laimer stops a counter with a superb tackle and then plays the pass that ends up in RB winning a corner. Lots of talk about Sabitzer, but what a player Laimer has been for them. Spurs really need to change something here if they're to stand any chance. Far too open at the back.

21' GOAL! 2-0 Leipzig (Sabitzer) I mean, it's hard to say it wasn't coming. Laimer with a great diagonal ball that Angelino floats in. Sabitzer meets the cross with power and Lloris can only get to it after it's crossed the line. Sabitzer at the double and RB are waltzing into the quarterfinals now.

Fußball Champions League - RB Leipzig vs Tottenham Hotspur
Image: Getty Images/AFP/R. Hartmann

19' OFFSIDE! Werner tucks home from a couple of yards out and wheels away, but the flag is up and rightly so. Goodness me when RB turn it on, they do look like they have wings.

17' Eric Dier makes a last-ditch sliding tackle to deny Timo Werner a one-on-one chance. Spurs are hanging on a bit here, but they do get forward eventually and it takes a brilliant clearance from Upamecano to clear Aurier's low cross. The resulting corner is also cleared by Upamecano. Is he the best defender in the Bundesliga? I don't know, but he's in the conversation.

14' It feels like the changing of the tide here - Mourinho's approach vs. Nagelsmann revolution. RB are all over Spurs here who can't hold onto the ball for long enough. Nagelsmann was super pumped by the opener, largely because I think he knows it's a long way back for Spurs now.

10' GOAL! 1-0 Leipzig (Sabitzer) Just as things started to look scrappy, the hosts have the lead. Laimer's break down the right ends in Werner having a go. That shot was blocked by Dier, but the ball is recycled to Sabitzer on the edge of the box. He whips it low, first-time towards the bottom corner and Lloris can't get enough of a hand on it to stop it from going in. Is that the tie over?

6' Dele Alli curls in a low pass but Leipzig deal with it and eventually go down the other end where Sabitzer doesn't quite trust himself to shoot, instead squaring it to Angelino. That shot is blocked and the chance is wasted.

2' Early nerves from Eric Dier, as he sells a backpass to Lloris short which gives RB a corner. The set-piece is dealt with though. For those watching on tonight, enjoy the stadium atmosphere. It might be the last you hear in a while.

1' Off we go. Tottenham get us started.

— The teams are out, the music is on and the stadium is full. Make of that last one what you will, but the first two should get you in the mood for a thrilling game.


Julian Nagelsmann has been speaking to Sky before the game:

"We're likely to see Spures defend deep today and that we'll need to find solutions between the lines," Nagelsmann said, adding that he hoped Timo Werner would be providing some of those answers.

When asked why he came out to sit on the bench on his own for a while Nagelsmann said it wasn't anything too philosophical. "The reason is because its quite warm in the changing room and I sweat a lot so I wanted to cool down."

Sometimes it really is as simple as that.

As for the game: "We don't need much external motivation. It's clear the lads want to make the next round... I think this is the fastest team I could have picked, but it's also the best team I could have picked for the game. Any other decision would have been silly."

A word on Jose Mourinho: "He will have had some thoughts, that's why he's well paid."

Nagelsmann's team!

Nagelsmann has gone with an aggressive team for tonight's. That front three is capable of the energy and ruthlessness that any side would need to overcome any side, but after a draw in Wolfsburg and one against Leverkusen this RB side has slowed of late. Will they be able to turn it on tonight?

RB Leipzig XI: Gulacsi - Klostermann, Upamecano, Halstenberg - Angelino, Laimer, Sabitzer, Mukiele - Werner, Schick, Nkunku

Away team!

Tottenham have 20-year-old left back Japhet Tanganga starting tonight. Given the injury concerns, that front three isn't bad at all. Jan Vertonghen, Gedson and Troy Parrott all on the bench, as is 17-year-old defender Malachi Fagan-Walcott. What a night for the youngster.

Tottenham XI: Lloris - Aurier, Alderweireld, Dier, Tanganga, Sessegnon - Winks, Lo Celso - Lamela, Lucas, Dele

— Focus

Julian Nagelsmann is looking smart tonight. He and his team have arrived at the stadium ahead of the game tonight. Line-ups expected soon.

— Who is favorite?

If player value was an indicator of quality, then Spurs should walk this game. According to Transfermarkt, Spurs' current squad is worth €864m. RB Leipzig's is below that at €594m. Knowing how the first leg went and how sport is generally though, this game remains wide open. Julian Nagelsmann's side have a 1-0 lead, one that comes with an away goal, and have the benefit of not being under as much pressure as their opponents.

— Fans on their way!

Despite all the concerns over the coronavirus, the game is open to fans. That being said, it doesn't look like many Spurs fans will be making the trip to London based on the state of the airports in London...

— Throwback Tuesday: Once upon a time

RB Leipzig met Tottenham for the first time a fortnight ago, but it wasn't the first time Spurs have played a Leipzig team. In 1974, they played Lokomotive Leipzig: a different club, at a different time, in a different world. Click here to read the full story courtesy of DW's Matt Ford.

— Coronavirus update: Game to go ahead

— Pre-match spotlight: Timo Werner

Only Erling Haaland, Robert Lewandowski, Kylian Mbappe, Lionel Messi and Ciro Immobile have scored more often in Europe's top 5 leagues this season, but Werner is still waiting to open his Champions League account on home soil. All seven goals in the competition have been scored away from home by a player who claimed that Leipzig could reach the semi-finals "with two good performances and a bit of luck in the draw". Phase 1 of the three-part plan is complete, now for Phase 2.

— From the coaches' mouth: Julian Nagelsmann

"Each one of us will push themselves to the limit tomorrow. It's not often that you play Spurs in the Champions League Round of 16 and have the chance to progress to the quarterfinals. It's not a duel between two equals. I'm not thinking about that too much. I want to get through with my team. But RB Leipzig vs. Tottenham Hotspur is definitely a game between two equal teams."

— Fun fact: Knockout specialists?

Leipzig's record in two-legged knockout European ties is W5 L1, their 2017/18 loss to Marseille the sole defeat (1-0 h, 2-5 a).

Read more: Leipzig drop to second after Wolfsburg draw

— Pre-match spotlight: Hugo Lloris

Were it not for their World Cup winning goalkeeper, Tottenham would have been on the receiving end of a first leg blowout against the knockout stage debutants. The Frenchman made no less than six key saves in London and was only beaten from the spot with Timo Werner converting a second-half penalty. Spurs are misfiring up front, but to stand their best chance at overturning the tie Lloris will have to match his output from a fortnight ago.  

From the coaches' mouth: Jose Mourinho

"That game [the first leg] belongs in the past. We have to write a new story. I am not surprised Leipzig are fighting for the Bundesliga title. We have to go there and make the perfect game. We must be ready for this fight. It's tough but we are still alive, even though the confidence is not right up there."

— Fun fact: Tough travels

Tottenham's record in Germany is W5 D2 L7; the defeat at Bayern on Matchday 6 was only their second in their last seven visits (W3 D2).

Possible line-up: Leipzig

Gulacsi - Klostermann, Upamecano, Halstenberg - Adams, Sabitzer, Laimer, Angelino - Nkunku, Schick, Werner

Possible line-up: Tottenham

Lloris - Aurier, Sanchez, Alderweireld, Davies - Ndombele, Winks - Lamela, Lo Celso, Lucas - Alli

Leipzig: City of the Peaceful Revolution

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