Timo Werner ended his goal drought as RB Leipzig took a big step towards the Champions League quarterfinals. Julian Nagelsmann’s team dominated for long periods and could have scored more.
Tottenham Hotspur 0-1 RB Leipzig
(Werner – pen 58’)
Tottenham Hotspur Stadium
Konrad Laimer lay on the floor surrounded by physios, the refereee stood on the edge of the box surrounded by a herd of players and Timo Werner stood alone with only memories of recent misses and the chance of atonement from the spot.
As Laimer was helped up and the referee broke free to lecture Hugo Lloris, Werner slowly strode over towards the traveling RB Leipzig fans where the ball was lying, unattended. He picked it up and placed it on the penalty spot.
Seconds later he was running back over to the away end and cupping his ear having slammed the penalty an inch to the right of Lloris' palm and given his side an overdue lead.
"Penalties are always 50-50 and you have to keep your nerves under control, especially when there’s a player still lying injured, like Konrad was," Werner said post-match. "But I kept cool and it worked."
His ear-cupping celebration is easily the most familiar in RB’s short history, but it hadn’t been seen for over a month, with their talisman struggling for goals. Werner missed a golden chance in the big Bundesliga title clash in Munich 10 days ago and twice had the goal at his mercy in the opening 120 seconds on Wednesday night.
Though his goal-scoring record is enviable, the 23-year-old isn’t an out-and-out striker and often looks at his most threatening cutting in from the left. So when Laimer forced a pass through to him in exactly that position 12 yards out, it looked the ideal opportunity to end a wait for a goal that was stretching into its fifth game.
Instead Werner took one poor touch to control it, another to try and correct the first and stabbed an unconvincing effort at Lloris. A man with more self-belief would have hit it with his left.
Sometimes, in such situations, it takes someone unexpected to re-instill that most vital of striking of qualities. In this instance, Ben Davies was that man. The Spurs left back barged into a challenge with Laimer that he had no chance of winning. After trying to open the jam jar himself for so long without success, Werner found someone to loosen it for him.
The Germany striker has always been something of a streaky scorer but, despite the presence of Patrik Schick and later Yussuf Poulsen, making sure he hits those rich seams at the right time remains critical to Julian Nagelsmann's plans.
And they largely worked on Wednesday. The Bundesliga side pinned Spurs back for large periods of the first half, looking much more comfortable on the front foot than they have in recent years.
"We knew that Tottenham like to play with long balls but we were surprised that we had so much possession," admitted Werner, who perhaps expected a tougher baptism of fire when facing Premier League opposition for the first time.
"It was the first time in England for many of us," he said. "The atmosphere gave me goosebumps walking out."
The visitors looked more comfortable in Tottenham’s new home than their hosts did, enjoying up to 70 per cent of possession in a dominant first half. Laimer was the central pivot, coolly spreading the ball across the pitch, especially to the left wing where Werner and Angelino consistently exploited Serge Aurier’s questionable positioning.
The towering Schick was a constant physical threat in the box, too.
As the clock ticked down and the home side started to belatedly impose themselves, 19-year-old Ethan Ampadu went down with cramp as RB understandably began to tire. But, a string of free kicks aside, one of which from Giovani Lo Celso produced an outstanding flying save from Peter Gulacsi, Tottenham never really threatened.
"That was definitely down to our energy levels," commented Werner. Still, a critical late interception from Ampadu suggested his fatigue may have been an old trick from a young head, a trait Nagelsmann knows plenty about.
As he shook hands with Jose Mourinho, the man with whom he’d been constantly compared to in the build-up, Nagelsmann will have known the job is far from done, both in this tie and the longer term.
If he’s to be compared to the Spurs boss in terms of trophies, he’ll need Werner at his lethal best.
As it happened: relive the action:
FULLTIME: Tottenham Hotspur 0-1 RB Leipzig
89' Tottenham getting closer! Lucas Moura heads over from six yards. He may have been distracted slightly by the towering Halstenberg jumping in front of him.
86' Another Tottenham free-kick, this time from Lamela. But it has the same outcome as Gulacsi tips it round the post. The Hungarian keeper has been one of several outstanding performers for RB this evening.
83' Another Lo Celso free-kick comes to nothing, this one richocheting back off the wall.
81' Ndombelé tries to weave his way through the middle into the RB box but there are too many bodies in the way.
80' Huge calls for a Tottenham free-kick after Halstenberg challenges Aurier and comes away with the ball. Mourinho is furious and perhaps he has a point; Halstenberg's elbow did seem quite high.
75' Tottenham trying to ramp up the pressure and drag themselves back into the game. Lamela breaks free down the left but he's offside. At least the home fans have found their voice again as "Oh when the Spurs go marching in!" rings around the ground.
73' So close! Lo Celso hits it left-footed and Gulacsi flies through the air and tips it onto his right-hand post. What a save!
71' A scrappy five minutes or so come to an end as Nkunku brings down Lo Celso on the edge of the RB box and gets booked. Now Tottenham have a free-kick in a very dangerous position.
63' Tottenham subs: Gedson Fernandes and Dele Alli are replaced by Erik Lamela and Tanguy Ndombelé
62' Almost 2-0! RB put together the move of the game so far as Angelino drives into space down the left. He cuts the ball across, Werner dummies brilliantly and Schick shoots hard but straight at Lloris. It would be game over if not for the Frenchman in the Tottenham goal.
61' Lo Celso fires in a low drive from the edge of the RB box but Gulacsi is equal to it.
58' GOAL! Tottenham 0-1 RB Leipzig (Werner - pen)
Goal drought? What goal drought? Timo Werner smashes the ball low to Lloris' right and RB have a valuable away goal.
56' PENALTY TO RB! Ben Davies clatters into Konrad Laimer in the box and the referee has no choice but to point to the spot!
50' Big chance for Spurs as Aurier crosses for Lucas Moura, whose shot is well saved by Gulacso, and RB clear.
47' A brief interruption as the traveling RB fans throw toilet rolls onto the pitch and hold up a banner reading: "Stand up for fair prices." A reference to a particularly negative development in modern football. No prizes for spotting the irony, there.
KICK-OFF! We're back underway in the second half. Both teams unchanged.
HALF-TIME: Tottenham Hotspur 0-0 RB Leipzig
Well, that flew by! What an introduction to the Champions League knock-out stages for RB Leipzig: thirteen shots to three, five corners to two, twice as many passes played and almost 70 percent possession. All that's missing is a goal - and an away goal would be worth its weight in gold. They have had chances, Timo Werner in particular, but the 23-year-old hasn't scored in five and looks just that little bit short on confidence.
45' Jose Mourinho is scribbling furiously into his notebook on the Spurs bench. I wonder what he's writing? "Need more possession?" "Too much space on the right?" "No outlet up front." All are true.
41' Angelino spreads the play to Werner on the left and his cross is cleared for a corner, which is also cleared. Can RB get a goal before half-time? They certainly deserve one.
39' Nordi Mukiele is receiving treatment on his knee and RB are temporarily down to ten as Gedson Fernandes swings a cross in from the right for Spurs, but it's cleared.
36' The best chance so far for Timo Werner! Laimer finds him in space in the box but Werner opts to toe-poke the ball with his right foot rather than strike with his left, and Lloris saves. Huge chance.
35' Aurier sends a low cross into the six-yard-box which Gulacsi gathers. Some signs of life from Tottenham, finally.
33' Timo Werner is booked for a pretty pointless late challenge on Harry Winks. That was a bit silly.
32' ... which is cleared. Spurs break with Lo Celso and Bergwijn and win a corner of their own, which ends in Lo Celso firing over. Finally a bit of respite for the home team!
30' With half an hour played, RB have increased their share of possession to 68 percent. They've also recorded 11 shots on goal to Tottenham's one. It's one-way traffic and now the visitors have another corner ...
27' Schick finds Angelino in space again down the left but his cross is just too far ahead of Werner - although the striker was probably just offside.
24' RB really do look impressive on the ball, circulating it around confidently - invariably via Konrad Laimer, who is conducting proceedings in the middle.
19' Spurs don't dare put a challenge in on Nkunku in the box as the tricky Frenchman dribbles around. Eventually, Angelino's effort is gathered up by Lloris. Julian Nagelsmann will be very pleased with his side's start so far, but can they get a vital away goal?
17' Close! Patrik Schick heads just inches wide from a corner. RB have been improving from set-pieces recently with the big Czech providing a presence up front.
15' RB Leipzig with 60 percent possession in the opening 15 minutes, completing almost 100 passes. Not statistics we're used to seeing from the Red Bull side, but a taste of what Nagelsmann is trying to implement.
12' And now Sabitzer also goes into the book. The RB captain had been warned once and now he goes in late on Bergwijn. What a breathless game of football so far.
11' The Spurs fans are creating a fantastic atmosphere in the opening stages - not always a given in English football these days. On the pitch, RB enjoying a spell of possession.
10' The first yellow card as Lo Celso goes into the book for a foul on Sabitzer, paying the price for stopping a dangerous-looking attack in its tracks.
8' And now Gulacsi makes the save! Bergwijn curls a shot towards goal but the Hungarian is equal to it. Both goalkeepers have been called into action in the early stages.
6' A typically aggressive start from RB as captain Sabitzer brings down Lucas Moura in the center circle.
2' And then Angelino hits the post before Lloris saves from Werner. What a start from the visitors!
1' Within one minute, Patrik Schick fires wide from the edge of the box.
KICK-OFF! We're underway in North London
Tottenham traditionally all in white from right to left, RB in a changed black and dark red strip.
- Fan march!
The traveling fans have already made their presence felt in North London, as DW's Matt Pearson found out!
- The form books
RB Leipzig didn't get 2020 off to the best of starts, winning only one in four in the Bundesliga while also getting knocked out of the German Cup. But Saturday's comfortable win over Werder Bremen saw them return to form and restore some confidence ahead of the trip to London.
Jose Mourinho wasn't universally welcomed by Tottenham fans when he took over but, since defeat to runaway league leaders Liverpool in January, his side are unbeaten in seven.
- Tottenham Hotspur team news:
Jose Mourinho makes two changes to his Spurs team which came from 2-0 down to beat Aston Villa 3-2 at the weekend. Giovani Lo Celso and Gedson Fernandes start in place of Eric Dier (bench) and Heung-Min Son (broken arm).
Midfielder Erik Lamela makes the bench following a groin problem, while England international Harry Kane (hamstring) remains injured.
Tottenham XI (4-2-3-1): Lloris - Aurier, Sanchez, Alderweireld, Davies - Winks, Lo Celso - Gedson, Alli, Bergwijn - Moura
- RB Leipzig team news:
With Dayot Upamecano suspended, Welsh teenager Ethan Ampadu starts at center-back for the visitors. Dani Olmo drops to the bench in favor of Christopher Nkunku. RB line up in a 3-4-3 which looks like it will become a 5-3-2 when not in possession.
RB Leipzig XI (3-4-3): Gulacsi - Klostermann, Ampadu, Halstenberg - Mukiele, Sabitzer, Laimer, Angelino - Nkunku, Werner, Schick
- Memories of 1974
It may be RB Leipzig's first trip to Tottenham but it's not the first time Tottenham have played a team from Leipzig. In 1974, the Londoners faced Lokomotive Leipzig in the UEFA Cup semi-final, winning 4-1 over two legs. The game took place in a different world altogether, with the East German secret police, the Stasi, an ever-present threat. DW spoke to those involved:
- Mourinho vs. Nagelsmann
The Portuguese is undoubtedly one of the great managers of the modern era. Mourinho (52) is one of only five coaches to have won the Champions League (or, previously, the European Cup) with two different clubs (FC Porto and Inter Milan) while he has also won domestic titles in Portugal, England, Italy and Spain.
If Mourinho is the experienced old bull dog, then Nagelsmann is the young terrier. The 32-year-old earned a reputation as a wunderkind at Hoffenheim and is now tasked with taking RB Leipzig to the next level.
- Old vs. new
This may be new territory for 11-year-old RB Leipzig but not for their opponents. 137-year-old Tottenham Hotspur went all the way to the final in last season's competition under Mauricio Pochettino. But after losing to Liverpool, the Argentinian was sacked and replaced by Jose Mourinho.
- A first for RB Leipzig
Tonight marks the first ever appearance in the Champions League knock-out stages for the Red Bull-backed side. Their only previous participation in the competition in the 2017-18 season ended with elimination in the group stage, although they did go on to progress to the Europa League quarter-final.
Friendly meetings with Aston Villa and Rangers aside, it's also RB's first meeting with a British team. Coach Julian Nagelsmann has been to England before though. His Hoffenheim team lost to Liverpool in 2017-18 Champions League qualifying and to Manchester City in the 2018-19 group stage.
- Guten Abend! Welcome to DW's live coverage of the Champions League last-16 first leg match between Tottenham Hotspur and RB Leipzig. Kick-off is at 21:00 CET.