If any positives are to emerge from Tottenham’s humbling by RB Leipzig, perhaps it will force this drifting club to rethink a strategy which is failing them at the moment. This is not just about José Mourinho, even if he increasingly looks like a manager whose best days belong in the past. It is also about Daniel Levy taking the easy way out when results dipped and not having the vision to stick with Mauricio Pochettino, who should have been given the opportunity to build again after losing the Champions League final to Liverpool last season.
Ultimately it was more straightforward to fire the manager than splash out on transfers. Across two legs against Leipzig, however, the consequences of Levy’s decision to hold on to players who should have been sold a long time ago have been laid horribly bare. Spurs are a tired, stale side, without enough depth to cover injuries in attack, and they could not grumble about being bundled out of the last 16 by Leipzig, who were accomplished 4-0 winners on aggregate.
Leipzig were superior throughout and it is clear to see why there is such a buzz around their 32-year-old manager, Julian Nagelsmann. Indeed it is hard not to wonder if Spurs would be playing with more energy had they hired a bright young coach like Nagelsmann instead of replacing Pochettino with Mourinho, that proven winner who has not been past the last 16 of this competition since 2014.
Spurs had the look of a team grasping for conviction from the start and it did not take long for their slim hopes of a dramatic comeback to recede. There was a brisk confidence about Leipzig, a sense of calm when they had the ball, and danger inevitably flared whenever Timo Werner eased into the wide open spaces down the right. Spurs were too open despite using a back five, Eric Dier and Toby Alderweireld wobbled when they were confronted by the speed of Werner or the intelligent hold-up play from Patrik Schick and the only surprise was that it took Leipzig until the 10th minute to extend their aggregate lead.
The opening goal stemmed from one of those elusive bursts from Werner, who had already created an early opening for Angelino. Spurs were all over the place defensively, as they have been all season, and although Dier blocked Werner’s initial attempt, the German had time to collect the loose ball, assess his options and work out what to do next. Marcel Sabitzer was free on the edge of the area and, with Érik Lamela too slow to react, the Leipzig captain’s firm low drive had enough zip to squirm beyond Lloris.
It was a poor effort from the goalkeeper and another reminder of how many of the players who once made this Spurs side so exciting have regressed in the past year. Even if allowances had to be made for their problems in attack, where they were without Harry Kane, Son Heung-min and Steven Bergwijn, the painful truth for Mourinho was that his players had no way of containing opponents who knew exactly how to implement their well-drilled plan. It was one-way traffic throughout the first half and Spurs were fortunate not to fall further behind in the 19th minute, Werner aghast to see the linesman’s flag go up for offside when he tapped Angelino’s cross into an empty net.
In Mourinho’s defence he had gone with a relatively attacking lineup. Yet Ryan Sessegnon found it hard to get into the game after being given a rare chance at left wing-back and there was little threat from Dele Alli in the false nine role. Then again, given that Mourinho had been forced to pick a side made up of players with 26 goals between them this season, the dearth of creativity in the final third hardly came as a surprise.
The only bite came from Lamela, until Giovani Lo Celso went close near the end of the opening period. Leipzig were cruising by then, though. They kept cutting through a soft Spurs midfield and pulled further clear when the outstanding Angelino crossed for Sabitzer to head past Lloris at the near post. Once again the Spurs goalkeeper should have done better.
The tie felt like a formality at the break and although Leipzig’s flow was disrupted when Nordi Mukiele suffered a nasty injury at the start of the second half, there was still no evidence that Spurs believed they were capable of pressing against the inexperience of opponents who were making their debut in the knockout stages of this competition.
Leipzig added a third when the substitute Emil Forsberg scored from close range. Spurs had been outclassed. They are out of the FA Cup, eighth in the Premier League and have lost four of their last six matches. All eyes are on Levy. The Spurs owner must show his worth.