As Tottenham’s Champions League dreams unravelled in line with Jose Mourinho’s drip-drip doomsaying, it was tempting to wonder how the Spurs boss might have talked up RB Leipzig’s chances were he in the stylish shoes of opposite number Julian Nagelsmann.
How could you expect success for a team looking to Manchester City’s third choice left-back, who was parachuted in as a loan January signing, for a chunk of their attacking threat?
And what about your star striker being unable to train for two weeks, cruelly robbing him of match sharpness?
Oh, that’s before you consider he must line up in a front three alongside a Paris Saint-Germain reject and a big money flop sent packing by Roma.
Of course, Angelino produced a rip-roaring display in this thumping 3-0 win to crown a 4-0 aggregate triumph – raiding relentlessly down the Tottenham right and setting up Marcel Sabitzer’s second of the evening after seeing a fit-again Timo Werner convert his earlier low cross from an offside position.
Had Werner entered this match with ideal preparation under his belt, he might have left Eric Dier marooned permanently in another dimension. Particularly before half-time, the Spurs defender needed every ounce of his commendable grit as the Germany striker tore into him repeatedly.
Dier’s attempt to clear Angelino’s cross that led to the third goal from substitute Emile Forsberg was that of a performer battered and broken by thankless exertions.
Alongside Werner, Christopher Nkunku and Patrik Schick were winning duals and shuttling with creative intent. You could not spot any lingering effect from the back-to-back draws domestically that have checked Leipzig’s Bundesliga title ambitions this month.
Theirs was a performance of purpose, belief and riotous swagger, at least until the final half an hour when they slowed the tempo and tightened the control, squeezing any last lingering drop of Amsterdam fuelled belief in the improbable from a forlorn Tottenham side.
Special legacy compounds ordinary present
Dayot Upamecano imperiously commanded the Leipzig backline, with the sort of performance John Terry or Marco Materazzi might have supplied in one of Mourinho’s great sides.
All the Special One has now are those special memories.
It really is remarkable how quickly this latest scene in the increasingly torturous third act of his career has reverted to recent type.
Mourinho gave a sparky, twinkle-eyed news conference on November 21 last year after he succeeded Mauricio Pochettino. Following three consecutive wins – albeit with six goals conceded – in all competitions – Tottenham were beaten by Manchester United on December 4.
Thirteen days. There ended a honeymoon period shorter than many honeymoons. Spurs did not win consecutive games again until another burst of three in a row at the start of February. They have not won since, with Leipzig extending this slump to six outings.
During this time, Mourinho has played the hits no one wanted to hear. Sure, Harry Kane and Son Heung-min’s injuries leave him significantly compromised in attack, but talent remains. Dele Alli, Erik Lamela and Lucas Moura – the hero of that unforgettable Ajax comeback – are not woe-is-me no hopers.
To quote Alli in his interview to BT Sport immediately afterwards: “We can’t use that as an excuse, we still have quality on the pitch.”
No romance in tough love
Tanguy Ndombele has copped frequent public criticism, presumably because the tactic worked so well with Paul Pogba. Goalkeeper Hugo Lloris, who clatters from one accident-prone 90 minutes to the next at the moment, should be grateful he isn’t a rangy and gifted midfielder. Mourinho really would be fuming then.
But even when the old tricks had lost their shine, Mourinho was still capable of putting together robust defensive outfits.
Tottenham have kept three clean sheets in his 26 matches in charge, with just Aston Villa (42) conceding more than their 37 during this period. Villa’s fellow Premier League relegation candidates Brighton and Hove Albion and Bournemouth are the only teams with fewer shutouts since Mourinho’s November appointment.
Don’t worry, though, because he’s a serial winner, trophies in every job. Well, roll on 2020-21 for that part of the dubious bargain after Leipzig followed Norwich City in making a mockery of supposedly favourable cup draws.
This man for the big occasion is without a Champions League knockout win since April 2014. All that remains is the top-four race in the Premier League. Tottenham are eighth and host a revitalised United on Sunday.
Nagelsmann’s brilliant Leipzig shone a blazing light on this uncomfortable body of evidence that begs an uncomfortable question concerning one of this century’s defining football figures: if you are a club with elite ambitions in Europe, why on earth would you ever appoint Jose Mourinho?