Diminished and now defeated, the only consolation for Jose Mourinho’s labouring Tottenham was that this defeat was not much heavier.
Tottenham did not so much lose this game as barely even contest it. Only in the late stages, as Leipzig inexplicably fell off the pace of the contest, did Tottenham show themselves. They could even have equalised as Lucas Moura headed over from six yards at the death but a draw would have been an extraordinary outcome.
Mourinho had called it, of course. The Tottenham manager said the rest of the season would be an uphill struggle once he lost Son Heung-min to injury this week. Without Son and without Harry Kane, who would score goals for his team?
Timo Werner (centre) gave RB Leipzig the lead in the 58th minute after emphatically converting from the penalty spot
Werner celebrates with his Leipzig team-mates in front of the jubilant travelling support at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium
Werner slots his penalty past the outstretched Hugo Lloris, who had no chance of denying the German international
Ben Davies gives away the penalty following a clumsy challenge on Leipzig midfielder Konrad Laimer on Wednesday
The Wales international goes into the referee’s book following his reckless foul on Laimer in the second half
Julian Nagelsmann shakes hands with Jose Mourinho after getting the better of the Portuguese manager on Wednesday
Tottenham Hotspur: Lloris 6.5, Aurier 5, Alderweireld 6, Sanchez 6.5, Davies 4.5, Lo Celso 6.5, Winks 6, Fernandes 5 (Ndombele 64, 6.5), Bergwijn 6, Lucas Moura 6, Alli 6.5 (Lamela 64, 6).
Subs not used: Vertonghen, Dier, Gazzaniga, Skipp, Tanganga.
Booked: Lo Celso, Davies, Lamela
Manager: Jose Mourinho 5.5
RB Leipzig: Gulacsi 6.5, Klostermann 6, Ampadu 6.5, Halstenberg 6, Mukiele 6, Laimer 7 (Forsberg 83), Sabitzer 6.5, Angelino 7, Nkunku 6.5 (Haidara 74, 6), Werner 7.5, Schick 6.5 (Poulsen 77).
Subs not used: Lookman, Wolf, Olmo, Mvogo.
Goals: Werner 58
Booked: Sabitzer, Werner, Nkunku
Manager: Julian Nagelsmann 7
Referee: Cuneyt Cakir 6
But this was a story with more chapters than just those about missing forwards. This was a tale of an English team dominated in every single area of the field by one currently contesting the German title race. Leipzig were not just better, they were in total control and the fact they have only Timo Werner’s second half penalty to show for it is one of the European season’s more remarkable curiosities.
What was clear once again here was how much ground has been lost by Tottenham since last season’s incredible journey to the final of this competition. They are a different side in so many ways. Less athletic, less dynamic, less energetic and certainly less sure of themselves. To say Tottenham are a team in transition would be the most generous way of spinning it and, already, it is hard to ignore nagging doubts about the enduring capabilities, or otherwise, of their manager.
After defeat to Chelsea early in his reign, there were whispers at Tottenham about how Mourinho failed to react to Frank Lampard’s surprise decision to play three at the back. Chelsea won that game comfortably.
Here, again, Mourinho seemed to be outthought by a younger coach, Leipzig’s Julian Nagelsmann. All night the German team benefited from an extra man in midfield. It was this that gave them such a weight of possession and this that enabled them to feed wing-backs Nordi Mukiele and Angelino with such monotony. Mourinho seemed unable to find a plan to combat it and it cost his team. Strange.
The warnings were there in the very first minute or so. Astonishingly, Leipzig created four chances in the opening 82 seconds. They hit the post through Angelino while Hugo Lloris saved from Werner. Another shot, from Patrik Schick, flew wide while one more was blocked.
It was a whirlwind start and from the outset Mukiele and Angelino were involved. The latter, a young Spaniard, is on loan from Manchester City and he was terrific all night. He may not have expected so much space to run in to down the left side but the 23-year-old still had to make the most of it and he did.
Mourinho and his Tottenham players have it all to do now to remain in this season’s Champions League
Lucas Moura had a golden opportunity to level the scoring at the death but his header sailed way over the crossbar
The Brazilian shows his frustration after spurning the golden chance with Spurs desperately pushing for the equaliser
Dele Alli throws his water bottle onto the floor in anger after being substituted for Erik Lamela in the 64th minute
The 23-year-old shows his frustration after being hauled off by Jose Mourinho with Tottenham 1-0 behind
Afterwards Mourinho lamented his team’s injuries and he has a point. But it’s a point that only stretches so far. This was not a Tottenham performance by any stretch. Mourinho’s Tottenham do not yet have a clear identity and here they chased shadows for the first hour.
Werner, playing as one of two behind central striker Schick, was a pest all night, hard to track and dexterous in possession. His only misstep arrived in in the 36th minute when he was presented with a golden chance on the left side only to strike his shot straight at Lloris.
Schick also erred with a header from a corner and Tottenham reached half-time still on terms. Their best chance had fallen to Steven Bergwijn early on and the Dutch midfielder had been denied by goalkeeper Peter Gulasci.
Serge Aurier falls to the ground holding his face but the referee waved play on in north London on Wednesday night
Leipzig supporters throw toilet roll onto the pitch in protest against ticket prices during the Champions League clash
Alli nutmegs Leipzig defender Lukas Klostermann inside the visitors’ penalty area but they eventually cleared the danger
The England international and Tottenham star can’t get onto the end of a dangerous cross late on in the opening period
Something had to change if Tottenham were to become competitive in the game but for too long it didn’t. Moura had a low shot saved but Leipzig eventually took the lead just before the hour when Werner floated a left to right ball in to the path of Konrad Leimer and Ben Davies brought him down with a challenge that can best be described as misjudged. Davies looked aghast and he certainly will be when he sees the replay.
Werner drove the penalty low to Lloris’s right and Leipzig’s control was now tangible. They should have scored again soon after but the best move of the game – Angelino’s pass in to the box dummied by Werner – was not supplemented by an appropriate finish as Schick allowed Lloris to save.
For Tottenham’s forward players, it was a thankless night. Giovani Lo Celso was the home team’s best outfield player but Moura and Dele Alli had laboured. Alli was withdrawn as Mourinho tried to bring about change and did not look happy.
Tottenham’s new striker Steven Bergwijn sees the hosts only real attempt in the first half saved by Leipzig’s Peter Gulacsi
The 22-year-old Dutchman reacts after Gulacsi’s fine save in the opening period to keep the scoreline at 0-0
German international Werner, on the radar of a host of Europe’s biggest clubs, fires at goal but Lloris denies the striker
Werner is denied again by the French goalkeeper just moments after the Champions League clash got underway
Lloris and Toby Alderweireld clear the danger between them as Werner looks to pounce inside the Tottenham area
Lloris makes a brilliant save off Angelino as the ball rebounds off the goalkeeper and onto the post within the opening minute
Belatedly, though, improvement did arrive from Tottenham. Whether Leipzig ran out of gas – at least two players suffered from obvious cramp – or simply retreated mentally, it was hard to tell. But Spurs found late energy and impetus from their substitutions and they enjoyed the better of the possession and chances towards the end.
Lo Celso struck a post with one free-kick and then Erik Lamela brought a low save from Gulacsi with another. But it was Moura who should have brought Tottenham back in to the tie, heading over when unmarked. Replays appeared to show the Brazilian had his eyes shut on point of contact and that never helps.
So Tottenham’s European race looks all but run ahead of the second leg. Having lost 7-2 here to Bayern Munich back in October, this was not the worst night of their European season but it may prove to be the most significant. It is hard to see a way back in Germany.
It was a frustrating first half for Nagelsmann as his side dominated proceedings but couldn’t find the opener
The travelling Leipzig fans show their colourful support for their team prior to kick-off at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium
Leipzig supporters hold up blow up Champions League trophies during the European encounter on Wednesday night