Football Features

Timo Werner: Can Spurs prevent RB Leipzig’s golden boy from truly arriving?

By Steve Jennings

Published: 18:10, 18 February 2020

“Tottenham does not really know who RB Leipzig is – I hope you know that after this Round-of-16.”

Timo Werner is ready to ensure Tottenham know all about RB Leipzig by the time Wednesday’s Champions League clash is over.

The Germany striker is one of many in-form Leipzig players enjoying a fine season, particularly in the Bundesliga. Julian Nagelsmann’s side are currently just one point behind leaders Bayern Munich, the team whose dominance has defined the German top-flight over the last decade.

Among other teams, Leipzig are determined to change that narrative at the inception of a new decade. And much like his club, Werner wants to reach the next level. The Champions League provides the ideal stage.

It’s worth asking, then, why Werner hasn’t already truly broken through onto the world stage. Yes, most football fans know of him and are aware of his potency in front of goal but at 23, he is yet to make the move to a European giant many expected to happen some time ago.

Are there underlying reasons behind the fact Werner is yet to truly announce himself? And how worried should Spurs be about the threat he poses?

Has Werner truly announced himself yet?

By his 21st birthday, Werner had become the youngest footballer to play in 100 Bundesliga games. Not only that, he was banging in the goals in the Bundesliga, scoring 21 times in 31 league appearances in 2016/17.

It’s not hard to see why he was being tipped for stardom from a young age. However, his goal return dipped slightly in the next two campaigns, and he managed only 19 strikes – an acceptable but not extraordinary tally – across all competitions last term.

Still, Werner’s potential to become one of Europe’s leading strikers hasn’t dipped. In fact, it’s something he has arguably achieved this season, scoring 25 goals in 31 games, including 20 in 22 Bundesliga matches. It’s a remarkable goal rate, likely aided by the fact his teammates have stepped up with him this year.

So what, to date, has held Werner back from that big move? In truth, it’s just a matter of time. Liverpool have been linked with a move for the former Stuttgart striker, while Bayern are often credited with an interest. Indeed, Leipzig’s resolve looks set to be tested in the summer.

The debate over whether Werner has proven himself at the top level is leveraged by his somewhat meagre goal return for the German national team. He was expected to make a big impact at the 2018 World Cup but flopped (along with most of his teammates), and his 11 goals in 29 international appearances isn’t exactly astonishing.

What’s more, Werner is yet to become a guaranteed starter for his country – he played just six times for Germany in 2019, scoring twice – which is perhaps surprising given a lack of other top-class centre-forwards in the German ranks.

All of that said, it feels like it’s just a matter of time before Werner makes a genuine breakthrough as a household name. His confidence ahead of Leipzig’s season-defining meeting with Tottenham is palpable – he wants to put Leipzig on the map and his name on the shortlist of Europe’s elite, if it isn’t already.

“We are confident enough that we want to put our stamp on the game,” Werner told Leipzig’s official website. “We are looking forward to this round of sixteen. We have nothing to lose and want to go into the game in London with joy and fun – that is exactly the right attitude for such an important game.

“Tottenham does not really know who RB Leipzig is – I hope you know that after this round of 16.”

How can Spurs stop Werner?

Instead of being the type of centre-forward who waits for the ball to come to him, Werner’s speed means he has been known to operate in the channels between the opposition centre-backs and full-backs. With Jose Mourinho’s propensity to use right-back Serge Aurier essentially as a winger, Nagelsmann would be wise to deploy Werner in the left-centre channel.

If that happens, there is a chance Aurier will be pinned back, giving Tottenham less attacking width. It also means Aurier will find himself in uncomfortable positions more regularly – the Ivorian has been responsible for some poor defensive decision-making when tracking back ever since he moved to north London.

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Toby Alderweireld will also have to up his game after an atypically cagey display against Aston Villa on Sunday. Though that could have been a one-off, the Belgian has lost a yard of pace this season and may find it difficult to track Werner’s runs. He will need help from Davinson Sanchez and perhaps even Ben Davies, who won’t be permitted to get too far forward.

Spurs must also improve as a collective defensive unit. They were all over the place at times against Villa, with an off-the-pace Eric Dier offering little to no protection. Consequently, Dier is unlikely to start again on Wednesday; Harry Winks will have to be constantly alert.

Most important, perhaps, is Hugo Lloris. The Frenchman was superb in the Round-of-16 last season, somehow keeping out Borussia Dortmund over two legs. A highly motivated Werner will test him often unless Tottenham’s defending suddenly improves – it will be fascinating to see who comes out on top.


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