Is blistering Bale on his way to becoming Spurs” very own Ronaldo
As Tottenham flung players forward in search of a winner against Sunderland at White Hart Lane 11 days ago, it became clear that life without Gareth Bale would be a struggle.
The 22-year-old was out injured that day as Harry Redknapp’s side toiled to a 1-0 win – it is the only one of Tottenham’s Premier League matches he has not played in this season – and they missed him badly.
They lacked his explosive pace, the panic he strikes into opposition defenders, the pure power of his running and his Cristiano Ronaldo-esque ability to throw in two stepovers and curl the ball perfectly into the box for an arriving team-mate.
Star man: Bale (centre) has excelled in his new role
Such is the strength in depth of Tottenham’s squad these days that they did find a way past Martin O’Neill’s side thanks to substitute Roman Pavlyuchenko.
But Bale emphasised what they were missing as he returned to set up a goal brilliantly for Emmanuel Adebayor against Chelsea then score a superb brace to topple Norwich on Tuesday night.
That Carrow Road performance – at times it felt like a one-man mission to find a way past John Ruddy in the Norwich goal – had a sense of inevitability about it. Like Robin van Persie most weeks and Ronaldo in his pomp, you knew Bale, operating in his new free role, would eventually score.
The former Manchester United man became a goalscoring machine when he moved off the wing and into the middle. While Bale has a long way to go to match Ronaldo’s goalscoring feats, the fact he has already equalled last season’s personal tally of seven bodes well for Spurs.
Wizards: Bale and Cristiano Ronaldo (right)
It is not bad for a player who went 64 games without scoring between 2007 and 2010. His creativity has improved, too, with more assists than last season and the second most chances created in the Premier League this term.
The 16.98mph man…
Gareth Bale’s average speed during his explosive run from just over the half-way line to inside the area for his second goal at Carrow Road – all with the ball at his feet. To put that into some context, Usain Bolt averages around 23mph during his faster 100m sprints.
‘It is exciting,’ said Bale, speaking on Tuesday night, when his second goal – a beautiful, dinked finish after a 40-yard sprint – had even some Norwich fans applauding. It was a run down the centre of the pitch, showing why Redknapp is right to have switched his star player from his more natural position on the left.
Bale added: ‘I have had to mix up my game because people are double marking me on the wing. I am improving all the time – especially in the free role. I have been doing it for a little while, coming off the line and getting into spaces.
‘I did find towards the end of last season I was being marked a lot. I have had to change but it has made me a better player. I have always played out wide. I have never really thought about playing through the middle but I am enjoying it.’
Bale’s roaming role is symptomatic of Tottenham’s expressive football at the moment – they will do whatever it takes to win games. Rafael van der Vaart floats all over the pitch, right winger Aaron Lennon has scored both his goals this season from the left and Redknapp even switched to a three-man defence when his back four was struggling at Stoke.
It is that quality and flexibility which has resulted in third-placed Tottenham going four points clear of Chelsea in fourth and even dreaming of a title bid. ‘It is great we know if a system is not working we can change it,’ said Bale.
‘I think at Stoke in the first half we weren’t in the game and changed it and battered them. It is great we are adaptable and it makes it difficult for other teams.
Wonder strike: Bale lifts the ball over John Ruddy
‘It is great to be up there but we know we have to keep concentrating. It is not even halfway through the season. Nothing is achieved halfway through the season. We need to win as many games as we can – especially against the big teams.’
Up next for the proud Welshman is a match which probably means just as much, if not more than any game against a ‘big team’. Saturday brings a trip to Swansea City, Bale’s first club match in Wales.
He will expect a hostile reception, too, as he was born in Cardiff. Just like he is when on the pitch at the moment, Bale will be centre stage at the Liberty Stadium.
‘It will be a good experience,’ he added. ‘Hopefully, I get a good reception. I have played at the Liberty Stadium a few times for Wales and it is great. I think Swansea play some good football and we know it is going to be hard.’