Gareth Bale – Dyn anghofiedig (A Forgotten Man)
As the dust settles on Gareth Bale’s season long loan to Tottenham Hotspur, the Welshman’s decline seems a far stretch from his moment of magic in Kyiv 2 years ago. He remains one of the most discussed players within the last few years with topics ranging from exclusions from Real Madrid squad, golf course antics and unenthusiastic title celebrations back in July. Bale has endured a nightmare season with just one full 90 minutes for Madrid in a 3-0 La Liga win over Getafe back in January as a result of either injuries or being left out from the squad as a whole. Post lockdown he featured in only 2 of Madrid’s 12 matches with 30 minutes in the 3-1 win against Eibar and 70 minutes in the 2-0 win against Mallorca, however was most notably not included in the squad for the Champions League round of 16 tie away at Man City. With the transfer window shut and Bale now back at N17, I look back on his best seasons and how he might fit into the side now bolstered with attacking talent.
Bale endured his best spell in his career for Real Madrid in his debut season scoring 22 goals and making 19 assists in all competitions. Since then these numbers drastically decreased with his most recent season he only managed 2 goals and 3 assists, albeit in 20 appearances amid the coronavirus pandemic. Bale’s game time in Madrid fluctuated as a result of injuries and emerging young talent getting more minutes in comparison to the Welshman. The signings of Rodrygo from Santos and Vinicus Junior from Flamengo added strength in depth to the Madrid attacking ranks following the departure of Cristiano Ronaldo to Juventus. Furthermore, the addition of Eden Hazard from Chelsea in the Summer of 2019 gave Bale more competition to fight for his place looking to provide service and combine with ever present talisman Karim Benzema. In addition to new signings, Bale had to contest with himself to get regular minutes with injury, suspension and non inclusion all playing a part in his lack of game time. Bale only started 25% of all matches the Galacticos played in all competitions, starting in only 13 out of a possible 51 games.
The addition of Gareth Bale will provide extra depth and support in attacking areas for Tottenham who mainly rely on the likes of Harry Kane and Heung Min Son for goals. Kane accounted for 28% of Tottenham’s goals in all competitions last year with Son accounting for 21%, therefore spurs are heavily reliant and in desperate need of another source of final third end product. Last year Spurs had on average 12.76 shots per game calculating an 1.46 xG score. With the addition of Bale Spurs will be looking to improve this tally and be more clinical in the final third. With the likes of Steven Bergwijn and Lucas Moura also available, Spurs look to have plenty of attacking options to be fluid and expressive in front of goal. Here’s how Bale’s best season at Madrid compares to Kane and Son’s best year at Tottenham.
From a tactical perspective, Bale’s inclusion may encourage a change of shape and formation with Spurs looking to use all their attacking talents at once. Mourinho’s usual 4-2-3-1 may adapt itself into a 4-3-3 to include the front 3 of Bale and Son either side of Kane. Bale’s development whilst at spurs started with him moving from left back to left midfield, ending in a free role behind a front man, a second striker if you will. In his final season, Bale would look to find vacant space as a result of off ball movement in beyond fro Jermain Defoe or feed off service and pick up second balls off Emmanuel Adebayor. He was supported either side by Aaron Lennon and Clint Dempsey who would look to combine in the final third or cut the ball back from wide spaces. While he looked like a traditional number 10 on the teamsheet, he was an integral part of a dynamic front 4 expressing themselves with fluid switches and rotations.
With Bale shaping up to play on the wide right, he is likely to drift inside to receive the ball in the half space to link up with Son and Kane. This will also include third man runner options of Giovanni Lo Celso or overlapping full back option of Matt Doherty. Bale certainly poses more of a threat than other options such as Moura, who Mourihno used most often last season with the Brazilian playing all but 3 Premier League Games. Both posses explosive speed and flair but the Welshman’s range of shooting, aerial threat and ability to circulate the ball quicker makes his end product less binary. With Bale looking to make his long awaited first start on his return to Tottenham, could this be the start of a resurgence and power shift amongst the league’s big hitters?.