Another day, another lack-lustre Spurs performance. Dropping points has become somewhat of a habit at Tottenham – two points from a possible 12, so something clearly isn’t working. Over recent games a point of view has emerged among Spurs fans that Bale is being misused and that he could make more of an impact at left-back.
On the face of it, this idea seems absurd. How could one of the world’s most exciting players be more of a threat if he is further away from the opposition goal? Yes, his performances against Inter Milan were outstanding but any Tottenham fan will know that, minus his two goals at Stoke, Gareth Bale has been fairly ineffectual in Premier League games.
Tuesday night’s game against Sunderland served only to reinforce this theory – Premier League teams have realised that Gareth Bale struggles to make an impact if he is marked tightly and not allowed room to build up speed. Much like Everton’s Phil Neville and Bolton’s Gretar Steinsson, Sunderland’s Nedum Onouha was able to mark the young Welshman out of the game for long periods, with Michael Turner helping out whenever required. As long as Bale keeps the left midfield role he will continue to be tightly marked or double teamed, meaning that one of Tottenham’s best assets is going to waste. At the business end of last season Bale was still relatively unknown and was left alone to terrorise defences, but a lot has happened since April and now Bale is fixed firmly on the radar of every team in England.
It is arguable that Bale’s attacking threat would increase if he were to move back into defence. You can’t double team a defender and it would be more difficult for opposition to pick up and track Bale’s runs if he were coming from left-back. His biggest assets are his pace and his engine, and if overlapping from a less advanced role he could pick up the ball already running at a speed that few could match– and with his energy you’d fancy he could do this for 90 minutes. Benoit Assou-Ekotto is arguably the better defender, but left-back is Bale’s natural position and his tackling and positional awareness have improved since he last had a run in the side as part of a back four.
Moving Bale back could benefit Spurs beyond simply adding more of an attacking threat on the left side; it could also make the team more balanced, especially when Jermain Defoe comes back into the side. Defoe would struggle to play as the lone front-man in Harry Redknapp’s current 4-5-1 system so he would need either Peter Crouch or Roman Pavlyuchenko to partner him, which then begs the question where Rafael Van der Vaart would fit into the team. By moving Bale to left-back, Luka Modric could move to left-midfield where he played well for much of last season, and Van der Vaart and Tom Huddlestone could occupy the middle.
Tottenham were, despite lots of possession, disappointing against Sunderland. Anticipation around White Hart Lane rose every time Bale got the ball, but this quickly turned to disappointment. Once Bale’s dynamic runs had been cut out, Tottenham offered little else. Sunderland gave Spurs a lot of time to keep possession in the middle, so it is a concern that Huddlestone and Modric were unable to unlock their defence. Moving Bale could add a freshness to the team that gives opposing teams more to think about because, let’s face it, Blackburn won’t be shaking in their boots.