Walking across to White Hart Lane for Tottenham Hotspur’s encounter with Queen’s Park Rangers, I had a worrying thought in the catacomb of my mind that the West London side could cause an upset. I only had to look out of my window and see the rain pelting against the glass to grasp an idea as to which players wouldn’t be up for the London derby.
One of those was Gareth Bale. With the sunshine now hidden away behind the grey until around April if we’re lucky, the Wales international is never one to favour the bitter cold and wet weather that accommodates the winter months of the football season. On the way to London, he was the first player me and my friend agreed he was the one Spurs man that wouldn’t be up for the encounter.
As we drunkenly made our way to our seats at White Hart Lane, we were shocked when the line-up was read out. With Clint Dempsey and Gylfi Sigurdsson both starting, Steven Caulker on the bench and Kyle Naughton, who limped out of the mid-week encounter with Lazio on crutches and his right foot in a protective boot, nowhere to be seen, it could only mean one thing; Bale was starting at left-back.
With the sunshine now hidden away behind the grey until around April if we’re lucky, the Wales international is never one to favour the bitter cold and wet weather
But before we move forward, let us jump back into the past; November 2010 to be precise. Spurs had just obliterated defending European Champions Inter Milan at White Hart Lane 3-1, with Bale stealing the show. Two weeks earlier, the same player had netted a hat-trick at the San Siro as the Premier League outfit succumbed to a 4-3 defeat at the hands of the Nerazzuri.
The key to both encounters was Bale's performance, his one at White Hart Lane in particular. The 23-year-old gave the now Manchester City full-back a torrid 90 minutes, leading to ‘Taxi for Maicon’ reverberating around the stadium.
In the aftermath of the encounter, then Spurs boss Harry Redknapp proclaimed that Bale’s future is at left-back. “In the long term, I eventually see Gareth dropping back and playing left-back, where he can be one of the best, if not the best”. Honestly Redknapp, judging from his performance against the R’s, you couldn’t be further from the truth.
Spurs had just obliterated defending European Champions Inter Milan at White Hart Lane 3-1, with Bale stealing the show
It’s well documented that Bale began his career as a left-back, but his first game for Spurs back in 2007 under Martin Jol saw the Welshman utilised on the wing. He blossomed from then on, despite being on the losing side for 24 Premier League games, attracting interest from a number of footballs biggest teams.
Having not played in the position under Andre Villas-Boas, it was unsurprising to see the youngster look out of his depth and lost when called upon to play in defence. However, he wasn’t aided by Dempsey ahead of him. The USA international failed to provide adequate cover for Bale, often cutting into the centre and leaving him exposed at left-back, with a majority of QPR’s attacks coming from the right.
Furthermore, Dempsey’s continuous cutting in to the centre clogged up an already cluttered midfield. While Aaron Lennon performed his duties on the wing, the middle of the park was an absolute mess of a place. Sigurdsson was ineffectual behind Jermain Defoe, while Sandro and Mousa Dembele breaking forward didn’t help matters altogether.
The fans knew this wasn’t working, and vented their frustration at half-time, booing the players as they made their way down the tunnel. Spurs were lacking any form of cohesion and balance in the midfield and it wasn’t a shock to see the North London side 1-0 down going into the interval, former Spur Bobby Zamora netting after 33 minutes following some poor defending from the hosts.
Villas-Boas made the change that many were calling for; Caulker for Sigurdsson. Dempsey moved the middle of the park behind Defoe, Bale reverted back to his familiar position on the wing and, most importantly, Jan Vertonghen switched to left-back. The Belgium international has already endeared himself to the Spurs faithful following a series of towering performances, but the win over QPR saw his stock significantly rise.
Spurs came flying out of the blocks in the second half, with the half-time change completely swinging the pendulum back in the favour of the hosts. A natural defender at full-back, while an attacking threat on either flank saw the North London side regain their swagger and style for the next 45 minutes.
More importantly, however, the natural balance that was lacking in the first half had returned. The midfield was more open, Bale gave the necessary cover to Vertonghen, while Dempsey’s forward, driving runs left QPR on the back foot. The added pressure saw Spurs drag themselves back into the encounter courtesy of Alejandro Faurlin’s own goal and Defoe’s strike in the space of two second half minutes.
It was the half-time change, sacrificing Sigurdsson for Caulker, that saw Spurs secure victory against QPR. The England U-21 international won the initial header the bounced in off Faurlin, while Vertonghen led the counter attack that led to Bale’s initial effort cannoning off the crossbar, following a great stop by Julio Cesar, before Defoe controlled the rebound and calmly slotted the winner through the legs of Clint Hill, with the decision to move Vertonghen to left-back proving to be an inspired one by Villas-Boas. And, of course, there was that tackle on Junior Hoilett that many have compared to Ledley King's on Arjen Robben during Spurs' 2-1 win over Chelsea in 2006.
Chalkboard analysis courtesy of FourFourTwo Stats Zone
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