Tottenham: Playing Bale Up Front Is A Recipe For Disaster

Spurs are currently short on strikers but playing Bale up front isn't the answer. André Villas-Boas needs to start the Wales international on the left wing if three points are to be secured against Newcastle...
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Spurs are currently short on strikers but playing Bale up front isn't the answer. André Villas-Boas needs to start the Wales international on the left wing if three points are to be secured against Newcastle...

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The January transfer window closed not with a bang but with a whimper last week and Tottenham Hotspur came away still requiring a striker when the 11pm deadline passed. A deal for Leandro Damião had reportedly been in place with around six hours to spare, before Internacional opted against selling the Brazilian for the fifth consecutive window.

Head coach André Villas-Boas was subsequently left with just Jermain Defoe and Emmanuel Adebayor as his only registered strikers for the business end of the campaign. With the former injured and the latter on international duty, Villas-Boas has to think creatively to ensure Spurs carry a threat going forward.

Clint Dempsey possesses the capability to perform the centre-forward role to satisfactory effect, but nothing more, although his recent goalscoring exploits - the American has netted five times in his last seven games in all competitions - will ensure he is heavily involved for the foreseeable future.

However, with Togo knocked out of the AFCON by the fan-garnering force of Burkina Faso, Adebayor will soon be available for selection again, although reports suggest there are no connecting flights to ensure he's available for the encounter with Newcastle United at lunchtime.

While Defoe is ruled out for at least three weeks, missing out on Damião is something that will come back to cost Spurs, regardless of what fans may believe. Fortunately, the transfer of Lewis Holtby was brought forward to January for £1.25m rather than the club wait until the summer to secure him on a free.

Any football fan will tell you that an arrival in winter can rejuvenate a team. You only have to look at Nikica Jelavić and Papiss Cissé who arrived at Everton and Newcastle United from Rangers and Freiburg, respectively. Both players netted a respective total of 11 and 14 goals in all competitions between their arrival in January and the end of the season, highlighting the influence a new signing can make over the winter months.

Fans are hoping Holtby can make a similar impact, even if he does play in a different position to the duo, but his performances over his 72 minutes of Premier League football have given Spurs fans a taste of his capability and one that has left supporters salivating at the prospect of the Germany international in the midfield.

With the 22-year-old operating behind the striker, interlinking with Gareth Bale and Aaron Lennon, the midfield trio behind a striker is enough to see any Spurs fan pitch a tent in their pants. However, the problem at present remains that one striker. Without Defoe and with Adebayor MIA, the easy option would be for Dempsey to play a 'False 9', QPR-style (note: Glenn Hoddle claimed QPR were lining up like Barcelona ahead of the 0-0 draw with Spurs last month).

However, there have been suggestions that Gareth Bale could instead play the lone striker in Defoe's absence. Bale possesses all the physical attributes to make it in any position across the frontline, playing as the lone striker included - although that isn't to say he's as good, or better than, Real Madrid's Cristiano Ronaldo, as according to a renowned Sky Sports presenter.

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His striking ability, as evidenced during the draw with Norwich City and win over West Bromwich Albion, certainly stands him in good stead, with 11 goals already this year - one every 167 minutes.

With the Welshman standing at 6ft 1in, there is a line of thought that says he carries an aerial threat but this is untrue: he has netted only 16% of his 32 Premier League goals for Spurs with his head and has won just 44% of his 89 aerial duels this season.

Additionally, when Bale has often drifted into the middle of the pitch, he often runs into a blind alley with the opposition regularly clogging the midfield in order to stifle his creative influence. Add in the factor that the Wales international is regularly double or even triple-marked, playing through the middle could hinder their attacking verve.

Without space to run into, Bale is more or less ineffective. He struggles to find form when more than one player sticks with him throughout the duration of an encounter. If he were to play up front on his own, chances are he would find himself regularly isolated and, against Newcastle in particular, outmuscled by the intimidating pairing of Fabricio Coloccini and Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa.

As Bale is often a stand-out performer when he has space to run into, utilising his incredible change of pace, he should stay as a wide player. The urge to move him inside permanently in order to see him evolve as a player is tempting, but it would be too much too soon.

Villas-Boas has compared both the 23-year-old and Cristiano Ronaldo and it's understandable why - both bear a striking resemblance in their playing style, power and ability, although it has to be said the Spurs ace isn't at the same level as his Portuguese counterpart just yet.

If Spurs are to pick up all three points against Newcastle, it's imperative Bale starts from the left. Likely to be up against Mathieu Debuchy, a player still familiarising himself with the English game, the Welshman will want to run at the former Lille man from the off. If Debuchy is panicked, the game will open up for the hosts quicker than many can expect.

While it's unlikely that a 5-0 performance from last season would be replicated, it is not impossible. If Tottenham are to come close to matching that feat, it's essential that Villas-Boas starts his Welsh wizard on the left wing with Holtby and Lennon completing attacking trident behind Dempsey.