A subtle change of role for Aaron Lennon and Gareth Bale in the second half against Aston Villa half was very effective for Tottenham at Villa Park. Tottenham had dominated the first period without turning their superiority into goals but after the interval the two wingers appeared to make minor adjustments to their position which contributed to the four second half goals.
In the first half Bale caused Villa problems from his customary left wing position and Lennon stayed tight to the touchline on the right side of the pitch. While Bale put in a number of dangerous crosses, no Spurs players was able to get on the end of them. Bale brought two good saves from Brad Guzan in the Villa goal when he cut in towards the centre of the pitch. Lennon linked with Kyle Walker from right back but it was in a very narrow area down the right wing and needed great accuracy in passing to be successful.
In previous games, Andre Villas-Boas has switched Bale to the right and Lennon to the left wing but with mixed success. Against Stoke City Bale was permanently on the right in the second half but had no more success there than he’d had before the interval. This tactic annoys many supporters as they regard the left wing as the position where Bale is most effective. Villas-Boas also used Lennon on the left against Swansea City and when left-footed Andros Townsend was introduced, he played on the right.
Carrow Road, Christmas 2011
A year ago, at Christmas 2011, against Norwich City Bale had a very successful game, scoring twice in a free central role and received many plaudits for the performance in the media. This led to a period where Bale played more freely but as results tailed off in the latter stages, this role brought calls for him to be restored to the left wing. This became another of the issues fans had with Harry Redknapp as Spurs failed to fulfill the promise of the first half of the season.
The match report of this game showed Bale playing more centrally as he scored both Spurs goals that night.
‘The first goal came after 55 minutes, Scott Parker played the ball across the edge of the area to Rafael Van der Vaart whose pass to Adebayor gave him time with quick control to make a short pass to Bale in front of goal who shot with power under the diving goalkeeper. Bale was playing a more central role and getting into the box to support Adebayor more often. His second goal came twelve minutes later as he picked up a pass from Luka Modric and ran with pace through the centre of the home side’s defence to shoot past Ruddy.‘
Villa Park, Christmas 2012At Villa Park, the second half saw Lennon playing further infield, in line with the edge of the penalty area, like an old-fashioned inside forward. With Lennon inside, there was ample space for Walker to exploit and both players played their part in two of Spurs’ four goals.
Lennon made a forward run into the area which enabled him to pass to Bale who struck the third goal.
With Lennon inside, Walker forayed down the right and played in Gylfi Sigurdsson who cut the ball back for Bale to complete his hat-trick.
Bale’s position for all four goals was much more central. He was involved in the build-up to Jermain Defoe’s opener, linking through the middle with the striker until Defoe was crowded out but Spurs retained possession from Defoe to Bale to Kyle Naughton who found the pass to release Defoe in the area for his 14th goal of the season.
The second goal came as Spurs counter-attacked. Defoe was in an inside-right position and as the ball was played towards the centre, it was Bale who was there first to get a touch on the ball ahead of the Villa defender. From the halfway line he advanced on goal to go past Guzan to score.
For the third and fourth goals, Bale was in a forward central position to receive he ball from Lennon and Sigurdsson and finished clinically and powerfully.
The change of approach worked very successfully at Villa Park and Villas-Boas praised Bale for his performance.
“He is up there with the best in the world, he’s showing tremendous skills and talent. He’s improving every game.”
Bale’s success in a more central position leads to the question which many supporters have considered about Bale. Could Bale be used as an out-and-out as a striker?
With Emmanuel Adebayor failing to reproduce the form of last year, is Villas-Boas thinking of playing Bale as a striker in support of Defoe?
The approaching transfer window may provide an answer to this conundrum as Spurs endeavour to strengthen their strike force with targets expected to include Fernando Llorente from Athletico Bilbao and Demba Ba from Newcastle United.