Gareth Bale: Is Spurs Winger Really One of the World's Best with Messi, Ronaldo?
Bale's treble took him to nine goals for the Premier League season in just 16 games, a truly impressive return for a player who is effectively termed a winger.
The Welshman has scored around a quarter of all his team's league goals this season, with more than half of them in total accounted for between the tallies of Bale and Jermain Defoe, who has 10 league goals.
Aston Villa suffered the full force of the pair at Villa Park in the 4-0 win for Spurs, with Defoe opening the scoring in the second half before Bale's treble.
Fine goals though they were, are Bale's performances and goalscoring exploits worthy of the words bestowed upon him by Villas-Boas?
Speaking to the BBC website, the Spurs boss was effusive in his praise:
[Bale] is up there with the best. He is showing tremendous skills, and he is improving every day—he is such a young player—and helping the team. He is one of our major assets. As he keeps learning, he will feel even better, and probably his performances will improve. His finishing is very accurate. He has been prolific in front of goal this season, and I think he is enjoying getting into those positions. His left foot is wonderful, and the power and direction he applies on the ball is wonderful too.
Admirable sentiments, but is Bale merely in sublime form, or can he maintain this level of performance over the course of the campaign?
Six goals and an assist in his past seven matches is certainly in keeping with the abilities of some of the game's finest players; in the Premier League, Juan Mata and Luis Suarez have perhaps been the most consistent and exciting attacking players to watch, while La Liga, of course, houses the two premiere players in world football today.
Quite possibly Villas-Boas was not including Bale in the category of Messi and Ronaldo, but "up there with the best" certainly indicates that he believes his winger is in amongst the next category of players, the so-termed "world-class" group.
Bale netted 10 goals while racking up 14 assists in last season's league campaign and seven the season before, with two assists.
A progression over the second half of the season in the form he is currently in should see him at least go close to the 20-goal mark while still finding time to help set up plenty of chances for his teammates.
An assist is not always something that the passing player is in control of, but Bale averages 2.4 key passes per game, which is an impressive amount of an important, controlling statistic in offensive play. This is slightly below the likes of Santi Cazorla, Suarez and David Silva—but better than Wayne Rooney and Eden Hazard, amongst others.
Bale also ranks third in the entire Premier League for averaging the most shots per game; he manages 4.1 shots per game and from this has managed a 14-percent strike-conversion rate. Not the best, but far from the most profligate in the league and certainly comparable to the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo.
The Welsh winger is perhaps still too young at age 23 to be considered one of the genuine greats of football; he still has many detractors who are yet to be convinced of his ability to win games regularly and particularly when his team are not playing well.
Bale does not possess, at least not yet, that aura of being able to lift his side to victory when Spurs' usual approach of fast-paced attacks down the channels fails to yield constant shooting opportunities—yet there is also evidence to suggest he is improving year on year.
There is also his growing reputation of attempting to con referees to consider and manage, for both player and his boss.
Should he manage to reach somewhere close to the 20-goal mark and Spurs manage to qualify for the Champions League ahead of, perhaps, Arsenal, then plenty more viewers will begin to view Bale as a genuinely top-class player.
And, of course, if he reaches that mark but Spurs fail to finish in the top four—well, plenty of Europe's biggest teams are already known admirers.
Andre Villas-Boas' comments about Bale being on par with players such as Messi and Ronaldo might yet get put to the test at very close quarters.
Statistical data from WhoScored.com and TransferMarkt.co.uk
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