Tottenham faced a lot of questions when the Premier League season began, and one of the main ones concerned Gareth Bale's ability to take his game to the next level. He's done exactly that, and now has the Spurs within striking distance of earning a Champions League spot.
The 23-year-old winger has been with the club since the summer of 2007. He's flashed plenty of potential over the years, but Spurs fans have been waiting for him to take the leap to stardom. As opposing back lines are finding out, the wait is over.
Bale scored six goals over a four-match span leading up to the second leg of the club's Europa League matchup with Lyon. In all, he's scored 13 goals in EPL play––a new career high––which puts him fifth, six behind league leader Robin van Persie.
His strong play has helped Tottenham rebound from a shaky start to get back on pace with the other top clubs, save Manchester United, who are running away with the title. The Spurs are just one point behind Chelsea for third place.
It would have been tough to predict that after the season's first month when the Blues were making a serious case for being title contenders while Tottenham was still trying to find their stride. Since then, Bale has raised his level of play and the rest of the squad followed suit.
The difference between last season and this season for Bale is that he's finally figured out how to harness his tremendous pace. It's always been a trait which helped him stand out, but it took time for him to develop the rest of his game to the point where everything fit together.
Has Bale been the best EPL player this season?
In the past, he would attack with speed only to dribble himself into trouble. Now, his vision has improved to the point where he's seeing the game one or two steps ahead of everybody else, and it's showing on the stat sheet.
He can break to the outside and deliver a pinpoint cross or cut back to the middle and unleash a rocket with his left foot. The Wales international has also improved his free kick taking in a major way, as he's shown recently.
No single player can power a club to victory. Even Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo get a lot of help from their teammates. But Bale's tremendous run of form shows the impact one player can have when playing at an extremely high level.
Bale's job isn't done, though. Tottenham want to slide past Chelsea into third place over the final 12 matches, which would allow them to enter next season's Champions League without having to go through the playoff round first.
If they are going to do that, Bale must lead the way. The Spurs do have a matchup looming with the Blues in April, which will likely go a long way in deciding the club that gets third place. Tottenham would love to hold an edge by that point since it's at Stamford Bridge.
All told, they wouldn't be in such a promising position without Bale discovering elite form. But now the focus shifts toward finishing the job. The final stretch begins with a tricky road test against West Ham on Monday.