How do you stop a superstar like Gareth Bale on one of Europe's biggest stages?
That was the question that was asked of FC Basel on Thursday night as they went into White Hart Lane to play Tottenham in the first leg of their UEFA Europa League quarterfinal tie.
The answer came in the form of a defensive vacuum in the center of the pitch that sucked up any attack that Bale tried to ignite.
Bale, who was once again lined up in the central attacking midfield position, was aiming to achieve the same level of midfield mastery that he has shown over the last month in his new position.
In the build-up to the match, it seemed that Bale would see plenty of success with Lewis Holtby and Aaron Lennon flanking him in Andre Villas-Boas' patented 4-2-3-1 system.
Instead of flying down the pitch alongside Lennon and Holtby, Bale's progress was stopped on numerous occasions by the midfield trio of Geoffrey Serey Die, Fabian Frei and Mohamed Elneny that Basel put out on the pitch.
The early exploits of the Basel midfield against Bale in the first half were a sign of things to come. In the 10th minute, Bale attempted to storm forward in an attack when he was met by a double team and the ball was coolly taken away from him by Elneny.
Some Tottenham fans may have thought that the early stop by Basel was just a fluke, especially after Bale earned a free kick in the 12th minute that almost produced the first goal of the match.
Bale set up for the free kick just outside of the penalty area and instead of taking a shot at the goal, he tried to find Benoit Assou-Ekotto with a clever pass that skimmed across the majestic pitch of White Hart Lane.
What Grade Would You Give Bale's Performance Against Basel?
Before the ball could reach the feet of the Tottenham left-back, Bale's pass was deflected into the arms of Basel keeper Yann Sommer and any hope of a early opener by Spurs was thwarted.
Seven minutes later, Bale became the recipient of a strong pass from Lewis Holtby, but the Welshman could not finish as his shot went off to the left of the Basel goal.
For the rest of the first half, the focus was on the other end of the pitch as the Basel attack began to pick apart the lackluster Tottenham back four for two goals.
When Tottenham finally got on the board in the 40th minute, it was not Bale who provided goalscorer Emmanuel Adebayor with an assist, it was Scott Parker instead.
The second half provided much of the same for Bale as the Basel trio in midfield continued to disrupt his rhythm going forward on the pitch.
Despite being shut down by the trio of midfielders, Bale was able to force a corner kick in the 56th minute that almost resulted in a goal for Spurs. After Bale sent the corner flying in from the right touchline, Kyle Naughton cleaned up the debris and rocketed a shot on goal that was saved by Sommer.
Two minutes after Naughton's chance, Gylfi Sigurdsson delivered a Bale-esque goal by cutting in on the left flank and sending a steaming shot past Sommer to equalize the match.
With Bale in the center of the attacking trio not working out for Villas-Boas, he opted to try something different in the 63rd minute when he brought on Clint Dempsey for Holtby.
The substitution allowed Bale to move out to the left wing in search of some much-needed inspiration, but that idea fell flat on its face.
The Basel midfield vacuum sucked up Dempsey as well and Bale was forced to watch from the left wing with a multitude of Basel defenders surrounding him as Spurs tried to get something going on the opposite end of the pitch.
Towards the end of the match, Tottenham fans had a bit of flashback as Bale shifted to his old left-back position after William Gallas walked off of the pitch due to an injury.
Then came the moment that Spurs dreaded the most as Bale went down writhing in after turning his ankle in a challenge for the ball on the left side of the pitch with David Degen.
The 23-year-old Tottenham superstar was stretchered off of the pitch as Spurs closed the match with just nine players out on the pitch.
Bale's lack of offensive pressure on Thursday was frustrating to see from the Tottenham perspective, but credit must be given to Basel, who had a game plan to stop the Welshman and executed it to perfection.
With all that being said, Bale's performance on Thursday night earned him a C+ grade at best. While he was silent for most of the match, Bale was able to sneak through the Basel defense a few times as he tried to put Spurs ahead but that finishing touch from the Welshman was not present either.
What did you think of Gareth Bale performance against Basel?
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