On 21st August, 2010 when Gareth Bale instilled a ferocious strike into the goal at the Britannia Stadium in Staffordshire to beat the home team Stoke City, England’s national coach Fabio Capello was present in the stadium. Watching a whooping young Brit exhibit the heroics from the left flank, Fabio almost burst out in joy but even before he could get hold over his emotions, Franco Baldini sitting next to him calmed the Italian down – as if reminding him “Sit down Don. The boy is Welsh.”
Even if the assumptions about Baldini’s unheard message are believed to be true, few would blame Capello for having daydreamt of Bale being the answer to the unending series of quests English media has tossed against him. That day on, Gareth Bale has simply been an authoritarian in the left area of the attacking bay. During the course of three months since the beginning of the current season, Bale has been seen often interchanging between the positions of a fullback, advanced wing-back, left midfielder, winger and most recently an advanced winger with all the space in the world available for him to deliver his extravaganza.
A couple of weeks back he set the game at San Siro alive out of nowhere with a majestic left-footed hat-trick and almost sealed a point for his team playing European champions Inter Milan. It is not often we see a team taking a sigh of relief at the final whistle blown after registering their name for as many as four times on the score-chart but that was seen happen with Rafa Benitez’s men the other night.
In two week’s time, when the Nerazzuri arrived at White Hart Lane for the reverse leg of the competition, few would have thought of Bale riding on the same form, let alone replicate the magic show. The Pandits anticipated Benitez to come up with a counter plan to surge his team’s almost mishandled fortunes in the previous clash. Given his reputation, he would have identified the pattern to stop Bale from causing any more damage and the Spaniard may have put the measure into play that he found the best to tackle with.
Gareth Bale, nearing his 22nd birthday on the other hand, would have hardly bothered about the plaudits and accolades he received for the season so far and that much showed in his posture before, during and even after the 90 minutes of play. The vehemence in his instinctive play was quite literally evident for the entire match as he went on to earn the highest testimony of his abilities of a modern day advanced winger making a jest of Maicon. The Brazilian – arguably the best Right Back in the world in present times – came second in half a dozen one on one battles on the left flank as Bale cruised his way through providing a brace of assists resulting into two goals for his team.
A comprehensive show from Rafael van Der Vaart, Aaron Lennon, Luka Modric, Peter Crouch and even substitute Roman Paulychenko marked it a night to remember at White Hart Lane as Tottenham Hotspurs splintered the Italian giants with scorecard reading 3-1 at the end of game’s play.
WHERE SPURS GOT IT RIGHT
It seemed Harry Redknapp was up for it. The late goals during the San Siro leg of the contest had boosted him enough to believe his team is ready to get better of the champions at home. Inter would have most assumably expected Spurs to play a containing game to ensure a point at home but it was never to be so.
Introducing advanced winger on both the flanks in Gareth Bale and Aaron Lennon ascertained a tactical edge in the English man’s favour right from the beginning and it showed he had recovered from the shocking turn of events at the Old Trafford the other weekend.
In simpler words, Spurs meant business and boy they did it! The regal show from Bale overshadowed most of his teammates but on a victorious night like this, one can’t discount the contribution of Luca Modric. The Croatian was the main target man in the link-up play between the midfield and van Der Vaart who unlike his usual self, played support striker to Peter Crouch. Modric maintained the tempo of the game as he made sure the advanced forwards are never short of supplies. During each counter-attack, he engineered the plot, either by chipping in a clever distant pass or made the long run himself. His swirled dribble and dizzied pass cannot be forgotten that allowed van Der Vaart to shoot the first goal of the team with only the keeper to beat.
It would not really be a fair call to question the standard of their finishing when the scorecard shares a different story, but Peter Crouch must do much more to shoulder the efforts by van Der Vaart. Being the sole man in focus, his touch is neither accurate nor lethal. In a week’s time or two, Jermaine Defoe is believed to be back on field however, till then Redknapp has to ask this question whether Crouch befits in his idea of the sole striker in a 4-2-1-1.
Several defensive lapses were offered at critical moments during the game but fortunately the opponents failed to cause the maximum damage out of them. Ledley King is certainly missed. Not that William Gallas is any less competitive to the Brit, but the Frenchman is yet to be accustomed to the club culture and a team playing at this level always requires a prominent figure in the defence who is capable of extracting a moment of inspiration or two to lift the team’s spirit on the field.
RAFA – The Scapegoat?
When a certain Roger Federer plays to the best of his abilities, one does not blame a certain Andy Roddick to lose his focus in the awe of his opponent’s magic. The same applies to the eleven men who represented the Italian champions the other night.
One would question Pandev’s inclusion over Coutinho in a crucial match even after the Brazilian has gelled so well with Eto’o and Biabiany upfront. One may also doubt Muntari’s credentials to represent a side of Inter’s character but all the hind sight means for nothing except to bow down to Redknapp’s men and admit they were the better side on the day by far.
One could have hardly expected Inter to maintain their moral where the best defender in their ranks was being made look a nincompoop on umpteenth occasions. Their abilities to deal with a bi-directed wing based attack were duly exposed and at the same time they failed to produce a moment of magic that they invariably do by winning most battles in the midfield.
The likes of Thiago Motta and Dejan Stankovic are duly being missed and Rafa cannot cover it up, no matter how hard he tries. Samuel Eto’o looks to be the only one to have retained the spirited soul of the last season and he continued his torment on the English clubs. His solo sensation that resulted into one of the goals of the tournaments was as good as it could have got for Inter. Milito’s short presence was impressive and one would just feel he should have come on a bit earlier.
During the whole last season, South American pair of Lucio and Walter Samuel at the heart of Inter’s defence would have hardly had two collective bad days but this time around though, they’ve had two in two weeks. Christian Chivu on the left needs occasional rests and it would be handy if Rafa offers due playing time to the 19 year old Italian Davide Santon in order to groom him as Zanetti’s long time replacement.
Abjectness is the last thing one expects to see on a player’s face wearing the famous black & blue shirt, but it much showed at the White Hart Lane. The earlier Rafa tackles it, the better the team is off.
THE MISSION AHEAD
Both teams are yet to freeze a spot in the next stage of the competition and the next round of the group matches would be crucial. Inter play the Dutch champions FC Twente whereas the Lilywhites meet Werder Bremen. Both these fixtures resulted into hard fought draws during the first legs but the same may not be enough for the teams intending to progress.
Both Inter and Spurs are yet to find a rhythm in the domestic leagues as they have so far failed to find last season’s form. Both trail their league leaders by a considerable margin and need to get their acts together at the earliest.
While a win of this quality should take the Londoners’ confidence to another level, it would be interesting to see what do the Italian giants have in store to offer in the times to come. Rafa must have by now, tried to scrutinize the course of the game and looked for an answer for the game to have tilted in favour of the hosts as seamlessly as it did. But the answer so far he would have managed to extract would be “Forget it. Hail Bale!”