20 March 2013

Whither Gareth Bale?

After a series of performances strong enough to garner Mr. Bale several MOTM designations in the new year, recent fixtures have seen the man fall back to Earth. Put to rest, at least for now, are the comparisons to Ronaldo, comparisons this writer never quite bought into. Such has been his fall, in fact, that Spurs must be heaving sighs of relief for the international break after results that probably inspire more than a few dry heaves. In fact, since defeating us March 3rd, Spurs have won only once more and gone on to drop three straight matches. Yes, there are eleven players who play at any given moment, but for as much as Bale might deserve credit for driving Spurs' performance, his own recent drop in form might just be the single most-important factor that has undermined the team in the last few weeks, giving new legitimacy to the accusation that Spurs are little more than a one-man team.


In their most recent Prem League games, a loss away against Liverpool and a lost at home against Fulham, Bale's form has most certainly slipped. He scored in neither and notched just the one assist against Liverpool. According to whoscored.com, he managed a very good but not great 7.7 against Liverpool, and against Fulham, a very pedestrian 6.6. That 7.7 might be very good, but it represents a significant drop from previous matches, a run of scores that range from a perfect 10 against West Ham to a low of 7.5 against Lyon. To fall out of that range suggests that Bale might be running on fumes just when his team needs him most. Unless Adebayor can be tricked into thinking he's about to sign a new contract, or if Defoe, who hasn't scored since December, can find some kind of form, Spurs are desperately short of options. Their only other scoring threat, Aaron Lennon, is out due to injury. In fact, the team's best plan can probably best be summarized as "hope Bale doesn't play for Wales so that he can rest up".
However, even this plan has its flaws. Bale didn't play in the second leg against Inter and should have been fresh enough to play against Fulham. However, he, like too many of his teammates, put in a listless performance against a lower side that they really should have defeated. They went into the game knowing we had beaten Swansea, so where was the urgency? It seems like they have taken a top four-finish for granted just as we've finally put together a bit of momentum, enough, perhaps to wrest that position back.

Fatigue, whether it's physical or mental, may have just risen up at the worst time for Bale. He's dragged this team up to where it is, and there's little to say by way to taking the credit from him. Whether he's believed the headlines and now presumes his own greatness or struggles under the burden those headlines have created, he's seen his form dip precipitously. From the looks of it, he'll face Scotland on Friday, and Wales just may need him to play a full 90 because they sit in 5th place in Group One, just a point above Scotland and with a -8 goal differential.

I certainly don't hope for Bale to get injured, but I do believe he will emerge the worse for wear, bearing the double-burdens of trying to carry both club and country to victory. I, for one, hope for a close-fought, back-and-forth match between Scotland and Wales.