Jose Mourinho has been waiting all season for Gareth Bale to make a difference at Tottenham. Finally, and just when he needed the Real Madrid loaner to deliver, Bale showed he is still a force to be reckoned with by rolling back the years to a 4-0 win over Burnley to inspire.
Spurs had lost five of their last six Premier League games prior to that game and while Mourinho’s job wasn’t immediately threatened, the Portuguese couldn’t afford another defeat to put the pressure on. Mourinho needed a win, and it’s a bit ironic that it was orchestrated by Bale, the player who disappointed him so badly this season that he sparked the kind of public criticism from his manager that only comes from Mourinho, when everything else around him starts to unravel.
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But after a tumultuous month between the two men with Mourinho targeting Bale’s social media comments, the 31-year-old claimed he was unavailable for an FA Cup loss at Everton, suggesting that Spurs should not come until Brighton After the player was substituted, Bale showed that this can still have an impact by scoring twice and assisting Burnley once.
“It was good,” said Bale. “I built myself up a bit to get fully fit. I felt good and my form is coming back. It’s nice to help the team.”
“I know you’re getting criticism, but I’m experienced enough to keep my head down, not to say stupid things, and to keep constipating.
“In the locker room, I feel good and have fun. I’m happy and I’m sure it can be seen on the field.”
Mourinho was also quick to admit that this was a good day for the enigmatic bale.
“I’m very happy for him, very happy for the team because the team needs his talent,” said Mourinho. “I’m really happy for him because he is calm, not speaking to you, watching, reading, listening or probably not because he is from Real Madrid, probably ignoring it a little.
“I’m happy because when he’s in good condition he can do things like he did today. His game was very good, not just scoring a goal, changing the pace, going in. I’m very happy for him.”
Perhaps it’s a case of “better late than never” but even Bale’s harshest critic – and it could only be Mourinho – would find it impossible to fault the Welshman’s performance against Sean Dyche’s team. Bale scored two goals, created another for Harry Kane and started the train for Tottenham’s other goal, scored by Lucas Moura. This win gives new life to the club’s hopes of moving into the top 4 late and securing the Champions League qualification.
Spurs started the day nine points behind the top four, but that win could prove to be a launch pad for a run into the top four. With the games against Fulham and Crystal Palace over the next seven days, Spurs will know that two wins will immediately get them back to the competition due to a series of meetings between teams above them that ensure some clubs lose points. Liverpool v Chelsea and Chelsea v Everton both take place within the next eight days, so Spurs will simply have to run their own business and wait for the dust to settle on them on these two games.
And if Spurs build some winning momentum after that win, they can attribute it all to Bale’s match-winning performance.
This was Bale’s first start in the Premier League – and only his third of the entire season – since losing to Brighton last month, where he was replaced after a bland hour that saw Mourinho see his players performing in the last 30 praised protocol.
He had to make an impact on a rare appearance and got the perfect start by scoring a goal within 75 seconds of hitting the offside trap to push Son Heung-min past Burnley keeper Nick Pope with his right foot. Bale made a name for himself on his first Premier League home start for Spurs since May 2013, but the goal was just the beginning.
He became creator in the 15th minute by teeing Kane for the second goal with an assist that won an award for Pass of the Season. From the depths of his own half, Bale spotted Kane and picked him out with a 60 yard pass for the left foot so the English captain only had to make one touch to control before he shot past Pope. Bale was once again in the spotlight for Tottenham’s third goal. His cross-field pass for Sergio Reguilon resulted in Moura hitting a left-back from close range.
As Bale spent the last 10 minutes of the first half limping and rubbing his left ankle, the injury nightmare that has haunted his career for more years than he can remember seemed to have returned. But maybe Bale wanted to prove he was made of stronger material than his reputation suggests. He continued after the break and stayed long enough to score his second game with a stunning left-footed shot from the inside of the post from 20 yards. When he was replaced by Erik Lamela in the 70th minute, Bale had shown what was the man of the game and done enough to give Mourinho a high-five on leaving the field.
It was certainly the high water mark of his second Spurs spell. Nobody really knows how much of Bale’s reported Real Madrid wages of £ 600,000 a week Tottenham is paid during his loan period, but it’s fair to say he hasn’t been value for money since returning to the club in September has achieved more. But this was a reminder of what Bale can do by the end of the season and what Mourinho and Spurs are asking of him.
If he can stay fit and consistently repeat that feat, Spurs can still believe in their hopes in the Champions League.