Gareth Bale is once again a Tottenham Hotspur player, a prospect many supporters of the club deemed an impossibility when the Welshman departed for Real Madrid back in 2013, according to football.london.
Fans back then would have also been somewhat surprised at the idea José Mourinho would be the manager Bale would return to work under, a little over a year after a Champions League final appearance but such is the transitory and unpredictable nature of football management and player transfers.
Mourinho is now tasked with working out how to fit Gareth Bale, Harry Kane, Lucas Moura, Son Heung-min, Erik Lamela and Steven Bergwijn into the same attack. The analogy of plate-spinning springs to mind as Spurs now have one of Europe’s best attacking rosters, with depth across the front three.
Amidst reports that Bale may be fit to return to Premier League action against West Ham United, it poses a troublesome trio of questions to the Portuguese manager. The salient question being: does he field his new addition against the same club he made his Spurs managerial bow, or hold back until a later date for the benefit of the team?
Should Mourinho start Bale, or use him as a sub?
José Mourinho is a conservative manager, a proponent of ensuring his own house is in order before deploying all hands to the attacking pump. He is a man who derives reward from careful strategic planning, not risk. Given that Bale has played 90 minutes of competitive action in a single sitting just twice this year means it is unlikely he will last the duration should he start against West Ham.
Considering that his penultimate full-ninety came on January 4th, it suggests he is even less likely to start versus David Moyes’ side. With the wealth of fit attacking options at Mourinho’s disposal, and the rampant form the team currently find themselves in, it could be a while before Bale receives his first start.
Having said that, depending on the game-state at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium on Sunday, Bale could be brought on to appease the expectant Spurs supporters if the team are leading and dominant in a similar fashion to their last outing at Old Trafford.
Who does he replace in the team?
Currently, Gareth Bale does not simply walk into the Spurs team and replace the likes of Son Heung-min or Harry Kane – they are two of the first names on Mourinho’s teamsheet. In danger of losing their place in the team though, are Erik Lamela and Lucas Moura who have started the season well, but not in the same vein as the two aforementioned attackers.
Bale is best as a right-sided attacker, physical enough to have an influence on proceedings in central areas, but also possessing the requisite quality to drive down the flanks and at the sides of central defenders. If Mourinho re-jigs his formation slightly, as he appears to have done in the early portion of this season, Dele Alli could be another who finds himself further squeezed out of the first-team picture.
What formation will they play as a result?
The 4-3-3 used in the 6-1 defeat of Manchester United could be an indicator towards how Mourinho intends to set his team up with Bale in it. A narrow attacking trio, supported by galloping full-backs and a box-to-box presence in Tanguy Ndombélé or Giovani Lo Celso through the middle suits Bale who tends to cut inside on his favoured left foot.
While being one of the more sentimental signings of the summer, it is one which requires the Spurs team to undergo minimal formational surgery. Bale can slot into the right-wing berth which has been adequately staffed since his 2013 exit, but a player of his powers certainly adds a certain match-winning quality to an already prolific attack.
It is far from a seamless transition – football transfers where players move from one side with a particular system to another altogether rarely are – but he is hardly being shoe-horned into an unfamiliar role. If Mourinho has been tinkering with his formation ahead of Bale’s return to fitness, in order to get the rest of the squad up to speed with a new style, it would represent smart forward-planning on the Portuguese manager’s part.