Mourinho should keep this thing in mind before making Bale position decision
A 3-1 victory in Bulgaria set Tottenham Hotspur’s Europa League campaign back on track, with goals from Harry Kane, Lucas Moura and Giovani Lo Celso giving Jose Mourinho’s team all three points against Ludogorets on Thursday night, according to football.london.
The match provided another start for Gareth Bale, who continues to get minutes under his belt after struggling for game time towards the end of his Real Madrid spell.
After the Welshman’s standout display, former Tottenham manager Glenn Hoddle suggested a way to find room for Bale in a team which has had little trouble scoring goals so far this term.
“What we saw tonight, drifting into the little pocket, the No.10 position, and then hurting the opposition, that’s where I see him,” Hoddle said during BT Sport’s coverage of the match.
“I don’t see him out wide on the right, or the left, but I think there’s a combination, eventually Son, Bale and Kane, it’ll be as good as anything in the country.”
It’s certainly a good problem facing Mourinho, but a problem nonetheless ahead of the game against West Brom at The Hawthorns.
So far, in Tottenham’s seven Premier League games, they have scored more goals than any other team in the competition. Their tally of 18 includes six at Old Trafford against Manchester United, five at St Mary’s against Southampton, and three in the draw at home with West Ham United.
All but four of those goals have been scored by Son Heung-min or Harry Kane, though, and Mourinho will be reluctant to do too much to disrupt a set-up which is clearly paying dividends for his team.
There may be an overriding fear that creating too top-heavy a team will run the risk of tipping over their progress in a similar manner to Newcastle United’s addition of Faustino Asprilla back in 1996: the personnel may be more talented, and the man added to the starting XI may even be more productive in front of goal than the individual he replaces, but if it upsets the overall balance then it’s all for nothing.
Spurs’ games in the league have seen them start with Lucas Moura in the front three on four occasions, Erik Lamela twice and Steven Bergwijn once, with all three members of that group also making appearances from the bench.
Bale’s own outings in the league have come as a replacement for one of those three, allowing him to slot into a nominally wide role without disturbing the balance between Kane and Son.
In any other season, moving Bale into a No.10 role might be considered a no-risk situation, but Kane’s performances in a withdrawn role – where he has already set a personal record for assists in one season – complicate things.
In using Bale as a 10, you lose one of the elements which has turned an inconsistent team into one averaging three goals across its last six league games, and the Welshman’s ability in the role within this specific system is still unknown.
Yes, Kane has had no trouble operating as an orthodox No.9 for most of his career, but the bulk of that came with prime Christian Eriksen supplying him and Dele Alli at his best in an advanced midfield role. The current version of Spurs has neither – though Alli could yet rediscover his magic touch – and it’s about the supply line as much as the finisher.
Spurs have solved this problem by moving Kane deeper and using him as a creator, and the temptation to abandon this when it’s working so well is unlikely to be high.
As tempting as it is to follow Hoddle’s advice and find a way to squeeze Bale into the No.10 role, Mourinho’s best approach may be to keep things the same structurally and simply keep the loanee in whichever wide spot isn’t being occupied by Son.
The fluidity of the frontline means he is unlikely to be used as a pure winger in the way previous Tottenham line-ups may have demanded, and as he gets his fitness up it will be easier for him to make the defensive contributions required of a wide forward in a Mourinho system.
It might not bring about the goalscoring exploits we saw from Bale in his previous Tottenham spell, but at this stage it’s more important to keep the goals flowing from their current sources rather than finding new ways of finding the net before opponents have figured out how to stop what you’re doing right now.