A Square Bale in a Round Hole? How will AVB use Bale?
Posted on August 13, 2012 by Joe Plewes
Several international defences may have had their blushes spared by Gareth Bale’s Olympic withdrawal this summer, but you get the feeling a few Premiership right-backs may not be so lucky in the coming months. For Bale and Spurs, this season is surely do or die.
The North Londoners must match their flying winger’s marauding ambition and qualify for the Champions League this time around if they wish to retain his services, while Luka Modrić’s Madrid ‘will he won’t he’ saga (surely he will) outlines the precarious nature of Spurs’ claims to be a top Premier League outfit. The bold sacking of Harry Redknapp followed by the instalment of AVB sees Spurs at a crossroads, so what changes are going to take place and will they go forwards or backwards?
The change in manager will no doubt bring about a change in system. Redknapp’s all guns blazing 4-4-1-1 may have been the reason Spurs at one point were challenging for the title, but that system, along with injuries, the later reversion to 4-4-2 and of course Chelsea are key reasons as to why Luka Modrić is so keen to hotfoot it out of White Hart Lane, and why Spurs will not to be facing off against the continent’s elite clubs.
The change in system brings with it a degree of trepidation. Not just for Spurs’ fans, but for Bale and perhaps more specifically his speedy counterpart Aaron Lennon. There was no secret of Redknapp’s simple attacking formula: pin back opposition fullbacks and whip crosses into the box. While questioning the former manager’s tactical acumen is not the aim of this blog, you do get the feeling AVB will be utilising more complex patterns of play.
Even so, Bale should probably not worry. AVB found plenty of success with Hulk and Varela as attacking wide men at Porto, with the former scoring twenty-three league goals in Porto’s 2010/11 league victory. When you watch Bale sometimes he has something of that Ronaldo aura, and you wonder if he could match those kind of numbers – despite his most successful goal scoring tally being just twelve across a season.
Hulk, Sturridge… Bale?
Villas-Boas hasn’t just had success with Hulk cutting inside on his left foot, but also Daniel Sturridge. The former Manchester City forward scored a flurry of goals under the Portuguese’s stewardship, managing nine league strikes in the Premier League alone before AVB’s departure in March. The 22-year-old only mustered two more league efforts and fell out of favour with incoming Chelsea boss Roberto Di Matteo.
Could Bale play a similar role this season? It has already been tried in Spurs’ warm-up games, and Bale was even used as a makeshift centre forward when Spurs faced New York Red Bulls at the end of July. Even so, he hasn’t entirely been convincing wide on the right (indeed, it didn’t go too well with Spurs fans when Redknapp tried him there) while his central role coincided with Spurs’ poor form at the back end of last season.
Indeed, Bale hasn’t sparkled in any role outside of that left wing berth and a few standout performances aside, the central role doesn’t suit his talents either. Those undefendable, vicious whipped crosses are replaced by predictable shifts inside – and with Bale surprisingly the 5th worst finisher in the Premier League last season with a chance conversion rate of 9.2%, AVB might be making a mistake to try and convert him into an inverted winger.
Instead he may be better placed to try the same tactic he did at Vicarage Road last week, swapping Bale to the other flank for a short burst which unsettles defenders and hopefully prevents defences constantly doubling up on him. Otherwise, he’s somewhat of a square peg in a round hole.