Spurs Can Stay in Top 4 and European Contention Without Gareth Bale

Willie Gannon@https://twitter.com/WillieGannonSenior Writer IApril 4, 2013

LONDON, ENGLAND - APRIL 04:  Manager Andre Villa Boas of Tottenham Hotspur looks at Gareth Bale of Tottenham Hotspur as he is stretchered off injured during the UEFA Europa League quarter-final first leg between Tottenham Hotspur FC and FC Basel 1893 at White Hart Lane on April 4, 2013 in London, England.  (Photo by Paul Gilham/Getty Images)
Paul Gilham/Getty Images

The combined challenge of Gareth Bale and Tottenham Hotspur to finish in the top four has taken a huge blow after the Welsh star was stretchered off in the Europa League against Basle on Thursday.

The Welsh-wonder appeared to roll over on his ankle and then go down in agony as astonished Spurs' fans looked on in horror. 

Going by TV coverage, it would appear as if Bale has damaged ankle ligaments, which could end his season for Spurs. Tottenham, quite rightly, has refused to comment on Bale's injury until medical tests prove conclusive.

Manager Andre Villas-Boas remained cautiously optimistic after the game, telling BBC Sport,  "Hopefully, it is not as bad as it could have been."

Bale, the Premier League's hottest player and most-complete athlete, is also one of the most sought-after footballers on the planet. The Tottenham Hotspur star has enjoyed a phenomenal season at White Hart Lane with Andre Villas-Boas and  is now at the top of every major club's transfer list.

Spurs will come under increasing pressure to sell Bale as his star continues to rise. He is now rightly linked with the likes of Paris Saint-Germain, Bayern Munich, Manchester United, Manchester City, Real Madrid and mighty Barcelona.

Bale's rise to iconic status as one of the world's elite players has been meteoric to say the least. He signed with Spurs from Southampton in 2007 for the princely sum of £10 million. He then suffered the ignominy of not tasting a Premier League victory for two years over 24 games. That all-important win came against Burnley in 2009 when he was introduced as a late substitute by Harry Redknapp to purposely break his duck.

Less than one year later, Redknapp was hailing him as one of the best players on the planet. 

"I can't think of a better left-sided player really," Harry Redknapp said after Bale scored an amazing volley against Stoke City. "That left foot of his is amazing, he can run all day, and he can head it—he's 6'2". He's got everything. You couldn't even put a value on him. Almost any club in the world would want to buy him. In fact, I know they would."

Three years later, Bale's progress as a player means Redknapp was right and he will almost certainly leave Spurs within the next two seasons. Real Madrid have long been admirers of Bale and Zinedine Zidanetheir director of football, has described Spurs' star as "unique" in the world of football.

He told Sky Sports: "This year the player who's impressed me most is not actually playing in the Champions League. He's playing in 'the other cup' and that's Bale.

 "He's unique. He makes things look easy, his pace is frightening, his acceleration is unbelievable because of his ability to go through the gears in very little space.

"Plus, he's very good technically which is also important. We mustn't forget that he plays football very well!

What all this adds up to is that Spurs had better start preparing for life without Gareth Bale.

Eventually, Bale will leave the roost at White Hart Lane and with or without the Welshman, the Spurs are well equipped to stay in contention for a Champions League space.

Bale has obviously garnered all the headlines at Tottenham this year. He has put in some blistering performances and has 27 goals for club and country in 46 appearances from midfield.

Should Spurs lose its main weapon to one of the bigger fish, one must expect a transfer fee of somewhere in the region of £50 million to exchange hands. This will come in the form of a straight-up  transaction or involve a players-plus-cash deal. 

Either way, Spurs will be set to replace Bale. A sizable transfer fee could, and should, put Spurs right in as Premier League contenders, but only if the money is wisely spent.

However, should the 23-year-old be injured indefinitely, then Spurs would have another problem on their hands. It would have to re-shuffle completely and life would become complicated, but not as much as people may think.

Andre Villas-Boas has already begun the Bale succession plan by snapping up Lewis Holtby in the January transfer window along with Mousa Dembele and Jan Vertonghen last summer.

Tottenham Hotspur has progressed every season since Daniel Levy became chairman in 2001

It possesses two of the best goalkeepers in the Premier League in Hugo Lloris and Team USA veteran Brad Friedel. 

Spurs also has Michael Dawson, Steven Caulker and the classy Vertonghen as first-choice centre-backs with William Gallas and Younes Kaboul as backup. On the flanks, they have Kyle Walker, the PFA Young Player of the Year last season, Kyle Naughton, the on-loan Danny Rose and the haphazard Benoit Assou-Ekotto.

Vertonghen is the highest-rated defender in the Premier League in what is his debut season. The Belgian defender has waded in with an impressive 77 tackles and 80 interceptions in 27 games. However, it is his link-up play with midfield that really makes him stand out as a class act.

Tottenham's defensive statistics compare favourably against other teams in the Premier League.

 Vertonghen's average of 2.9 tackles is the highest for a defender at Spurs with Naughton at 2.6, Walker at 2.1, Assou-Ekotto at 1.7, Dawson at 1.5 and Caulker dragging up the rear at just 1.1 tackles per game.

It must be said though that Dawson and Caulker have made the most defensive clearances at 10.6 and 9.3 per game, respectively. Those two drop off and challenge more frequently in the air than other defenders.

A comparison with champions-elect Manchester United has Nemanja Vidic and Jonny Evans making 1.4 and 1.8 tackles per game and 10.4 and 8.4 clearances per game, respectively.

Left-back is an obvious problem area with Assou-Ekotto giving increasingly erratic performances. One would assume that Rose or Naughton will succeed the Cameroonian international in time.

Andre-Villas Boas prefers a 4-2-3-1 formation at Spurs, but at his previous clubs, he utilised a flexible 4-3-3 system.

With that in mind, the biggest area of the pitch to shake up without Gareth Bale is central midfield.

Dembele has been one of the best performers in the Europe this season, as was Sandro before his injury.

Both players are highly athletic and competitive across the midfield. They weigh in with the highest tackle rate at 3.3 and 3 per match, making Sandro the 11th-best defensive midfielder in the Premier League with Dembele coming in just eight places behind him in 19th.

Those two make a formidable pairing. Should Bale not be available for Villas-Boas, there are multiple options on the bench.

Sandro will always take up the main defensive role when available, as will Scott Parker. Add in the English international to the mix and Dembele will be pushed slightly forward to support the attack.

The Belgian powerhouse played this particular role to great effect at Fulham and AZ Alkmaar. He is more than athletic enough to support every phase of play across the vertical sections of the pitch.

His one drawback is as a creative player, but he is ranked third at Spurs in terms of creating chances behind Bale and Aaron Lennon.

When AVB wants a more-mobile and creative middle triumvirate, he can go for Lewis Holtby instead of Parker. The German international is powerful, despite his stature, and is mobile and creative enough to cover all areas of the pitch.

In his 28 games for Schalke 04 and Tottenham this season, Holtby has contributed 10 assists and creates an average of 1.3 chances per game. What makes Holtby far more dangerous than Dembele as a creative force, despite his lesser statistics, is his vision which dwarfs the Belgian's.

Spurs also has the option of bringing in Gylfi Sigurdsson as an attacking threat. However, the Icelandic international's games would have to be hand-picked as his contributions defensively are negligible.

He would, however, be an extremely good option as one of the support-forwards to the striker, along with Clint Dempsey.

The 30-year-old Dempsey scored 23 goals in 2011-12 for Fulham while playing to the left of Pavel Pogrebynak and Andrew Johnson as Dembele supported the trio. Sigurdsson also has a proven track record as a support-striker and scored seven goals in 19 games for possession-based Swansea City the same season.

The wide players, however, ultimately depend upon how Villas-Boas approaches the centre-forward situation. Emmanuel Adebayor is a conventional lone centre-forward while Jermain Defoe is best utilised on the break.

The 4-3-3 formation depends upon a centre-forward being able to hold up the ball and link with midfield.

In this regard Adebayor is the only choice available for Villas-Boas. That leaves the support players potentially as Sigurdsson, Dempsey, Lennon, Holtby, and Andros Townsend when he returns from his loan move at QPR

Each player offers different expertise. However, for balance and versatility the best combination would be Lennon on the right if he is the striker with Dempsey on the left.

This would then give Spurs the option at going with four or five across midfield. Lennon automatically slots in on the right while Dempsey and Holtby can rotate between the left and the central support position.

Should Spurs lose Bale and not re-invest, or more likely through injury, then this system would allow for attacking flexibility whilst giving defensive solidity.

In truth, losing a player as good as Bale would hurt any team. No team, having lost its best player, could continue forward at the same trajectory. 

Spurs would be foolish not to plan for life without the phenom and it is here that Andre Villas- Boas' restored reputation rests. If he can bring in players to offset the impending loss of the Premier League's best player, then Spurs will continue to progress. 

If they fail and do the same as Arsenal by selling their best player for an inflated price and then replace him with an inferior product, then both Spurs and Villas-Boas will suffer.

Providing good leadership, coaching and a lack of injuries, they have the players to continue to challenge for Europe without Bale.

But why make it so hard?

If they can sell their star-asset for £50 million and replace him with real quality, then Spurs may not only challenge for Europe, they may challenge for the title too.


Statistics provided by www.whoscored.com and www.premierleague.com.

You can look me up on Twitter @WillieGannon


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