The genius of Mr Bale
Graeme Bailey picks out the main talking points from Tottenham's win over Newcastle and that means one thing, Gareth Bale.
Last Updated: 09/02/13 4:34pm
In what always looked a tight contest at White Hart Lane, Gareth Bale was truly the difference between Tottenham and Newcastle.
The win took Tottenham, briefly, into third - but they extended the gap over fifth place as their charge for a UEFA Champions League place continued at a pace.
Newcastle remain just six points ahead of trouble and are still in a dogfight at the bottom, but they surely have too much with their new signings to be dragged into the bottom three.
But this game, like so many before and no doubt numerous more after, was about Mr Bale.
Emmanuel Adebayor defied some morning reports that his was AWOL after the Africa Cup of Nations as he took his place on the bench. That meant Clint Dempsey was given the chance to start up front with Bale on the left and Aaron Lennon right. Lewis Holtby was given his first start in the middle.
Newcastle stuck with the same XI that beat Chelsea last weekend, which meant James Perch starting ahead of both Vurnon Anita and Chieck Tiote, who was also back from ACN duty.
Spurs began with a 4-2-3-1 formation with Parker and Dembele in midfield, with Holtby pushed on behind and Bale and Lennon out wide as Dempsey led the line. This was changed in the second period with Bale given the freedom he has been enjoying of late and the decision was a good one as the Welshman found the room for his second, which he might not have got out wide.
Newcastle began in a very similar shape to Spurs. Gouffran and Sissoko caused problems breaking from midfield. Gouffran's second-half injury proved an issue as they seemed to lose their attacking shape.
Andre Villas-Boas changed things early in the second half with Holtby coming off for Adebayor - this allowed Dempsey to drop and Bale was given the free role. It worked and Spurs were more fluent with their key man everywhere. Dembele was forced off late on after a nasty challenge from Cabaye, whilst Assou-Ekotto also replaced Naughton, after the latter was again preferred in the starting line-up.
Newcastle were forced to replace the impressive Gouffran early in the second half and that did little for their chances. Tiote replaced Perch late on whilst Shola Ameobi came on to push for a leveller in the closing stages.
Phil Dowd did OK - but he did appear to get one thing wrong and that was Cabaye's late challenge on Moussa Dembele. The nasty challenge earned him a yellow, but looking at the replay, he was lucky not to see red. That aside, he policed it quite well.
No disrespect to those on show - but there is only one main man to talk about in this game, the rest are also-rans. The genius of Bale was there for everyone to see. The best player in the Premier League at the moment, of that there is little doubt. His first goal was a Ronaldo-esque, top of the foot free-kick which meant it never went higher than the bar and flashed into the net leaving Krul little chance. And once he got his free role he was a constant menace and it was little surprise he bagged the winner - indeed it was more shocking he did not add to his and Tottenham's tally. Bale aside, Spurs ticked over nicely with Dembele, Holtby, Parker, Dempsey and Lennon all more than capable cast members behind their leading man.
Newcastle look so much better with Steven Taylor - the heartbeat of their club - at the centre of their defence. His partnership with Coloccini was only undone by the genius of Bale. Moussa Sissoko and Gouffran both continued to impress in attacking midfield roles following their recent arrivals. But Newcastle's key man is Cabaye and he is starting to tick like he did last year. His tackle on Dembele late on was naughty.
Tottenham look good, even without leading front-man Jermain Defoe they look impressive. Indeed, with just two or three more names, they don't look a million miles away from making a concerted challenge on either Manchester side. But keeping Bale is the key. Keeping him fit until the summer, and then keeping him out of the hands of every big club in Europe before next season.
It is true that the table doesn't lie, but the team Newcastle have now is not the one which dragged them into the relegation mire. With Hatem Ben Arfa also due back, they have far too much for everyone else at the bottom end and surely a mid-table finish beckons.