The boys in Lilywhite hosted Lyon at White Hart Lane yesterday, and once again Gareth Bale stole the headlines. Bale's game has jumped to another planet lately and ten goals in the past ten games are suitably out of this world. In the past week he decided that a player of his caliber should be good at free kicks, so now he is, and to prove it he scored three of them in two games.
But a bunch of other people played yesterday too, and we shouldn't forget about them. So let's take a look at how they did.
Brad Friedel - Didn't have a whole lot to do, which surprised me as big strong strikers like Gomis typically give our center backs fits. He looks to be learning from Lloris and was quick off his line to chase loose balls in his box. His distribution looks better too, passing it short out of the back much more frequently than I remember. He can't be faulted at all for Umtiti's goal. Walker's attempt to close the player down screened his view, and by the time he could see the ball coming all he could do was admire what an incredible strike that was. Came up with a big save late in the second half after Lacazette torched about six players, but it's a save you'd expect your goalkeeper to make. He's no Lloris, but we could do a whole lot worse for our backup keeper.
Kyle Walker - Looked excellent in the first half. For the most part he kept Fofana completely in his pocket and linked up with Lennon superbly down the flank. They've got some serious telepathy going on right now. Great cross to find Bale at the back post where Bale almost replicated his Stoke goal of a couple years ago with a sideways volley. Then played another great ball across the floor that found Bale at the back post, and I still don't know how he didn't bury that. This is the Kyle Walker we've been waiting to see.
Then the second half started and he grew increasingly erratic as the game went on. He needlessly picked up an early yellow. An errant backpass saw Vertonghen have to rescue the team. One time he ran diagonally across the pitch from the right back spot towards Benny deep on the opposition flank, only to pass the ball straight to the other team. And I still don't know why he takes our corners, because they're awful. Had one really nice cross after Holtby released him down the wing that nobody could get on to. Defensively, he remained solid. All in all, one of his best performances of the season, but there's always something, isn't there Kyle? WHY WON'T YOU JUST LET ME LOVE YOU.
Jan Vertonghen - He's not been his indomitable self in the past few matches and his rest against Newcastle seems like it was good for him. Had a few nervy moments to start the match and was incredibly lucky not to have been called for a penalty against Gomis. After that, he grew into the game, and hopefully looks to be putting this bizarre poor run of form behind him. He put in a couple huge tackles, played some nice long passes, and stepped out of defense well to either pressure high up the pitch or carry the ball forward.
BAE - We've missed you so much. His confidence on the ball in dangerous areas is both terrifying and thrilling but it's always always amazing. That duck and weave in his own penalty area gave me a heart attack, but he pulled it off because he's always pulling crap like that off. At one point he gave the ball away with a poor pass, trucked back, won the ball, audaciously schooled his man with a nutmeg backheel, and launched a brilliant ball to spring a counter attack that was unfortunately pulled back for offside. And that's Benny in a nutshell. He's still shaky with his passing, but he's always willing to try something audacious and creative. We're better with him in the side.
Aaron Lennon - Doesn't do anything for stretches and then BAM! lightning strikes. In the first half, he and Walker looked so in tune with each other on the right. He beat his man with ease and did well to put him on an early yellow. Mostly stayed much higher up the pitch than last match and didn't track back as deeply on defense, but I can only assume this was AVB's decision. And Walker didn't seem to mind. His second half was quieter, but he still put in a tidy shift. Had three great runs that all came to nothing either because Dempsey wasn't quick enough or was too easily muscled off the ball.
Moussa Dembele - Still not driving forward as much as he did when paired with Sandro. But showed that he's more than just a dribble-merchant with a stunning threaded ball to Adebayor that should have seen Ade open the scoring. He drew that foul that won the free kick for Bale's first goal. Maybe the only attacking player to have a better second half than first half. He looked much more alive and willing to dribble forward and beat a man. Another nice passing moment to release Bale, but Bale's cut back found nobody. Gave the ball away cheaply a few times, but always battles to win it back. He still needs to do better.
Adebayor - His movement was great and he was all over the pitch battling, but his touch and finishing continue to look poor. I keep hoping he just lacks sharpness, but I keep worrying he's just not that good.
Lewis Holtby - Immediately energized the team with his introduction. Bale had an almost invisible second half but Holtby's appearance seemed to wake Gareth up. Played some really clever passes and fought like a terrier for the ball all over the pitch. When he came on, he seemed to decide that Maxime Gonalons was his arch-nemesis and got immediately in his head. They battled all over the pitch and I like to think he drove Gonalons just crazy enough to induce the tackle on Bale that led to the match winner. Must start every game from now on. He's fantastic.
Gylfi Sigurdsson - Gylfi did more in ten minutes than Dempsey did all match. He's a much, much more technical player. He holds the ball well and passes well with good vision. Seems much more effective in wide areas than behind the striker, and I'd love to see him get a chance to start there.
Jake Livermore - Came on late and had two decent passes and didn't really do anything.
And now finally, inevitably, we turn back to Gareth Bale. His two brilliant free kicks settled the game, but if I'm honest our "one man team" was otherwise rather poor. He started the game playing centrally and then moved wide, and didn't really have a lot of impact from open play in either position. Could have scored a couple in the first half, with a sideways volley and an easy tap-in on an empty net, but was unlucky. Actually, that miss from Walker's cross was absolutely criminal. We can joke that the mundane is now beneath our superhuman star, but that was crazy bad. Then he capped off the half with a free kick of stunning quality.
I'd have thought his late free kick would energize him, but he faded completely in the second half. It seemed like he didn't know where he needed to go to get on the ball. He popped up wide, centrally, and very deep, and nothing seemed to work. He gave the ball away very cheaply in the final third with some poor touches. Holtby's introduction seemed to give him a lift, and they have a really good connection on the pitch, and I hope this is something that keeps developing over the season. In a poor second half, two nice moments stood out for me. First, he whipped in a great low cross from wide after exchanging passes with Dembele that didn't find anybody in the box. And one moment where he tried to find space at the edge of the box, drifting wider and wider right and just when it looked like the chance had gone, suddenly cut back onto his left and unleashed a great shot that the keeper did well to parry.
A couple moments of brilliance, but you get the feeling that Gareth Bale is great when the team is funneling the ball to him, but doesn't really connect with anyone when he has to be the provider. And then he won the foul and scored the free kick that won the game and everything else was forgotten.