Tottenham Hotspur's Gareth Bale celebrates his third goal against Aston Villa during their English Premier League soccer match in Birmingham

Happy Boxing Day, Gareth Bale! Enjoy your hat trick

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He’s 23 years old, the most unstoppable force in the Premier League, and after today’s performance at Villa Park, Gareth Bale is only one goal off his career high. Last year, the Wales international buried 10 for Spurs. Sixteen games into his Premer League season, Bale’s already scored nine times, putting him on pace for a 20-goal season.

The output also put Tottenham in fourth place in the Premier League, their 4-0 win over Aston Villa giving Spurs 33 points through 19 rounds.

Bale is the most dynamic player in the Premier League, the type of title you give somebody when you’re too finely parsing the league’s best players. His combination of speed, size and strength is unmatched among the league’s attacking talents, and as one of the Premiership’s few wide stars, he always has the space to show it.

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But given his ability to tear into opponents is now being matched by some consistent, elite goal scoring, how long do we have to wait until we talk about Gareth Bale as the best player in England?

At least one more week, because for now, it’s time to enjoy the show Bale put on at Villa Park.

In a culture where Boxing Day soccer carries a lot sentiment, Bale gave a performance few Spurs fans will ever forget. That it was his first Premier League hat trick means he’s unlikely to forget it, either.

Bale’s first provided the insurance for Jermain Defoe’s opener, his touch putting him behind the Villa defense, catching Brad Guzan out of position (highlight, below). The second saw an Aaron Lennon square ball find Bale with far too much room in the middle of the area, his lower-right corner finish leaving Guzan flat-footed. In the 84th minute, Bale completed his hat trick, finishing a Gylfi Sigurdsson pass into the top of goal before being subbed off.

With the win, Spurs move into fourth place, tiebreakers allowing them to sit on top of Everton and West Bromwich Albion.

Villa, though they’ve been outscored 0-12 over the last four days, stay in 16th place but now have the worst goal difference in the Premier League: -21.

Agent: “There’s no hatred” between Bale, Ronaldo

Gareth Bale & Cristiano Ronaldo, Real Madrid CF
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Gareth Bale doesn’t at all dislike Cristiano Ronaldo — or vice versa — despite what may seem a lukewarm on-field relationship between the two Real Madrid superstars, insists Jonathan Barnett, agent of Bale.

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Instead, Barnett insists that the two men with very different personalities have a healthy relationship, and competition, that pushes each Galactico to be the best player he can be.

Barnett, on Bale’s relationship with Ronaldo — quotes from the Guardian:

“They don’t go out eating every night together, but it’s fine. There’s no hatred there. Gareth is a quiet guy. They’re complete opposites. But I think Gareth can learn a little bit from Ronaldo as well, interacting maybe a little bit. But he wants his own life and he lives it. Gareth is a great footballer, he doesn’t want anything more. He has some very good endorsements but his whole life is to be the best footballer in the world. I don’t think he wants to be the best model in the world or the best underwear seller. That’s not him.”

That’s a hilarious closing quote from Barnett, but he knows exactly how some folks are going to interpret it: “Bale thinks Ronaldo loves himself too much.”

[ MORE: Giroud: “I must harden myself” to unseat Walcott ]

There’s nothing better for the ultimate success of a team than healthy, friendly competition between teammates who are spectacularly talented as Ronaldo and Bale. The former will only be around to perform at his current level for so much longer, but at what point does the latter officially take the torch and supplant Madrid’s biggest star, and how accepting will he be of passing that proverbial torch?

Olivier Giroud: “I must harden myself” to unseat Walcott

Olivier Giroud, France
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Is it just me, or does the press really only ever get noteworthy quotes from players during international breaks?

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I suppose it’s not surprising, given Premier League players get away from the mean ole British press, go back to their respective homelands and speak with journalists they’ve likely known since their early playing days, thus feel more comfortable opening up about key issues.

Anyway, today we have Olivier Giroud essentially calling himself out for having lost the starting striker’s job at Arsenal because he’s been outplayed of late by Theo Walcott. As discussed before, this is bad news for Giroud because he’s now falling down the depth chart for France with next summer’s European Championship on the horizon.

[ MORE: Aguero admits he wants Guardiola link-up ]

Giroud, on losing his place at Arsenal — quotes from the Guardian:

“At Arsenal, I am in competition with Theo for the striker position. But he is doing well at the moment, so there is no reason to change.

“Whether it was at Tours, Montpellier or Arsenal, I have never experienced a situation like this, I have often played from the start. I need to take positives and to harden myself mentally. It is something new for me.

“I was in [Walcott’s] place in previous seasons at Arsenal. I imagine what he must have been thinking. But I feel that the coach believes in me.”

Giroud goes on to cast into doubt his own confidence, stating in very certain terms he needs “to believe more in [his] abilities.” Giroud’s always come across as a bit of an existentialist, but it’s always strange to hear players publicly call themselves out — particularly their confidence — as if that’s not going to increase the pressure currently weighing down on them.

[ MORE: Rodgers reportedly chosen to take over at Aston Villa ]

The next eight months are going to be monumentally important in Giroud’s career, as the 29-year-old attempts to prove he’s worth keeping around at Arsenal and deserving of a place in the national team squad for next summer’s EUROs, which are to be played in France.