Newcastle can bring in all the French stars they want, but they’re not going to find an answer to Gareth Bale in Ligue 1. In fairness, the Premier League doesn’t appear to have an antidote for the Tottenham winger, either, with the Welsh international’s two goals taking his season total to 13 as Spurs downed Newcastle, 2-1.
Tottenham is now undefeated in league since Dec. 9, a span of 10 games. Newcastle’s loss ends a two-match winning streak highlighted by last week’s comeback victory over Chelsea.
Bale’s first was a nearly unstoppable free kick from just outside the penalty area, his dipping ball from even with Tim Krul’s left post getting up and over a late-reacting wall, leaving the Magpies’ goalkeeper no chance to prevent the opening goal. A Yoann Gouffan response equalized in the 24th minute, but 12 minutes before time, Bale stole full points for the home side.
Having switched from his customary left wing to the right, Bale cut in to claim a second ball off a long pass toward Emmanuel Adebayor. A moment of indecision between Newcastle center backs Steven Taylor and Fabricio Coloccini allowed Bale to poke a bouncing ball behind the defense, the Spurs’ winger able to use his speed to race clear of right back Mathieu Debuchy. Going in on Krul to the left of goal, Bale slid a winner just inside the near post as the keeper came out to close the angle.
The goals were two moments of elite quality in an otherwise evenly played match. Even Newcastle’s goal was more fortune than something differentiating, Gouffran’s shot from 17 yards going off Michael Dawson’s back and in.
Though only one goal separated the sides in the scoresheet, the real difference was Bale. Were it not for a strong-handed save from Krul in the 87th minute, Bale would have blasted home a hat trick from 19 yards. A bouncing ball gave Bale a chance at an open goal in the 94th minute, but falling to his weaker right foot, he put it over the bar. A 98th minute shot from 20 yards was palmed wide.
Last week, after another star’s two-goal game, we considered which player has been the league’s best this season. Marouane Fellaini still has the most compelling argument, but like Robin van Persie and Luis Suarez, Gareth Bale has a large place in the conversation. While the two forwards have scored more often than Bale, the Spurs attacker has done so from a wider, more withdrawn position.
He may not be the league’s most prolific attacker, but at his best, he is the league’s most dangerous. And as Bale matures, we’re starting seeing his best on a regular basis.