Tottenham – Sheffield United: Gareth Bale bagged his first Premier League hat trick since December 2012 as Spurs battered the relegated Blades 4-0 at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium on Sunday.
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Bale scored once in the first half and twice in the second, to go with a late exclamation point from Son Heung-min, to make it two wins from two Premier League games under interim head coach Ryan Mason following the firing of Jose Mourinho.
The result sends Tottenham 5th in the Premier League table, five points back of 4th with four games left to play and only ahead of West Ham United and Liverpool because they are yet to play in matchweek 34.
3 things we learned: Tottenham – Sheffield United
1. Tactical evolution of Bale on display: Longtime Tottenham fans will remember Bale first as the dynamic left winger who torched Maicon (and plenty of other right backs) with near-sprinter speed, as well as the right winger cutting in from the right side to curl and smash beauties and beasts home from the edge of the penalty area. On Sunday, nearly eight years after he left for Real Madrid, Bale fully showed how different he is as a player, operating as a de facto second striker who makes runs off Harry Kane, to his first stint at the club. It’s a similar role to how Son Heung-min has operated the last few seasons alongside Kane, only slightly more direct and a lot more powerful with a full head of steam. The truth about Bale is somewhere in between scoring a Premier League hat trick and not being good enough to play for long periods of the 2020-21 season.
2. Tottenham free(r) to strut under Mason: For all of the control and dominance they exerted in the first half, Tottenham rarely looked dynamic or explosive in the opening 45 minutes. The counter-attacks are noticeably slower, less direct and hardly worrisome for opponents these days. Ah, but the first instance of quickly moving the ball from back to front? Toby Aldeweireld’s raked ball over the top for Son in the 51st minute: despite the fact the South Korean international was offside, the ball went from the edge of Spurs’ penalty area to the back of the other net in well under 10 seconds. Not a single player in a green shirt was prepared to intervene. Fortunately for Spurs, there was lots more to come.
3. Same players, new manager: You know exactly what it means.
The first half was all Tottenham (10 shots to 4; 5 shots on target to 0), but Harry Kane, Bale and Dele Alli were all off by just a beat in the decisive moment. Son tested Aaron Ramsdale from 25 yards out in the 15th minute, but the Blades’ backstop made a stellar diving save to his right.
Sergio Reguilon picked out Kane at the top of the penalty area, but the Tottenham and England captain got the left-footed finish all wrong. The ball might have found its way home if there were three or four goals stacked together.
Spurs’ persistent pressure finally paid dividends in the 36th minute, when Bale made a perfectly timed near-post run before applying the deftest of touches to loop the ball over Aaron Ramsdale and make it 1-0.
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The aforementioned offside call (via video review) did Sheffield United a favor and held Tottenham at 1-0 for a brief time, but Son turned provider 10 minutes later and sent Bale in behind the defense for one of the easier goals he’ll ever score. Sure, he got the ball 35 yards from goal and still had some work to do, but he set the chance up expertly and finished it better with an arrow into the top-right corner.
Bale got his hat trick in the 69th minute, assisted for the second time by Serge Aurier. The finish — a low strike hammered inside the far post — looked quite familiar to Bale’s former days at the club, as he glided around defenders until the requisite space presented itself.
Goal no. 4 was, however, the pick of the litter. Son, cutting in from the left, using his right foot and the inside of the far post. Tottenham, but ruthless.