According to various press reports, Manchester United are considering an audacious swoop for Tottenham Hotspur winger Gareth Bale.
Frankly, it’s unlikely that Daniel Levy would want to sell his prized asset to one of Spurs’ domestic rivals and Bale himself might find the prospect of joining Real Madrid more enticing.
Nonetheless, stranger things have happened in football and what follows is an assessment of Bale’s role if he is to grace the Old Trafford pitch.
During the second half of the 2012/13 season, Andre Villas-Boas primarily used Bale in a free role as the No 10.
Although the Welshman initially flourished in that role, opposing team soon started congesting him, forcing “AVB” to shift Bale out to the flanks in games against sides like Manchester City and Southampton.
At United, David Moyes is unlikely to give Bale the No 10 slot. He already has Shinji Kagawa and Wayne Rooney (if not sold to Chelsea) for that role. Kagawa, in particular, is much more composed and comfortable in narrows zones than Bale.
Hence, moving on, the left-winger role might also not suit Bale because, as Michael Cox states, this position will suppress his goal-scoring abilities.
Possessing a weak right-foot, Bale cannot drift in and shoot, instead he will have to take respite by providing crosses.
For a player who scored 26 goals last term, crossing from the left-flank instead of utilizing his potent left-foot will be a massive bane for the team.
Moreover, Bale is much more direct to be an archetypal winger just popping in crosses.
He averaged 5 shots per game last term (second highest in the Premier League) and hit the ball with a better accuracy than all of United’s wingers.
Due to his mobility, Bale likes to cut inside from the wing, shoot from his stronger foot or link-up with teammates. Thus, the right-winger role will be the most suitable role for him at United.
The Red Devils desperately lacked goals from wingers last term and Bale can eradicate this problem.
As the No 10, Bale can quickly get overcrowded. Not to forget, when he receives the ball with his back to the goal, the 23-year-old tends to struggle.
On the right flank, however, Bale can simply take on a single defender at a time rather than a brigade of defenders and midfielders. This means more space for him to maraud down with speed and trickery.
Bale thrived on the wings against Southampton and City as he was up against only one player, rather than two or three. And, in one-on-one situations, Bale can beat any full-back in the world.
Out wide, Bale will also get the opportunity to get behind the backline, with his goal against Manchester City a testimony to this claim.
When the opposition puts up two solid banks of ‘4’ and Bale is playing as the No 10, he is compelled to drop deep as it becomes difficult for the midfielders to spray an accurate pass behind the two midfielders and two defenders for the former Saints youngster to pounce on.
But on the touchline, Bale can easily make unnoticed runs, with Michael Carrick supplying him constant ammunition.
If you have watched United’s two pre-season friendlies, then you might have also noticed the attackers trying to run behind the back-four on a continual basis.
Jesse Lingard’s sublime goal against Australia’s A-League All Stars was a courtesy of this tactic. In my opinion, Bale can be a great asset if this approach is used by Moyes in the Premier League.
Many argue that if Bale is played on the flanks, he will lose the freedom that transformed him into one of Premier League’s best last season.
However, Moyes’s initial tactical plans suggest otherwise.
In the pre-season games, Moyes has played with one winger plucking in and the other providing width.
Ryan Giggs (against Thai All Star XI) and Lingard (against A-League All Stars) were given optimum freedom to roam around all over the pitch. In fact, even the wingers providing the width got ample scope to move in.
Bale can take up either role.
I reckon since he likes to get involved centrally, he can move in from the right wing, link-up with Kagawa and Robin van Persie, while Zaha or Luis Nani can stretch the field of play.
Bale won’t be restricted by Moyes in the final third but instead as the No 10, he will play as an inverted winger.
This will give him the added luxury of staying only on the touchline if the center is becoming crowded and he is stuttering.
But that shouldn’t really be the case owing to the presence of Kagawa (or Rooney).
When Bale will drift in, the attention of the opposition will still be on Kagawa (since as the No 10, the Japanese will be the attacking hub of the team) and Bale will be usually marked only by the full-back.
This will give the Wales international the opportunity to get into the space in between the lines (as Kagawa will provide a distraction).
I have tried to depict this with the help of a diagram (consider the opposition playing a 4-2-3-1 formation).
At Spurs, Bale was the focus of attention and hence, heavily marked by the opposing players.
In the game against Chelsea during the business end of last season, Bale started out on the left-wing and rarely tracked back to provide support to Benoit Assou-Ekotto.
But that was basically because his role was such. The winger had the onus to start the counters and the team’s attack was centered on him.
Under a manager like Moyes, known for his defensive strictness, Bale will be without doubt, instructed to track back.
And stats suggest that he can easily do the “donkey work” at the back end.
Comparing his defensive outputs of the previous campaign to that of United’s wingers’, we find that Bale averages the highest number of defensive actions, highest number of interceptions, and the third highest number of tackles.
His tackling rate has scope for improvement but the lad rarely commits needless fouls.
And this is when Bale was mostly played as the second-striker.
|Defensive Actions (p/g)||Tackles||Interceptions||Fouls||Tackling Success|