What if Bale and Dele are actually… good at football?

Date published: Wednesday 24th February 2021 7:45 - Dave Tickner

Dele Alli Tottenham

While everything that follows here can be caveated to the moon and back by the quality of Spurs’ Austrian opposition, it is surely now clear that Gareth Bale and Dele Alli – maybe even Carlos Vinicius too – will need to be far more involved in whatever remains of Tottenham’s season after this 4-0 win.

Spurs’ creative constipation has only grown worse in recent weeks as Jose Mourinho responds to every setback with yet greater focus on masking weaknesses and more attention on what players can’t do than what they can.

From the outside looking in, it would be reasonable to assume that neither Bale nor Dele have always helped themselves as much as they might have done this season. Neither is blameless for their peripheral role in a season that could, quite inexplicably, still end up as Tottenham’s best in 60 years.

But with Bale finally rumbling up to something like racing pace, stepping off the bench here to smack home Tottenham’s third of a welcome straightforward evening, and Dele producing a blockbuster performance featuring a madness of an overhead kick to open the scoring and then assists for Vinicius and Bale, any further sidelining will be entirely on Mourinho.

Whatever the concerns over calibre of the opposition provided by Wolfsberger in this Europa League cruise, Dele could have done absolutely no more than he did here in the sort of virtuoso attacking performance of which few are capable and which Mourinho will have to learn to love, or at least tolerate, if he is to salvage his job and perhaps even his reputation.

Jermaine Jenas nailed the situation on commentary after Dele had created the second goal with a pinpoint cross for Vinicius. “Dele does something that all attacking midfielders need to do but that Jose hates. He risks the ball.”

Risk-reward is at the heart of most sports, and football is no exception. Dele across his career has absolutely been on the wrong side of that line at various points in his career, although some Spurs fans are now so thoroughly Mourinhoed that he got abuse for attempting a risky 92nd-minute flick at West Ham that was almost identical to the one that set up Lucas Moura’s third at Amsterdam (in other words, the most important Tottenham goal of the last decade).

Spurs as a team have clearly found themselves too far on the other side of that line far too often this season. So risk-averse is their football that it perversely swings right round and becomes risky again, the refusal to even countenance adding to a one-goal lead ending with so many high-wire falls in the closing minutes.

Dele and Bale are high-risk players. Bale won’t track back like Steven Bergwijn. Dele won’t retain possession like Harry Winks. But they are capable of unlocking a stubborn defence or locating a goal from nowhere. They are, in the form they’re tentatively starting to show, worth the risk. Right now, is Bale more likely to help turn a 1-0 lead into a 2-0 lead than Bergwijn is to stop 1-0 becoming 1-1? He must be.

Spurs are demonstrably taking greater risk in trying to defend leads than they would be in looking to extend them. If Mourinho has decided the defensive issues which demonstrably exist within his squad are beyond his power to solve, then the only solution – as unpalatable and alien as it may be to him – is to lean into the attacking strength Spurs possess.

If Bale and Dele turning out to actually be good at football after all is a great twist already, there might be an even better one coming if Mourinho can save Spurs’ season by embracing his inner Ossie Ardiles.

Dave Tickner

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