Tottenham Focus – Did Bale brilliance against Lyon hide central concerns?

Tottenham will take a 2-1 lead to Europa League return leg in Lyon in a match marked by three stupendous goals. Gareth Bale scored two stunning free-kicks in injury time of either half, sandwiching an unstoppable shot from Samuel Umtiti. The goals stood out in a match in which Spurs generally seemed to find an obstinate Lyon difficult to break down.

There is no escaping Gareth Bale and Spurs fans will not want to. The Welshman looks to have changed his style when taking free-kicks. The approach to the ball appears different. There is less speed in the strike, perhaps sacrificed for more control and swerve on the ball. It works. Bale produced a masterclass in how to take a free-kick against Lyon.

However, overall, this was a quieter match for Bale. Starting in the centre behind Emmanuel Adebayor, his game didn’t quite gel. An open goal was missed and there were few surging runs. Only when the live wire Lewis Holtby came on into the central position and Bale went out wide did he pose more of a threat with several runs and crosses.

When Bale is on the left, defenders do not know where he is going to go. He can stay wide and beat the defender or he can cut inside and drift into other positions. Defenders are unsure who is meant to pick him up. Starting in the centre seemed to negate this. This may change with experience but against Lyon his central role was less effective.

One area of concern for Spurs may be Scott Parker. Something seems wrong with the Englishman – perhaps he is not yet fully fit in his return from injury but some of his old fire looked to be missing. Could he be suffering from uncertainties over his role in comparison to Sandro?

There can be little doubt that if Sandro was fit he would be starting. However, Parker almost looks like he is trying to be more like the Brazilian. There are sorties forward and some more ambitious passing attempts rather than focusing on his strengths – sitting deep, protecting his defence and playing simple passes to the more creative players.

Arguably, apart from returning to the strengths of his game, Parker needs to distribute the ball far quicker. For much of the match Spurs’ passing was slow. The zip in moving the ball to get round a team determined to defend was lacking and in central midfield, Parker’s slow distribution caused problems. The Englishman takes the ball but when passing often dribbles half way to the recipient before making the pass.

The problem with this is it slows down Spurs’ tempo, telegraphs the direction of play and allows the opposing defence time to organize, close down Parker and the intended recipient of the ball. This seemed in marked contrast to the Lyon player fulfilling the same role – Maxime Gonalons – who shone for the French team.

Parker has always been a whole hearted player; Spurs fans may hope in Sandro’s absence Parker can return to the form he showed in the first half of last season.

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