The secret to Gareth Bale’s recent success for Spurs

by Spurs Fanatic

Gareth Bale had a slow start to the season for Spurs. The Welshman scored just a single goal in his first nine Premier League games, adding fuel to the debate that he is one of the most over-rated players.

In his last six Premier League matches though, Bale has been on fire with four goals and five assists, that has seen Spurs score 15 times and concede just 5 whilst amassing 15 points.

So what has been the secret to the success of Gareth Bale?

The answer lies in Bale’s positioning. The Welshman is regarded as a wing-wizard when at his best, hugging the touchline and getting chalk on his boots. He started off the season this way, but since his remarkable run of goals and assists, Bale has come inside off the wing more often, and is getting involved in the play centrally.

Gareth Bale is playing more centrally

How do we know Gareth Bale is playing inside from the wing?

If we first look at some games from his nine match barren run against Liverpool and Arsenal, we can see just how much Bale is playing wide and hugging the touchline.

Against the Gunners, Gareth Bale (3) is playing higher up the park than Emmanuel Adebayor (10) and even Jermaine Defoe (18), but is still keeping plenty of width to the formation.

The same is true against Liverpool, where Bale (3), is still playing higher than Emmanuel Adebayor (10).  However, is now deeper than Jermaine Defoe (18), but still playing with width.

Compare those two games where Bale was in his barren run against two games from his recent string of scintillating performances.

Against West Brom, Bale (3) is now tucked right in behind Jermaine Defoe (18), with Aaron Lennon also supporting (7), as the two come inside looking to keep their defenders honest. Scott Parker (8) playing clean up allows them to do this.

Against Aston Villa we have a similar situation, where Adebayor (10) is lying deep again, with Rafael van der Vaart (11) the furthest forward. Gareth Bale (3) is playing to the left of the formation, but narrower than when he was playing wider on his barren run.

Even last weekend against Bolton, Bale (3) was playing at the same depth as Luka Modric (14), but still very narrow with Defoe (18) and Lennon (7) ahead of him.

Not only do these average position diagrams highlight just how much narrower the Welshman is playing, but also how deep Emmanuel Adebayor is operating. This allows the other midfielders to interchange as an attacking force, getting ahead or supporting the central striker.

Bale is playing in from the wing and getting better shots

What are the results of Gareth Bale coming inside more often?

If we take a look at his performances through the first nine Premier League games, against his last six matches, we get some interesting results, especially with his shooting.

First 9 matches

Last 6 matches

Mins on pitch

720

540

Goals

1

4

Assists

0

5

Total shots

18

12

On target (%)

22%

75%

Mins per shot at goal

40

45

Through his first nine Premier League matches, Gareth Bale was taking a shot at goal every 40 minutes. Since then, his minutes per attempt have actually gone up, but it is his accuracy that has really improved. He is now hitting the target with 75% of his shots, as opposed to just 22% before.

The reason that he is hitting the target more often, is that he is shooting from closer in to the target and more centrally thus improving his accuracy.

If we compare the game against Bolton and also at home to QPR, we can see that he is taking more shorts inside the area and hitting the target more frequently.

Compare that with his efforts in previous home games against Arsenal and Liverpool, where we can see how much further out he was shooting.

.
Gareth Bale is also creating goals

The Welshman is not just scoring goals; he is also creating them for others as well.

First 9 matches

Last 6 matches

Mins on pitch

720

540

Assists

0

5

Mins per touch

1.5

1.4

Mins per pass

2.5

2.2

Mins per key pass

38

28

Cross success (%)

32%

35%

In his first nine Premier League matches, Gareth Bale did not supply a single assist and only provided a key pass every 38 minutes. Through his last six matches, he has created a chance for a teammate every 28 minutes. The reason why is that he is touching the ball more often, making a pass more regularly and as he is coming inside a lot more, thus making more key passes as he has the ball in more dangerous areas.

How do we know he is in more dangerous areas? If we take a look at a couple of passing maps from two games where he was failing to provide goals or assists against Arsenal and Liverpool, we can see how much out on the wing Bale is playing. He is trying to get in beyond the full back and square balls in to the box.

The predictability of this tactic to hug the touchline means that a lot of the passes are being cut out (red), even against Liverpool when the Reds were down to nine men. If a defender knows that an attacker is most likely going to one side, it makes it easier for him to close the attacker down.

If we take a look at his two games against Bolton and West Brom, we can see that Gareth Bale is still putting the occasional cross in from that left sided area. However, he is now coming inside a lot more, and even venturing out to the right wing. This movement now makes him a lot harder to match up with for the defence. For Gareth Bale though, it means he gets more touches of the ball in areas he can do more damage.

Gareth Bale did put in a few unsuccessful corners against the Baggies, but in both games, his movement across the park makes him a lot more difficult to track. This makes it easier for him to get free and supply assists, as he did for goals by Emmanuel Adebayor against West Brom and Jermaine Defoe against Bolton.

The secret to Bale’s recent success

The secret to Gareth Bale’s recent success, is that the Welshman is no longer a wing-wizard and is coming inside to get involved in the play more often.

In his first nine matches, Bale was playing wide in the Tottenham formation and trying to get in behind the opposing full back to supply crosses. His passing success was at 72% and his shots on target were only at 22%, as he was forced to work from the outside.

In his last six matches, Bale is still keeping the full back honest by playing to the left, but is now coming inside a lot more, making him harder to track. Now his shooting percentage is up to 75%, as he is getting shots from closer to the target and square on. His passing success is now also up to 79%, as he is not putting in so many crosses that are getting cut out by defenders knowing where he is going. As a result, he is generating a key pass every 28 minutes, as opposed to every 38 minutes and his assists have rocketed.

Maybe Gareth Bale and his new found form for Spurs won’t make him the subject of debate as the Premier League’s most over-rated player any longer?

8 Responses

  1. Luke says:

    He’s not playing more centrally you idiot, it’s because when lennon is playing with him (he wasnt in the first example) they like to swap wings so naturally their positions would be central, awful theory, he’s playing better because he’s in form, simple as

    1. Mark Redford says:

      Thanks for your comment Luke. You probably stopped reading the article at paragraph 3 as it goes on to acknowledge this – check the passing diagrams from his games against West Brom and Bolton and the paragraphs around them.
      Players can get in to a run of form, but there usually is a reason for it – a change in personnel, team formation or style of play. It’s easy to just say a player is in form, it takes a bit more to figure out why.

    2. Tim says:

      That’s a great reply to someone who has taken so much effort in their post! A bit of advice Luke, try responding to someone in a more mature manner and people may take your opinions more seriously.

  2. Ben says:

    I would say last seasons statistics would show a similar pattern of wingplay, when he was playing with Lennon, as he went ‘missing’ in a lot of games, with the predictability of his game as a punt and run winger.

    Now him and Lennon are playing as part of a versatile 3 man attacking midfield (4-2-3-1), swapping places, similar to Real Madrid with Di Maria, Ozil and Ronaldo. This is more productive and difficult to mark as such, therefore necessary in the modern game, where all 3 men (Lennon, Bale and VDV) are capable of playing across the line.

    Personally I ithink Bale has the capability to play a similar role to Ronaldo, as he clearly has the core skills required. Early in his United days, Ronaldo was slightly predictable with various tricks etc, but then he developed into a more rounded, player. With this came an end prodcut of goals and assists, hence becoming a truly world class. This season he has started to make this change and with continued empthasis on movement could become as influential, in my opinion.

    1. Mark Redford says:

      Thanks for your comment Ben, you make an excellent point about the versatility of the attacking midfielders . Adebayor also getting involved by dropping deeper adds to the mix of making them more difficult to mark as well.

      Have to agree with you that Ronaldo was a bit of a predictable winger in his early days at Old Trafford, but he has now developed in to an excellent all-round player. What can be forgotten is that Gareth Bale is still only 21 and still developing as a player, even though, just like Theo Walcott, it seems like he has been around for ages.

  3. Luke 2 says:

    Luke you are the idiot, Mark great article. You supported your theories with convincing evidence and those fantastic diagrams. It’s a real eye opener on the workings of ‘Arry & Co to bring out the best in Bale’s fantastic ability. Would be great to see similar diagrams for games throughout the season. Would also love to see the differences in Benoit Assou-Ekotto’s positioning from before Bale’s switch to a more central position, and after. Cheers mate, great read!

    1. Mark Redford says:

      Thanks, you make a very good point about Assou-Ekotto and have given me an idea for some future research. Cheers

  4. Ste says:

    Sorry, i agree with Luke. Watching the Stoke game at the weekend the two wingers clearly switched for a good period, and i’m fairly certain they were instructed to do it rather than just switching at will.

    Others can berate the first guy to comment but your article clearly states “Not only do these average position diagrams highlight just how much narrower the Welshman is playing…”. They don’t show that at all, they show an average position, which would yield the same result if the two full backs swapped position during a game, and not indicative at all of coming inside.

    The two further examples show games against Liverpool and Arsenal and then compare them to games against Bolton and West Brom. The dynamics of a game between vs a top side are completely different to games vs lower sides (especially considering how poor Bolton are at the back and how open West Brom tend to play). The West Brom game might actually have fewer central passes than the Liverpool game anyway.

    I’d also want to analyse the line ups and opposing tactics much more to draw any further conclusions, and the only thing i draw from the Arsenal view is how badly he appears to have played.

    In the Bolton game they had around 68% of the posession against a team that played most of the game with 10 men. That’s pretty important. Clearly he will have much more of the ball, particularly in the possession phase(which they would be looking to emphasise vs 10) and coming centrally than he would against an Arsenal side that has more possession than them and plays with 3 central midfield players blocking many of his passing options inside.

Leave a Reply

Leave a Reply