In one of the biggest and most intriguing transfers of the summer, Gareth Bale has returned to Tottenham Hotspur, seven years after leaving for Real Madrid, where he enjoyed phenomenal success but endured an acrimonious end. It is no doubt a coup that will get Spurs fans tingling with excitement but the question is whether can Bale come close to reaching the levels that made him the world’s most expensive player.
How Jose Mourinho Can Fit Gareth Bale in at Tottenham Hotspur
Fitting in Up Front
Last season, while still managing to score 61 goals in the Premier League, diversity in attack became a problem for Spurs. Harry Kane’s injury-plagued season produced 18 league goals but the next highest was Son Heing-min with just 11, while Dele Alli, Lucas Moura, and Steven Bergwijn scored just 15 between them. The form of Moura (four goals in 35 games), in particular, has been a concern.
With over 100 goals in seven years for Madrid and his attacking talent already well familiarised with Tottenham supporters, Bale can contribute goals and assists from the right side of a front three. In addition, he is a superb striker of the ball from outside the area, with nine of his 21 Premier League goals in 2012/13 coming from outside the area. When the tactic of breaking teams down is not working, Bale’s ability to make something happen from nothing will be a vital asset, once again.
But how will Jose Mourinho fit him in? Bale is expected to form part of a front three for Spurs, but with him often favouring players who can put in a defensive shift, the Spurs manager may have to revert to a change of system. While the initial thought process may have been a 4-3-3, the style of players Mourinho has at his disposal means that he may have to place more cover behind Bale in order to utilise him most effectively.
Formation Change to Accommodate Gareth Bale
That could mean switching to a 3-4-3. Serge Aurier and new signing Matt Doherty have gained a reputation as full-backs who prefer to fly forward, instead of prioritising defensive duties. Doherty, in particular, adopted that style impressively in Wolverhampton Wanderers’ 3-5-2 system which has seen them catapult into the top half of the Premier League for two seasons in a row since their promotion in 2018.
On the other side of the pitch, Mourinho has often favoured using Ben Davies on the left of a back three, and with Danny Rose on loan at Newcastle United last season, Mourinho was forced to use the inexperienced Japhet Tanganga in that position. However, his other new signing, left-back Sergio Reguilon, has attacking qualities that could fit in perfectly as a wing-back in a 3-4-3.
The move to play wing-backs in this system could have several benefits, not least for Bale. Not only would it give the Welshman a license to play and stay further up the field, but it could also mean the same for Son. While the South Korean has still been able to show off his attacking qualities, he has also been used in the left side of midfield which has meant him picking up the ball further from goal and therefore reducing the chance to play to his strengths. A move up the field, with Reguilon behind him, should change that.
The formation change could also allow Doherty or Aurier to follow their attacking instincts too. Mourinho has hinted before that he prefers the threat from his full-backs to come from the right side, meaning the back three and Reguilon shifting across and covering the potential space left behind. That back three could feature the experienced Toby Alderweireld on the right side, while Eric Dier could alternate between a centre-back and a deep midfield sweeper, depending on the situation.
And what about the midfield? The pairing of Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg and Harry Winks, while offering control, failed to produce creativity during the 1-0 loss to Everton on the first weekend of the season and Mourinho may be tempted to add more fluency and creativity by placing Giovanni Lo Celso in the centre of the pitch. While Lo Celso is predominantly an attacking midfielder, the increased cover behind him may mean him having more touches of the ball and more freedom to provide for the likes of Bale, Son and Kane.
Despite a limp first-half display, Spurs enjoyed more success in their 5-2 win at Southampton. Mourinho changed his formation from a 4-2-3-1 to a more traditional 4-3-3, with Tanguy Ndombele joining Hojbjerg and Winks in midfield and Lucas Moura forming a from three with Son and Kane. The partnership between Son and Kane was lethal, with the former scoring four and the latter assisting four and scoring one himself. Yet, with Bale set to come into the team, Mourinho will want solidarity as well as a prolific from three.
Of course, this would not be the first time that Spurs fans see their team switch to a back three. After enjoying success with a 4-2-3-1 system, Mauricio Pochettino changed the formation in 2016/17 to provide his side with extra protection in defence, while encouraging full-backs Danny Rose and Kyle Walker to attack more. And although Mourinho has predominantly preferred a four at-the-back system, he only has to look at the change in performances of Spurs’ rivals, Arsenal, who have looked more secure and organised since Mikel Arteta took over as manager in late December last year.
Despite his stellar career record and reputation of success at every club he has managed, Mourinho has struggled to maintain the consistent impact he had hoped for at Tottenham quite yet. Perhaps it is only a matter of time until his methods finally click into place, or maybe something needs to change. And a switch to a 3-4-3 to accommodate the incoming Gareth Bale could be the key to turning Spurs into title challengers again.