Bale free role pays dividends for Redknapp
The glory game is back at Spurs and Gareth Bale is central to it. Faced with double-marking, even triple-marking on the left, Bale has been moved into the middle to thrilling effect and Spurs are flying higher and higher.
Harry Redknapp has been seeking to give his quickest player 'a free role' since the end of last season.
It was his electric performance against Inter Milan in the Champions League that alerted the world to Bale's thrilling movement down the flank, bringing the 'Taxi for Maicon' chant into footballing folklore.
Opposing managers began preparing speed traps, swamping the area Bale liked to run into. So Redknapp consulted Bale and released him inside.
Bale's gradual redeployment to a more central station of a 4-2-3-1 system was seen most impressively at Carrow Road in Tuesday's 2-0 win.
Bale was everywhere, briefly left and right but mainly in the centre, linking with Luka Modric, Rafael van der Vaart and Emmanuel Adebayor, and scoring twice.
Already feared for his touchline strength, Bale's ability to accelerate through the middle has set alarm bells ringing in opposing defences.
"I've always played out wide,'' he reflected of his career. "I've played up front for Wales once or twice but that was about it. I've never really thought about playing through the middle. But since people have been double-marking me or even triple-marking me it's something that I've had to bring into my game.
"It's exciting. Over the last 12 months, I've had to mix my game up because people are double-marking me on the wing so I've come inside a lot now.
"I'm improving all the time, especially with the free role, it's allowing me to do that. I've had to change my game, which has made me a better player."
Redknapp believes Bale is the complete player, blessed with the right attitude as well as aptitude. "He's 6ft 2in, he can head the ball, he's as strong as an ox, he can run, dribble, shoot, he can do the lot,'' said the Spurs manager. "I played him in a free role. He pops up in positions in between the midfield and defence."
Bale's fluid movement lends Spurs a real unpredictability. "It's great that if a system's not working we know we can change it,'' added Bale. "We're adaptable, and it makes it difficult for other teams."
Norwich's defenders simply could not live with his attacking brio. The knot of home fans gradually gave up abusing him.
"It happens every week, it's nothing different, but I kind of shut them up by scoring a goal so it was good." Bale's league tally is now seven for the season. "It's good to contribute,'' he added before stressing the collective.
The whole team's contributing, there's a lot of players who have got goals and that's great for the team. "Hopefully we can pushing ourselves up the table."
Such athletic pyrotechnics will inevitably have been noted by Real Madrid. Bale's blend of work-rate, pace and technique would make him a shining star even in the current galaxy at the Bernabeu.
One day he may leave for the lucrative, glamorous pastures of Madrid. One day the offer may prove too huge for Daniel Levy, Spurs' chairman, to resist. Not yet. He may be quick but he's not in a hurry.
Bale is admired within White Hart Lane for his level-headedness as well as his marvellous balance as a footballer.
"There's not a weakness in his game, and most important of all, he's a smashing lad," Redknapp observed. Last season, Bale famously responded to all the Inter headlines by heading home to Wales to see family and friends.
He is clearly enjoying life at Spurs, loving the free role and relishing the prospect of being third in the Premier League, within seven points of the leaders with a game in hand.
Before kick-off at Carrow Road, Bale and the other Tottenham players discussed how Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester City had all drawn their Christmas games.
"We spoke about it before the game, that a lot of the teams around us have dropped points in this fixture list so it was massively important that we got the win to put the pressure on all of them, above us and below us."
Spurs have still to visit those four and Bale added: "Ultimately we know that if we slip up they'll be there to pounce, so we'll be concentrating 100pc on every game.
"It's great to be up there but we have to keep concentrating. It's not even halfway through the season. Every game's key for us.
"If we slip up other teams will pounce like we have this week. Teams have slipped up, so we've pounced on it. Ultimately we need to keep concentrating, win as many games as we can -- and especially against the big teams.'' (© Daily Telegraph, London)