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Bale future hanging on the modern game's most hyped scramble

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Garreth Bale

Garreth Bale

Garreth Bale

The London pub sign that advertised this game as 'Chelsea v Gareth Bale' mined a familiar comedy seam, as did the Stamford Bridge chant of: "You've only got one player."

Reductionism can now be added to the list of weapons Rafa Benitez's gang are using to complete their mission of Europa League victory and Champions League qualification. Is it true?

Well, no. One hesitates to lavish too much praise on Emmanuel Adabayor, but his equaliser from the edge of the Chelsea box on 26 minutes expressed the kind of skill normally associated with Bale, a guaranteed summer target for Europe's superpowers.

Adebayor's contribution of three league goals prior to this London derby is one of the reasons Spurs began the game just outside the Premier League's top four and have become so heavily dependent on Bale. Laden with awards, he was asked for one final push to lift Spurs into the moneyland of next summer's Champions League, preferably at the expense of Arsenal.

From a starting position on the left he made no early impact. Not that Chelsea could ignore him. One of his most endearing habits is bursting into the picture when Spurs need him most. No scout taking notes back to Madrid, Barcelona or Milan could doubt his big-game temperament.

explicit

In an interview in California, Jurgen Klinsmann, that Tottenham folk hero, was explicit about the club's need to qualify for Europe's highest echelon and keep Bale. "I just hope, and I'm keeping my fingers crossed, that they make into the Champions League, Klinsmann said.

"The risk is very big that if you don't go into the Champions League, you'll lose Gareth Bale." The race for third and fourth is modern football's most hyped scramble. It confers heroic status on a dash for podium spots. This year's little struggle is a three-way London battle in the shadow of the two big Manchester clubs.

But wrapped in that chase for places three and four is the question of whether Bale can be kept next term.

We already know he would need a big trunk to cart his awards abroad. The PFA Player of the Year, Young Player of the Year and Football Writers Association's Footballer of the Year are marks of respect in England. At the same time he needs to be in a team who match his talents.

We can only hope that means Spurs, where he has developed from struggling left-back to blasting winger and lethal central striker. Still only 23, Bale had scored 30 times for club and country by the time Oscar opened the scoring here with a header and Ramires answered Adebayor's equaliser with a surging run to meet a Fernando Torres pass.

Chelsea's good form of late was proving too much for Spurs on the night of Villas-Boas' return to the Bridge. Four consecutive wins and a successful passage to the Europa League final in Amsterdam brought an unlikely mellow tinge to Benitez's last days in charge here. For Spurs there could be no tougher fixture in which to hunt the points that would lift them above Arsenal.

Chelsea are shaping up nicely for Jose Mourinho's return while Tottenham often appear to be playing on the edge of their resources. Spurs are throwing themselves at the finishing line. Chelsea have been gliding in that direction.

A point here or there could make a vast difference to the way Tottenham and Villas-Boas are judged. Around the hour mark Spurs, at 2-1 down, woke up to the need to shift the ball to Bale.

They should have seen it earlier. In any other leading side utilising his pace and power in the last half-hour would be a policy, not an option. By now Bale hugged the right touchline, intending to attack through Ashley Cole.

But after a Lewis Holtby pass had sent Bale crashing into the back of the England left-back ("cheat" cried the Chelsea crowd), the play drifted agonisingly back to Tottenham's left flank, on the other side from the star. Never mind keeping him, they needed to use him, through the middle, where Clint Dempsey joined Adebayor.

Those flashing runs from wide positions into central areas are most effective when the team make it their business to direct the ball into his feet. On this night they neglected too often to take that route. But as if to prove that pub sign wrong, Adebayor chalked his own name up again, this time with a backheel from a Benoit Assou-Ekotto pass which dropped into the path of Gylfi Sigurdsson to bring Spurs level again. One-man side?

No. Team of fighters? Yes. They chase a top four place for the whole club's sake, of course, not just to keep Bale. The hope still burns on both fronts. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent