Brilliant Bale makes difference for Spurs

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For as long as Gareth Bale plays like this, Tottenham have a chance of qualifying for the Champions League. Spurs climbed to fifth place last night after overcoming Liverpool in a thrilling game. Both teams impressed with their pace and commitment to attack but it was Bale, with an assist, a goal and terrifying excellence, who made the difference. He even scored Liverpool's goal.

He did more damage in the opening 20 minutes than many wingers manage in a season.

Within the first five minutes Bale had a free-kick well saved by Pepe Reina before flashing a shot wide from Jermain Defoe's pass. The next time he had the ball he was ruthless.

Collecting it near the halfway line, Bale tore past Steven Gerrard and Glen Johnson, galloping towards the byline. He swung in a perfect cross to the far post where Aaron Lennon, easily evading the nominal left-back Stewart Downing, only had to tap the ball into the net.

Spurs' second goal owed something to good fortune. Jordan Henderson, struggling in midfield, tripped Clint Dempsey, Bale struck the 25-yard free-kick and the ball hit the wall before flying past Reina.

Spurs were looking quicker and sharper than Liverpool, but the visitors finished the half stronger.

Henderson had missed a good chance between the two Spurs' goals but, after the second, Liverpool got on top. Hugo Lloris had to save from Jose Enrique and Luis Suarez, while Kyle Walker had to scramble back and clear off the line. Downing had defended like a winger but he attacked like one too, twice causing problems with his crosses.

Liverpool started the second half as they finished the first, as the quicker and better team. Johnson and Downing provided the width from full-back and Suarez was sharp up front, forcing Lloris to block at his feet as Liverpool swarmed forward.

But Spurs had their moments too. Dempsey shot wide, then hit a free-kick on the edge of the box into the wall. But Spurs needed control of the game more than they needed a third goal, and so Dempsey was replaced by the smarter but slower Gylfi Sigurdsson.

Liverpool moved in the opposite direction, taking off the modest Henderson for the brasher Jonjo Shelvey. Aggression is part of his game but he conceded a needless free-kick on Lennon that Bale struck, without deflection, inches wide.

Minutes later, Shelvey's corner was flicked on by Daniel Agger and headed towards goal by Gerrard. Lennon's clearance hit Bale, this time powerless, and it went in. Fortunate perhaps in that moment but not in the context of the game.

Bale charged forward again, was tripped by Agger and was booked for diving. But in the end this was Bale's night.