Gareth Bale's performance last night has seen him compared, again, to Cristiano Ronaldo - but the Tottenham winger issued a warning today, insisting there's still room for “a lot of improvements.”
The Wales international scored two free-kicks in last night's 2-1 win over Lyon in the Europa League. While the second, scored in injury time was fantastic, it was the first which led to the comparisons with the world's most expensive player.
Struck in first half injury-time, Bale was at least 35 yards from goal but the late dip and swerve which took it away from Lyon keeper Remy Vercoutre and into the bottom-right corner was reminiscent of Ronaldo's dead-ball technique.
Asked after last night's match if Bale was up there with the Real Madrid star, Tottenham manager Andre Villas-Boas said: "Yeah, he is going through a great individual moment.
"I think you have to recognise that. He is scoring lots of goals for the team and I think this is his best goalscoring season for Tottenham.
"You can see the player is enjoying his football and getting a buzz out of it."
Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger today said it was too early to compare Bale with the world's best players, and it seems to be a view thew player himself subscribes too.
“I’ve got a lot of improvements to make,” Bale said. “I know what I’ve got to do, which is to keep improving in all areas. I’ll keep working hard and, hopefully, keep getting better."
Speaking about the second free-kick which was scored in injury-time, Bale said: "I knew it was the last kick of the game but I had to get it up and over the wall and thankfully I saw it go in.
"I've been practicing for ages now from all sorts of distances. It's one of those things I think if you keep practicing, it does come off in a match."
Bale was closer to the goal for the winner but this made his task more difficult because he needed to lift the ball over the wall and bring it quickly down again under the crossbar. This he achieved with ease and Brad Friedel, playing in goal because Hugo Lloris was rested, explained how tough it is for a keeper to handle Bale’s dead-ball expertise.
“It’s a technique only a few players have,” said Friedel. “Juninho Pernambucano [who played for Lyon from 2001 until 2009] used to do the same. It’s when you strike over the top of the ball with an open foot. A lot of the time, there is no spin on the ball so, as a goalkeeper, you can’t tell where it’s going. It moves in the air and it makes it very difficult. Ronaldo can do it and there are a few others who have really perfected it.
“Is Gareth one of the top three or four players in the world? He’s up there and is one of the best I have played with.”
The winners of this tie will face either Inter Milan or Romanian club Cluj. Friedel added: “It’s not a massive advantage but Lyon have to try to score. Hopefully that will make the game a bit more open and benefit us.”