Gareth Bale played a familiar role in last night's victory over Lyon - the Welshman was the star of the show.
Bale scored two astounding free-kicks in the Europa League last-32 match, the first with the last kick of the first-half, the second with the last kick of the second.
Bale’s first was a free-kick from which few other players would have shot and fewer would have scored. He was 40 yards from goal, in a central position. He whipped the ball over the wall and back down the other side, and it hurtled into the bottom corner beyond the dive of Remy Vercoutre.
That was dramatic enough. But when Bale stepped up again, in the third minute of added time, slightly closer to goal and slightly to the right, everyone was on edge. The remarkable thing is that Bale, like the world’s two best footballers, makes the astonishing the expected. Somehow he has imitated the inimitable Cristiano Ronaldo.
Tottenham clearly have on their hands one of the best players in the world right now - and a player in devastating form.
Asked if Bale was up there with the Real Madrid star, 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.
"Once things like this happen, individual players keep their motivation high and they are able to help the team reach their objectives."
Last night's game was the fourth consecutive match he was Tottenham’s only goal-scorer, scoring the fifth and sixth wonderful decisive goals of this astonishing run.
And, of those four games, this was his best performance yet.
“Everyone knew what was going to happen,” said Villas-Boas afterwards. “We have seen him score three in two games from this situation, and there is that possibility. There is expectation, because you know that if the player strikes it well then most likely a goal is going to happen.”
“Incredible,” said Villas-Boas. “Not only his all round game but this ability that he has to strike these free-kicks. The ball gains so much power when he strikes it, and it changes direction very easily.”
Bale gave an interview earlier this week to Life's a Pitch in which he recognised that he is playing better than he ever has.
“I’m probably playing the best football I’ve played so far in my career. The older you get, the more experienced you get: you learn your own game. I’m enjoying my football, which is probably the most important thing that has enabled me to play like I am at the moment.”
Bale has been scoring an array of goals, but last night highlighted his ability from dead-ball situations. The 23-year-old revealed he has been practising free-kicks in the style of Ronaldo.
“I’ve been practising it for quite a while; a couple of seasons. Everybody knows what Cristiano Ronaldo has done with his free-kicks – the way he hits the ball, the style he does it in – and it’s working for him. A lot of players are now trying it out and, thankfully, it’s started to pay off for me, as I’ve scored three goals like it this season.
“At the start the main thing is to get the technique right, so at first it’s best to have nothing in front of you. As you get better you start adding the wall and the mannequins, and then eventually you bring a keeper in. It’s more of a progression and it does take a while to master.”
It is clear that Bale admires Ronaldo above all others and the Welsh player has said in the past he wants to emulate the £80m man. When asked by Life's a Pitch, 'Messi or Ronaldo', Bale replied: “For me, personally, I’d say Ronaldo. He’s got the whole package. He’s strong, he’s powerful, he’s pacey, can head the ball, strike the ball. Obviously, you can’t say anything bad about Messi, but for the all-round complete footballer, I’d say Cristiano Ronaldo.”
Tottenham fans will be hoping that during the summer he doesn't copy Ronaldo by leaving the Premier League for Real Madrid. Spurs' hopes of retaining his services will be hugely strengthened should they qualify for the Champions League, and with Bale in this form, it would be unwise to bet against the Welshman firing them to a top four finish.
Gareth Bale's goals this season...
1 v Serbia, World Cup Qualification, 11 September 2012
1 v Reading, Premier League, 16 September 2012
1 v Manchester United, Premier League, 29 September 2012
2 v Scotland, World Cup Qualification, 12 October 2012
1 v Southampton, Premier League, 28 October 2012
1 v Norwich, League Cup, 31 October 2012
1 v Arsenal, Premier League, 17 November 2012
1 v West Ham, Premier League, 25 November 2012
1 v Liverpool, Premier League, 28 November 2012
3 v Aston Villa, Premier League, 26 December 2012
1 v Coventry, FA Cup, 5 January 2013
1 v Norwich, Premier League, 30 January 2013
1 v West Brom, Premier League, 03 February 2013
1 v Austria, International friendly, 06 February 2013
2 v Newcastle, Premier League, 09 February 2013
2 v Lyon, Europa League, 14 February 2013
Premier League: 13 goals
League Cup: 1 goal
FA Cup: 1 goal
Europa League: 2 goals
International goals: 4 goals
Total: 21 goals
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