Gareth Bale sinks Sheffield United to keep Spurs’ top-four hopes alive
It is not all doom and gloom for Tottenham. Although there is no end in sight to the search for a new manager, Ryan Mason is doing everything in his power to ensure that whoever takes over has European football next season.
This was a reminder that Spurs can play. Gareth Bale scored a splendid hat-trick and Son added a beautiful fourth as Mason’s side moved up to fifth place, five points below Chelsea with four games remaining. Champions League qualification is not out of the question yet.
There were times when it felt like Spurs were trying to remember their values. Although they rose their level now and then during the first half, there were long spells when they lacked cohesion on the ball. They looked unfocused, distracted, not quite at it. They were better than the visitors, which is hardly saying much, but overall there was a listlessness to their play, a sense of a team lacking in confidence and struggling to find an identity.
Perhaps that is inevitable when the man in the dugout is a 29-year-old caretaker with no managerial experience. It is, of course, not Mason’s fault that he is in this position. This is on Daniel Levy, the chairman who was blinded by the supposed celebrity appeal of José Mourinho after sacking the best manager Spurs have had in the Premier League era.
Spurs have fallen a long way since the heady days of challenging for the title under Mauricio Pochettino. The past week has been tough. After seeing their top choice to replace Mourinho, Julian Nagelsmann, agree to join Bayern Munich and another target, Erik ten Hag, extend his contract at Ajax, there is little sense that Spurs know where to turn next.
For all the uncertainty, however, Spurs were more than capable of opening up Sheffield United, who had the air of a team desperate for the season to end. It was hard to detect much of a plan from the visitors. The division’s bottom side repeatedly invited pressure with sloppy attempts to play out from the back and it came as little surprise when Spurs finally broke through in the 36th minute.
The goal, coming moments after Rhian Brewster had almost hit the corner flag with a rare effort at the other end, was deftly constructed when it arrived. Serge Aurier earned the assist with a neat pass over the top for Bale. He dinked a clever finish over a hesitant Aaron Ramsdale, who had received treatment for a foot injury a few minutes earlier.
Spurs deserved their lead after controlling much of the opening period. Bale had fired over and Son Heung-min had threatened from 20 yards, bringing the best out of Ramsdale. United always looked vulnerable at the back and they were fortunate that Harry Kane wasted two clear sights of goal.
Mason could be reasonably satisfied, even if there were moments when attacks broke down too easily. Dele Alli, starting in the league for the third time this season, was busy in the No 10 role and Giovani Lo Celso, who was fortunate to escape serious injury when John Fleck trod on his head at the start of the second half, was eager to seize responsibility in central midfield.
Lo Celso was soon exacting his own brand of revenge on Fleck, nutmegging the United midfielder with an impudent pass. There were bright flashes from Spurs and they appeared to have made the game safe when Son beat Ramsdale after latching on to a raking pass from Toby Alderweireld in the 51st minute, only for a VAR review to show the forward was offside.
Reprieved, United tried to summon a response. They looked slightly sharper after introducing Oliver Burke and Sander Berge at half-time and began to enjoy some possession as the hour approached.
They should have known better. After 61 minutes, United won a corner and piled forward. Moments later, the ball was in their net. Spurs cleared their lines and Son led an electrifying counterattack down the right before releasing Bale, who raced clear and steadied himself before smashing an emphatic finish past Ramsdale.
The individual quality was too much for United, who will start over in the Championship next season. Bale, teed up by Aurier, completed his hat-trick from 20 yards and there was time for Son to complete the rout with a glorious bending effort.
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