It would have been difficult to pick a man of the match for Thursday's Europa League fixture that took place at White Hart Lane had things ended all square. Had the referee blown his whistle right at the 90th minute, the game would have mostly been remembered for two moments of absolute brilliance and also Tottenham's inability to produce anything of quality inside the attacking third. Bale, as world class players routinely do, once again strapped his team on his back, this the fourth such instance since January 30. As the Welsh wizard continues to dazzle, Tottenham opponents can only helplessly sit back and wonder:
How much longer can this possibly go on?
Tottenham 2-1 Lyon: Bale once more
What's most ironic about Bale's most recent brilliance is that it came after what was a disastrous start for the Spurs savior. His refusal to have a go with his right foot twice destroyed what appeared to be golden opportunities to open the scoring, the second of which came when he was looking at a half-empty goal from six yards out. Bale has a way of making you forget such ugly misses, and that's exactly what he did in the closing minute of the first half when he buried a free kick from 35-yards out in spectacular fashion.
The FOX Soccer TV crew and some analysts/fans posting online pointed out that Vercoutre could have done better with his initial movements after Bale made contact with the ball. I'm not convinced it would have mattered all that much. Watch the replay and notice how the ball swerves down and to the left. You're asking a lot of a 'keeper to prevent that strike from ending up anywhere but the back of the net.
Bale's second goal was arguably more impressive, but not because of how he took the free kick. What Bale did in the seconds leading up to the contest's final goal was what stood out to me even before he notched the match-winner. With Spurs actively searching for the win and time running out, Bale accepted a long ball that had been headed down by Emmanuel Adebayor. While being tracked by four Lyon players, Bale held possession, cut in-between two opponents, put the ball on his left foot and fired a strike that was saved by Vercoutre. The ball went out for a throw-in close to the near corner.
Roughly 30 seconds later, Bale received a pass several yards outside of the box. He turned to both shield the ball from Maxime Gonalons and also to square up to fire with his left foot, and the Lyon man had no choice but to foul Bale. With Vercoutre visibly shaken from the last time he had to deal with a similar situation, Bale stepped up and delivered an attempt that fooled the shell-shocked 'keeper.
It really was the only way this match could end.
Tottenham 2-1 Lyon: Problem resurfaces
All credit in the world goes to Lyon's Samuel Umtiti for a strike that, at the very least, equaled Bale's first goal of the game. That hit may, when all is said and done, go down as the goal of the tournament. I, however, want to instead focus on what occurred right before Umtiti buried his golazo. Instead of heading a dangerous cross out of play, Tottenham defender William Gallas chose to play the ball across goal, thus keeping it inside the penalty area and allowing Umtiti to create his highlight reel memory.
This wasn't the first time this season that a Gallas error inside the Spurs box cost Tottenham on the scoreboard. The veteran actually had a solid outing on Thursday outside of that one moment, but his being unable to adequately deal with such crosses leads me to believe that he no longer has the reflexes or quickness to continuously start in Europa League fixtures. Manager Andre Villas-Boas may not have a choice on the matter next week, however, depending on which players are fit and ready to go.
Tottenham 2-1 Lyon: Looking ahead
Spurs will now have an entire week off before they travel to France for Lyon vs. Spurs part II. That means that, barring any injuries that may occur in training over the next several days, fitness shouldn't be much of an issue for AVB's squad. I'm looking right at you, Lewis Holtby. The trend of Holtby being a difference maker as a second half sub continued on Thursday, and Villas-Boas shouldn't have any concerns about resting Holtby for the West Ham match that will take place on the following Sunday.
This brings up the obvious "who sits out?" question. The duo of Adebayor and Clint Dempsey isn't cutting it up top right now. That's a no-brainer. Determining which player gets dropped from the starting XI is not so simple. Dempsey had himself an OK first half on Thursday and that's about it. Adebayor worked hard and ran all over the place, but he didn't make much an impact on the match minus the header that allowed Bale to grab possession in the waning moments of play. For me, it's a "pick 'em" following Tottenham's latest win;
just as long as Villas-Boas does actually pick one of those guys to sit next Thursday.
Zac has been covering Tottenham Hotspur, Major League Soccer, RBNY, the USMNT and other soccer leagues for Yahoo! Sports since 2010.