Gareth Bale sinks Sheffield United to keep Spurs’ top-four hopes alive
Although the level of the opposition left much to be desired, this was a reminder that Tottenham still have a team capable of playing devastating football. It is not all doom and gloom in north London, even though there is no end in sight to the search for a new manager.
At least Spurs are doing everything in their power to ensure that whoever takes over from Ryan Mason has European football to enjoy next season. They have won twice in the league since firing José Mourinho and there was a sense of a side enjoying themselves against a wretched Sheffield United, who were powerless to resist in the face of inspired displays from Gareth Bale and Son Heung-min.
The caveat is that United were dreadful. The Premier League’s bottom side were beaten long before Bale, who did more than most to lift Mason’s side into fifth place with four games left, completed his hat-trick with a fine low shot in the 69th minute. Yet this was convincing from Spurs. They were dominant in the second half and would have won by more than four had Harry Kane brought his shooting boots with him.
It was an unusually wayward performance in front of goal from Kane, who botched two fine opportunities, adding to the sense that the striker is not quite at his sharpest after recovering from his latest ankle injury.
Yet Spurs had other ways of hurting the visitors. Bale was outstanding, taking each of his goals superbly, and Son was at his slippery best, scoring with a splendid strike from long range. “The thing for me tonight was the attitude,” Mason said. “The desire to fight was outstanding.”
Although this squad contains weaknesses, particularly at centre-back, a progressive coach would enjoy working with these players. The potential at Spurs, who still have hope of qualifying for the Champions League after closing the gap on fourth-placed Chelsea to five points, is obvious, although it remains to be seen if they are capable of hiring the right manager.
The past week has been tough. Spurs looked a long way short of the elite when they lost the Carabao Cup final to Manchester City, since when they have seen Julian Nagelsmann agree to join Bayern Munich and another target, Erik ten Hag, renew his contract at Ajax.
The impression is of a club struggling to work out where to turn next. Spurs have a 29-year-old caretaker in the dugout and their chairman, Daniel Levy, needs to ask himself some serious questions after replacing Mauricio Pochettino with the supposed glamour of Mourinho.
For all the uncertainty, however, Spurs were more than capable of punishing United. It was hard to detect a plan from Paul Heckingbottom’s side. They repeatedly invited pressure with dismal passing and it came as little surprise when Spurs broke through in the 36th minute. The goal came when Serge Aurier earned the first of two assists, beating a static defence with a clever pass over the top for Bale to dink a clever finish over a hesitant Aaron Ramsdale.
Spurs deserved their lead after controlling much of the opening period. Son had tested Ramsdale from 20 yards and Kane had threatened. 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, impressed in central midfield. Mason was livid that Fleck escaped a red card. However Lo Celso was soon exacting his own brand of revenge on Fleck, nutmegging the United midfielder, and Spurs thought that they had scored again when Son beat Ramsdale after latching on to Toby Alderweireld’s long ball. The goal was disallowed when a VAR review revealed that the forward was offside.
Reprieved, United tried to summon a response. After 61 minutes, they 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 smashed 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 and there was still time for Son to finish off the rout with a glorious bending effort.