By Jamie Dunn at White Hart Lane
As Gareth Bale was taken off the pitch on a stretcher at White Hart Lane, the Tottenham performance in Thursday night’s Europa League tie with Basel became decidedly less significant.
Spurs came back from two goals down to salvage a draw against a Swiss side who dominated for long spells and impressed many who knew little about them.
And as Bale disappeared down the tunnel with his head in his hands, the Spurs faithful could be forgiven for doing the same, especially having lost Aaron Lennon to injury earlier in the same game.
Tottenham have been locked in a battle to finish in the top four – or even three – for much of the season, while still competing in Europe’s second-tier competition, with few primary bodies spared, such is the gravitas at which Andre Villas-Boas holds the trophy he has won previously with Porto.
But if this injury proves to be as serious as it instantly appeared, Tottenham’s aspirations for a season which promised so much will have come crashing back down to Earth.
The task of reaching the Europa League semi-finals looked to have become difficult enough as Basel scored twice in five minutes in a frantic and thrilling first half. Valentin Stocker tucked away a rebound after Marco Streller struck the post, before Fabian Frei headed home the simplest of corners.
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Scott Parker would chalk up a candidate for miss of the season before the interval, conspiring to side-foot into the resultant melee of a Yann Sommer collision with Lewis Holtby, after the visitors’ goalkeeper denied the German well from close-range.
But Tottenham would find an equaliser in the second half, when Gylfi Sigurdsson – who had come on in place of the injured Lennon – saw a typically arched shot deflect off Fabian Schar and beyond Sommer.
Make no mistake, though, the Swiss side were superior for the duration. Spurs never really got going as their sluggish midfield was outfought by Mohamed El Nenny and Serey Die, while the impressive Mohamed Salah troubled a back four that just seemed to be caught by surprise by their opponents’ hustle and bustle.
If Tottenham’s brightest lights seemed dim by comparison to their own stellar form this season against Basel, it is easy to see why. Bale, who had endured a quiet night and only displayed flashes of his usual brilliance before turning his ankle in an innocuous coming together, has started 38 games in all competitions this season. More than Robin van Persie, Wayne Rooney or Michael Carrick of champions-elect Manchester United.
Jan Vertonghen – often the support cast for the so-called ‘one-man team’ – has started a similarly large amount of games and also struggled at times on Thursday in yet another back-four combination.
Jermain Defoe, meanwhile, was ruled out for a second time in quick succession prior to the game, which leaves Adebayor as Tottenham’s only recognised striker, while Sandro, whom Spurs have sorely missed, will not be seen again until next season.
Villas-Boas’ desire to win the Europa League, and to treat the possibility of winning some silverware with the duty it deserves, must be commended. Favouring a place in the Champions League over claiming a trophy is, after all, one of the many sticks used to beat rival Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger with.
And when such Spurs luminaries as Chris Waddle suggest it would be “farcical” to rest Bale when he is in full flow, it is understandable that the Portuguese would want to continue to select his star man for every game.
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But how can Villas-Boas drop Bale when his substitute’s bench, as was the case against Basel, boasts only Sigurdsson and Clint Dempsey, who has just recently returned from injury himself, as forwards, decent though they may be?
The answer is simply that, for all of the undoubted quality in their strongest starting XI in the form of Bale, Lennon, Vertonghen, Mousa Dembele and Defoe among others, Tottenham do not possess the strength in depth required to withstand the pressures of ‘achieving multiple objectives’, as the former Chelsea boss might say.
“We’ll never beat Chelsea and Man City without him,” a young boy - whose innocence could not save him from the potential severity of the situation - declared to his Father of Bale, on the walk from the stadium back towards Seven Sisters tube station on Thursday night.
And with Lennon and Defoe also possibly unavailable, and Everton to come first on Sunday, even the most optimistic of Tottenham fans would find it hard to disagree.
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