The Partnership Between Sergio Reguilon & His Idol Gareth Bale Will Be Crucial for Spurs

Declan Houten
Nov 2, 2020, 4:15 PM GMT
Bale and Reguilon have gone from Real Madrid reserves to key men at Spurs
Bale and Reguilon have gone from Real Madrid reserves to key men at Spurs | Mike Hewitt/Getty Images
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If in life you should never meet your heroes, then it follows that you definitely shouldn't work with them.

Teddy Sheringham said as much when discussing the first time he had the privilege (if you can call it that) of training under his boyhood hero Glenn Hoddle. We'll spare you the especially choice term that Sheringham used to describe his gaffer, but his cutting summary of one of history's silkiest midfielders was 'as a man... a disappointment'.

Sergio Reguilon must have felt at least a little bit nervous, then, when he learned himself and Gareth Bale, the man who he seems to have spent a great deal of his teenage years tweeting about, were set to go from outcasts at Real Madrid to first-team players together at Tottenham.

Turns out he needn't have worried all along - after all, the only thing better than meeting your hero is curling an inch-perfect cross onto his noggin to set up a late gamewinner. When Bale ran over to gleefully give Reguilon credit after nodding home in the 73rd minute of Spurs' tight game against Brighton, the teenage boy inside of the Spanish wing-back must have felt utterly fulfilled.

Ok, yeah, it was against the 16th-placed team in the Premier League, in a game that most neutrals will have found a very effective cure for insomnia, but in that moment, and the circumstances which preceded it, there was ample evidence that the left wing-back to right winger axis which connects Reguilon and the Welshman could be vital for Spurs as they look to cash in on that famous Jose Mourinho second season.

In very simple terms, you would obviously note that both components of the goal say so much about the respective qualities of the two footballers.

Reguilon has a habit of finding excellent positions to cross from
Reguilon has a habit of finding excellent positions to cross from | Soccrates Images/Getty Images

For Reguilon, it's a continuation of the consistently outstanding form that he has produced since arriving in north London, form which hinges on his capacity to find himself again and again in excellent crossing positions through his guile and speed.

Though Trent Alexander-Arnold, Lucas Digne and Reece James launch more deliveries into the box per 90 minutes on average (at 4.29, 5.52 and 6.20 respectively, compared to Reguilon's 2.67), none of them can match the Spaniard, who currently produces 1.67 key passes per 90, for efficiency, according to FbRef.

Bale, as well, demonstrated the aerial prowess which has distinguished him from other wide players for much of his career - his nine headed goals in the 2015/16 La Liga season were the most by any such player during that campaign (realmadrid.com).

For a winger, Bale is unusually good at planting his swede on the ball
For a winger, Bale is unusually good at planting his swede on the ball | Laszlo Balogh/Getty Images

But if we look closer at the implications of Bale, wearing the number 9 for added symbolism, scoring a headed goal, we can see that this could have a much more meaningful impact on exactly how Spurs will be able to attack this season.

Let's rewind back to Spurs' victory against Burnley in the same week as Bale's Brighton heroics, a game in which Son Heung-min scored the winner with a headed goal, and after admitted that even he was surprised to see himself score like that.

Son may well be Spurs' best player at the moment, and there's no doubt who you'd take between him and Bale in the year 2020. But the fact remains that since 2014, of the Korean international's 72 league goals, just four have been headers.

Bale can help Son by adding some aerial prowess to Spurs' side
Bale can help Son by adding some aerial prowess to Spurs' side | Soccrates Images/Getty Images

In this, Son is very much the archetype of the modern winger - diminutive, lightning fast, excellent at cutting inside and scoring. The best possible place for him to operate in order to excel with these qualities is in the 'half-space' between the centre and the touchline, but against a back five with an aggressive, rapid full-back like Tariq Lamptey on Sunday, he can often end up getting pinned wide.

The knock-on effect of Son spending an excessive amount of time on the touchline is that it is much harder for Reguilon to find that perfect crossing position against a set defence who are not being pulled out of position by Son's movement, and until the introduction of Bale, Reguilon was having a relatively quiet evening, mainly receiving the ball around the halfway line and recycling it.

Bale, on the other hand, is both a prototype of the modern inside-forward and something a bit different - unique, even. His powerful, athletic physique, combined with the blistering pace and ability to do damage on his left, mean that he possesses both the attributes of someone like Mo Salah (if not the ability, these days), and many of the traits of a traditional centre-forward.

Bale isn't quite Kane, but he certainly has his hangtime
Bale isn't quite Kane, but he certainly has his hangtime | JOHN WALTON/Getty Images

Because of this, Bale operates much more centrally than Son, attempting to get on the end of aerial deliveries - he even knocked down a corner which Harry Kane ought to have done much better with.

As a result of this, we have a situation where the right side of the Brighton defence has been sucked in by Kane, and Bale, our half-striker-half-winger, by the time Reguilon cuts inside on his right in the 73rd minute - and crucially, they've taken Lamptey with them, who does not have enough time to close down his counterpart.

All Reguilon has to do then is what he does best when in a bit of space, taking advantage of the lack of coverage to swing in another pearler of a cross. Indeed, it's not surprising that he was able to push much higher up the pitch as a result of Bale coming on for Erik Lamela, coming much closer to the byline in the last 15 minutes of the match.

Started from the bottom now we're here!
Started from the bottom now we're here! | Quality Sport Images/Getty Images

A beautiful symbiotic relationship which shows how the magnetic push-and-pull of a tactical substitution can influence all areas of the pitch - but one which absolutely raises some questions.

Bale hasn't really got the legs for much more than a cameo here and there at the moment, and hasn't done a fantastic job of attacking space on his own side, while though the cavalier Reguilon has utterly transformed the attacking outlook for Spurs in terms of moving on from Ben Davies' conservative approach on the left, there are games where he can feel like a risk in a back four against a direct team, such as in Spurs' Europa League loss to Royal Antwerp.

But it's a far cry from watching your teammates batter Elche from a comfy seat on the bench every weekend, and it's a sign that Spurs are building something that could very well see them playing so many talented forwards that other teams struggle to contain them.

And for Sergio Reguilon, circa 2013? It's a dream come true.

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