At 4-0 down in the San Siro a couple weeks back, it looked like Spurs' trademark naivety might have been terminal to their chances in Europe. Bale's hat-trick was not enough to earn a point but it salvaged pride and restored a sense of belonging that might otherwise have been destroyed. Inter's complacency allowed Tottenham to snatch some kind of moral victory from the jaws of humiliation.
And tonight at White Hart Lane Spurs built on that. They lack the habit of winning big matches domestically so three points at home to the European Champions is a landmark achievement. It was secured with three fine goals that illustrated the flair at Harry Redknapp's disposal. First, Modric danced forward to the edge of the area and played a clever reverse pass through to Van Der Vaart. The in-form Dutchman smashed home to continue his prolific scoring ratio since his cut-price move to England.
The other two goals were all about Gareth Bale.
The Welshman emerged at Southampton after Theo Walcott left for Arsenal; it must be said that the Gunners signed the wrong pacey winger from the Saints. Bale is a far, far better player than Walcott, certainly if both are viewed as wingers. A better dribbler, a better crosser, more powerful in his running. Maicon is widely regarded as the best right back in the world but Bale gave him a torrid time. His runs and crosses for the Crouch and Pavlyuchenko goals were electrifying.
Over two games he ripped apart a defence that was, only last season, close to impregnable.
Nobody can be sensational every game, and in successive Premier League weekends Bale has been subdued by Everton and Manchester United who have tried to usher him inside and largely succeeded. Maybe you could argue the Premiership's more tactically aware managers have started to come to terms with his threat, but Rafa Benitez is no stranger to nullifying tactics nor to Premiership pace, and his team have had no answer. When a game is wide open, there is no better player in England at the moment.