Gareth Bale's first Premier League hat-trick since 2012 helps sink sorry Sheffield United

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·14-min read
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Bale earns himself the match ball - GETTY IMAGES
Bale earns himself the match ball - GETTY IMAGES
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  • Gareth Bale scores first Premier League hat-trick since December 2012 against Aston Villa

  • Son Heung-min added a classy fourth against a lacklustre Sheffield United

  • Reinstated Dele Alli also impresses as Tottenham go on the attack

In the long run, Tottenham Hotspur will hope to find a manager capable of instilling a sustained and progressive style of football. In the here and now, though, a dose of positivity might just be enough to secure European qualification at the end of this season.

Ryan Mason, the caretaker coach, cannot expect to revolutionise a Tottenham team that had been so broken by Jose Mourinho’s management. But he can make them feel happy again. And when he has players of the calibre of Gareth Bale and Son Heung-min, a sense of freedom can go an awfully long way.

Tottenham looked liberated here, even if it was against the already-relegated Sheffield United. Bale produced a performance of the highest order, scoring a brilliant hat-trick, while Son and the reinstated Dele Alli danced around Harry Kane in attack. “I am happy,” said Bale. “When I am happy, I play well.”

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Bale, Kane, Alli, Son. They make for such a formidable foursome that it was hard to believe this was just the second time this season they have all started together. Mourinho had other ideas, clearly, and not all matches are against teams as lowly as Sheffield United, but it did feel rather obvious: play your best attackers, and you might just be more dangerous in attack.

The joy on Bale’s face after scoring his third, as he performed a golf-club celebration with Alli, said it all for Tottenham and for Mason. The 29-year-old stand-in could be proud of his team here, for the way they exposed Sheffield United’s frailties as well as the way they battled without possession.

By the end the contrast in quality between the two sides was as obvious as the contrast in motivations for the two sets of players. The Champions League dream remains alive for Tottenham, who are now five points off fourth-placed Chelsea, and they were predictably dominant against a team with nothing but pride on the agenda.

The inclusion of the lesser-spotted Alli, who Mason said had been the standout player in training this week, should serve as a warning to Tottenham’s rivals. He is the joker in the pack, the wildcard option in these final few matches, and the Englishman produced enough moments of quality here to suggest he could still have a significant impact this season.

Dele Alli provided moments of encouragement for the rest of the season - GETTY IMAGES
Dele Alli provided moments of encouragement for the rest of the season - GETTY IMAGES

By the end of the first half Alli was looking like his old self, combining with Kane and even unleashing a brutal nutmeg on a hapless opponent. “He had that edge,” said Mason. “His attitude was fantastic.”

It all felt more comfortable for Alli, and for Tottenham as a collective, after Bale had given them the lead around 10 minutes before the break. Serge Aurier’s chipped pass had taken out the entire Sheffield United defence and the Welshman was able to prod his finish over Aaron Ramsdale in the visiting goal.

At this point Tottenham’s sharp passing around the Sheffield United penalty area was starting to cause problems for the visitors, and Mason’s side went close to a second through Alli and Giovani Lo Celso.

After half-time they might easily have had a one-man advantage to go with their one-goal lead. John Fleck’s studs made clear contact with the face of Lo Celso, leaving visible marks on the Tottenham midfielder’s cheek. The question was one of intent, and the VAR decided against punishment. “A stonewall red card,” was Mason’s verdict. “I’ve not seen it,” said Sheffield United caretaker manager Paul Heckingbottom.

The all-seeing eyes in Stockley Park were quicker to intervene a few moments later, when Son’s finish was ruled out for offside, but the officials had no issues with Bale’s second. Typically of Sheffield United’s season, it came from their own corner. Son broke and played in Bale, who steadied himself before ripping his finish beyond Ramsdale. “We know what a top player he is,” said Heckingbottom. “World class.”

Tottenham were cruising now, and the tireless Aurier soon combined again with Bale to carve open the visiting defence. Charging forward down the right, he teed up Bale on the edge of the box. The shot was deadly, arrowed into the corner, and the same can be said for Son’s subsequent strike from range.

Darting inside onto Steven Bergwijn’s pass, Son opened his body and whipped his finish inside the far post. It was another demonstration of Tottenham’s superiority on the night, and another reminder that they are still good enough to reach the top four. It remains a tough ask but, with the attackers in this sort of form, only a fool would rule them out.

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08:08 PM

Full time, Tottenham 4 Sheffield United 0

Reguilon has a chance to make it 5-0, latching onto a good ball from Kane only to fire wide.

Much to Sheffield United's relief, the final whistle goes soon afterwards. Mason got the response he wanted after the League Cup final, while Paul Heckingbottom will struggle to find many positives from that performance.

08:03 PM

87 mins

Hojbjerg is booked for a robust challenge on Ben Osborn.

08:01 PM

85 mins

Reguilon plays in Kane with a backheel only for Spurs' No 10 to thrash wide.

He was offside anyway, but his finishing has been strangely temperamental this evening.

07:57 PM

McGoldrick makes an exit

... with Lys Mousset replacing him.

07:57 PM

81 mins

It's too little too late, but all of a sudden Sheffield United are attempting a fightback.

Norwood almost finds McGoldrick with a probing cross to the far post, but it's cleared.

07:53 PM

GOAL! Tottenham 4 Sheffield United 0

Sheffield United have fallen to pieces here.

Bergwijn plays in Son, who sends Baldock into another dimension before scoring with a ricochet off the far post. That makes up for his goal that never was earlier in the second half.

Son makes it 4-0 to Spurs - NMC POOL
Son makes it 4-0 to Spurs - NMC POOL

07:50 PM

Bale brought off

... with Steven Bergwijn replacing Spurs' hat-trick hero.

Lo Celso is also hooked for Harry Winks.

07:49 PM

73 mins

Spurs win a corner and Alderweireld causes chaos with a deceptive flick, which is eventually cleared.

The hosts have two more corners in quick succession, but neither routine comes to fruition.

07:46 PM

GOAL! Tottenham 3 Sheffield United 0

Bale has his hat-trick, pinging a low shot between Basham's legs and in.

It was created by Aurier, who sidestepped Stevens beautifully in the build-up. It's Bale's first hat-trick in English football since 2012, with his last coming against Paul Lambert's Aston Villa.

Bale shows his delight after scoring his third goal of the game - GETTY IMAGES
Bale shows his delight after scoring his third goal of the game - GETTY IMAGES

07:40 PM

65 mins

Burke gets down the right and tees up Oliver Norwood, who fires straight at Lloris.

They may just have conceded, but Sheffield United have looked much more dangerous since Burke arrived on the pitch.

07:36 PM

GOAL! Tottenham 2 Sheffield United 0

Having seen his goal ruled out, Son turns provider and plays through Bale with a cultured pass.

Bale absolutely whumps one into the top corner. That should be enough to seal the win.

Bale produces a thumping finish - GETTY IMAGES
Bale produces a thumping finish - GETTY IMAGES

07:31 PM

55 mins

Sheffield United have a couple of half chances, Fleck attempting to dummy a pass to McGoldrick only for his teammate to mistime his run before Burke flames Aurier for pace out wide and sees a dangerous cross cleared.

07:28 PM

54 mins

Bale unleashes a powerful left-footed shot from distance, but Ramsdale palms it down and gathers gratefully.

07:26 PM

GOAL RULED OUT!

Dier plays a raking ball up to Son, who runs off the shoulder, goes one-on-one and, taking a moment to collect himself, applies an inch-perfect finish.

Unfortunately, he's strayed offside while making the initial run. VAR reviews it and, once the dreaded lines are drawn, the goal is chalked off.

07:23 PM

46 mins

Fleck rakes Lo Celso's face with his studs, following through after a routine coming-together, with VAR checking for a potential red card.

He gets away with it, though it looked a bit naughty. He can count himself lucky, really.

07:19 PM

Double substitution for Sheffield United

Brewster and Jayden Bogle make way for Oliver Burke and Sander Berge respectively, with the latter returning from a long injury lay-off.

07:07 PM

Half time, Tottenham 1 Sheffield United 0

It wasn't an inspired half of football, but Spurs will be happy enough with a 1-0 lead.

Sheffield United threatened on a couple of occasions, but they will need to sharpen up their passing and increase the tempo if they want to get anything here.

07:03 PM

45+1 mins

Spurs move the ball around nicely, Alli outmuscles Baldock and, turning on his heel, he whips a shot on target which Ramsdale saves with relative ease.

07:00 PM

44 mins

A neat passing move from Spurs ends with Giovani Lo Celso slicing a shot over the crossbar.

06:59 PM

42 mins

Kane almost sends Bale clean through with an improvised ball, but Ramsdale reads the danger and sprints off his line to clear.

06:56 PM

40 mins

Spurs win a free kick, Kane steps up and, having slammed his first effort into the wall, spoons a second shot well wide.

06:55 PM

39 mins

Sheffield United get forwards and Brewster tees up John Fleck, but his low drive is blocked by Dier.

06:52 PM

GOAL! Tottenham 1 Sheffield United 0

What a goal.

Kane attempts to find Son with a ball across the box, which is cleared as far as Aurier. He scoops a pass over the top and finds Bale, who flicks past Ramsdale with the outside of his boot.

Gareth Bale nicks the ball past Aaron Ramsdale to make it 1-0 - AFP
Gareth Bale nicks the ball past Aaron Ramsdale to make it 1-0 - AFP

06:46 PM

30 mins

Sheffield United have a little spell of pressure, which ends when Brewster blasts a shot into the stratosphere.

06:43 PM

27 mins

McGoldrick gets down the left and pings a ball across the face of goal, but Brewster is nowhere to be seen and Hugo Lloris gathers easily.

06:42 PM

25 mins

Reguilon skips past two challenges on the left and picks out Kane in the middle of the box, but he shovels the ball into the stands with uncharacteristic clumsiness.

06:36 PM

20 mins

Baldock gives the ball away softly and Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg dinks a pass over the top for Son, but he can't control it.

Sheffield United's passing is totally erratic at the moment.

Son Heung-min shows his frustration - GETTY IMAGES
Son Heung-min shows his frustration - GETTY IMAGES

06:35 PM

18 mins

Kane shimmies past Baldock in the box and looks certain to score, but Basham clears off the line.

John Egan is booked after clattering into Son in the build-up.

06:33 PM

15 mins

Fantastic save!

Serge Aurier wins the ball high up the pitch and feeds Son, who works an opening just outside the box. He lashes a shot at the bottom corner, but Ramsdale leaps to his right to make the stop.

06:29 PM

12 mins

Toby Alderweireld finds Alli with a smart diagonal ball from deep, but his teammate can only send a looping header into Ramsdale's outstretched gloves.

06:28 PM

11 mins

Kane drops deep and finds Bale with a lovely chipped pass. He easily wins a foot race with Basham on the right before cutting inside and thumping a shot over the crossbar.

06:26 PM

10 mins

Kane sends a cross into the box which takes a wicked deflection and lands on the roof of the net, much to Ramsdale's relief.

06:23 PM

6 mins

A loose pass from Eric Dier allows David McGoldrick to scamper forwards and ping a shot just wide of the post.

Both sides look a little lax at the moment, not least defensively.

David McGoldrick takes a moment to catch his breath - SHUTTERSTOCK
David McGoldrick takes a moment to catch his breath - SHUTTERSTOCK

06:22 PM

5 mins

Sheffield United have a dicey moment as George Baldock allows Sergio Reguilon to nip in behind him unchallenged, but Ramsdale clears.

06:18 PM

2 mins

Rhian Brewster slips in behind Spurs' defence and sends a deep cross to Enda Stevens, who can't quite get a shot away.

Spurs get the ball and Son Heung-min sends a teasing cross into the box, which finds Harry Kane on the charge. He forces Aaron Ramsdale into a point-blank save, though the offside flag was up anyway.

06:12 PM

Teams are out

... and we're almost underway at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium. It's football o'clock!

06:03 PM

Warm-ups coming to a close

... with kick off just under 15 minutes away.

Dele Alli and Harry Kane tussle for the ball in the warm-up - REUTERS
Dele Alli and Harry Kane tussle for the ball in the warm-up - REUTERS

05:32 PM

Chris Basham returns for Blades

... with Kean Bryan making way, but otherwise the visitors are unchanged from the side which won 1-0 against Brighton at Bramall Lane.

05:29 PM

Two changes for Spurs

Lucas Moura and Harry Winks drop out, with Gareth Bale and Dele Alli coming into the team in their place.

05:20 PM

Sheffield United team news

Ramsdale; Bogle, Baldock, Egan, Basham, Stevens; Norwood, Osborn, Fleck; McGoldrick, Brewster

05:18 PM

Tottenham team news

Lloris; Aurier, Alderweireld, Dier, Reguilon; Hojbjerg, Lo Celso; Bale, Alli, Son; Kane

05:00 PM

Can Spurs come to terms with their disappointment?

It's been a baptism of fire for Ryan Mason in his short time as Tottenham's interim manager and, after losing to Manchester City at Wembley, he now has to deal with the psychological fallout of the League Cup final.

It only takes a quick glimpse at Spurs' results after losing the Champions League final in 2019 to see how difficult it can be for a team to recover from such a setback. Last weekend's defeat to City might not have been quite as devastating but, regardless, it was a dramatic anticlimax.

Having missed the chance to win the club's first trophy in 13 years, the players must be wondering when they will get the opportunity to make amends. Some may be pondering their futures, with Spurs' search for a new manager ongoing and the club facing another period of transition.

Amid all that turmoil, Mason is now tasked with lifting a flagging squad as they attempt to secure European football for next season over the course of their last five games. While a meeting with rock-bottom Sheffield United might seem ideal in the circumstances, the Blades beat Brighton last weekend and could be deceptively tricky opponents.

Asked about the mood in the Spurs camp ahead of the match, Mason said: "It's been okay this week. The lads have been excellent in training, they've been bright, good intensity, which is good. Everyone is fit and raring to go.

"Obviously last weekend was disappointing. It still hurts, the pain was there, and still is. I don't think that ever leaves you, but we have a very important match this weekend and we're all professionals."

As for the threat posed by Sheffield United, he said: "They are a good side, competitive, aggressive, so we have to match that. Last season, they had a really good season.

"They've kept the same style, the same philosophy, so the foundations are there. They know what they are doing.

"Listen, this weekend is about us. We're at home, so we need to be full of confidence, we need to be brave, we need to show real energy and, hopefully, give a positive performance."

Ryan Mason needs to find a way to lift his players after a tough week - GETTY IMAGES
Ryan Mason needs to find a way to lift his players after a tough week - GETTY IMAGES