Gareth Bale sent out a warning to Tottenham's rivals by declaring he is yet to reach his peak. Bale came to Tottenham's rescue once again last night by scoring two sensational free-kicks to hand Andre Villas-Boas' men a 2-1 victory over Lyon in the UEFA Europa League.
Without the 15 goals scored by the in-form Welshman, Spurs would sit tenth in the Premier League, rather than fourth. Two seasons ago Bale had the world at his feet when he impressed against Inter Milan at White Hart Lane in the UEFA Champions LEague, but his game has come on hugely since. He has become quicker, more powerful and his shooting skills rank among the best in the league.
The former Southampton man, who has also learned how to operate as up front under Villas-Boas this term, is now being talked about as one of the best players in the world, but at just 23-years-old, he insists there is more to come from his game yet. "It's probably the best I've been playing so far in my career, but I've still got room for improvement," Bale said after the 2-1 win.
"Season after season I have to improve in all areas. I just want to keep doing that, keep working hard and, hopefully, keep getting better. I've just got to keep my head down, keep working hard, keep trying to keep my form."
Bale's match-winning heroics, and the way he strikes the ball from free-kicks, has led to comparisons with Cristiano Ronaldo. Indeed, the Real Madrid forward would have been proud of the Spurs star's two set-piece finishes last night.
Bale opened the scoring with a shot which dipped over the wall and beat Vercoutre from some 35 yards. He then sealed the win after Samuel Umtiti's equaliser with a curling 20-yard effort with just ten seconds of injury time remaining.
"I knew it was the last kick of the game but I had to get it up and over the wall and thankfully I saw it go in," Bale said. "I've been practicing for ages now from all sorts of distances. "It's one of those things I think if you keep practicing, it does come off in a match."
Goalkeeper Brad Friedel, who started last night's game ahead of Hugo Lloris, watched with amazement from the other end of the pitch as Bale's goals flew in. "Only a few players in the world have perfected the technique that Gareth has," the Spurs goalkeeper said. "It's when you can strike with an open foot and you sort of come over the ball. A lot of times there's no spin on the ball.
"As a goalkeeper you can't tell where it's going to go, and it moves in the air. It's not impossible to stop, but it's very difficult. When games are tight sometimes they're won on such small margins like set pieces - free kicks and things of that nature. Gareth having that in his repertoire is fantastic for us."
Bale's superb form has inevitably led to speculation that Spanish giants Real Madrid or Barcelona will launch a bid to sign the wide man this summer. He is contracted to the north London club until 2016, but earlier this season reiterated that he would be open to the idea of playing abroad.
Tottenham defender Jan Vertonghen hopes the Welshman stays at White Hart Lane. "I am so glad he is in our team. He is an amazing player, everyone can see that," the Belgian said. "I hope he stays next season."
Vertonghen was disappointed to see Umtiti's brilliant away goal go in, but he is still confident Villas-Boas' team can finish the job when they travel to France next week for the second leg. He said: "It could be better. It's a shame they scored an away goal as they are quite important in Europe, but I think we are the better team and we are the favourites to go through to the next round."