GARETH BALE first made his name a decade ago as a flying left winger who scored goals for fun, but when the Welshman is fit and ready for his second coming at Spurs, he will do well to displace Heung-Min Son, the incumbent left-sided attacker.
The speedy Korean scored four goals as Tottenham ran riot at Southampton to rack up their first Premier League points and increase the feelgood factor around the club, which announced the double signings of Bale and Sergio Reguilo from Real Madrid on Saturday.
Neither new player was involved yesterday, but they cannot fail to have been impressed by Son's finishing and the all-round play of Harry Kane, who created all four of the Korean's goals and added one himself in the closing stages.
Bale has been added to give Spurs more of an attacking threat and authoritative leadership in the dressing room, but Kane and Son have those attributes too, as captains of their respective countries and proven Premier League goalscorers.
The prospect of Bale joining them in a three-pronged attack should terrify defenders as much as it may excite Tottenham fans and neutrals, although there is still work to be done on the Spurs defence, who were grateful to Hugo Lloris – captain of world champions France, lest we forget – for some excellent saves in an even first-half.
Southampton had taken a deserved lead through Danny Ings before Son equalised in first-half stoppage time. But once the Korean put Spurs ahead early in the second-half, there was no stopping them. Ings lessened the damage for Saints with a last-minute penalty to make it five goals in five games against Tottenham over the past year, showing why Jose Mourinho is interested in taking the striker to north London to support Kane.
But when Son is in this sort of form, his partnership with Kane is deadly, and it worked best when the England captain dropped deeper to create chances for Son to run on to, as Mourinho explained.
“Harry changed the game,” he said. “His movement was tremendous and his link play was absolutely incredible, and he allowed Sonny to play in a different position.”
Mourinho's master plan was borne out of four meetings with Southampton last season, plus the inside knowledge of Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg, who left Saints for Spurs last month. The Dane brings a powerful all-round game to midfield, and allows Tangy Ndombele to play a more creative role.
The Frenchman looked lively and played a part in Son's equaliser on the stroke of half-time, but was then replaced by Giovanni Lo Celso at the break. Mourinho explained neither player has the fitness to last 90 minutes, and will gradually improve. And he insisted Dele Alli still has a future at Tottenham, despite being left out of the squad for the second time this week, having been hauled off at half-time during last Sunday's defeat by Everton. “I want a balanced squad and Dele can be part of it – he doesn't need to be sacrificed,” said the manager.
It was not all plain sailing for Spurs, though, and they were frustrated throughout the first 45 minutes were. Kane had the ball in the net twice, only to have goals disallowed because his suppliers were offside. Ings also had an effort ruled out for handball in the build-up, before he opened the scoring in style. Kyle Walker-Peters, the makeweight in Hojbjerg's transfer, chipped a pass forward, Ings got beyond Eric Dier, took one touch to control the ball and another to lash a shot past Lloris into the far corner.
But Spurs equalised when Kane played in Son, who shot low past Alex McCarthy from an angle on the right. The pair combined again for Son's second, soon after the restart, and then the third, when a clever reverse pass from the England captain set his team-mate free for a one-on-one chance against McCarthy. He did not miss, and it was a similar story in the 73rd minute when Kane, wide on the right, played a superb curling pass into Son's path. The Korean simply controlled it and shot past McCarthy from close range.
Both players had more chances to score, in what would have been another embarrassment for Southampton, who lost 9-0 at home to Leicester last season. Kane finally got the goal he deserved when he drove the ball home from close range after Erik Lamela's shot was turned on to the far post in the 82nd minute. Ings grabbed a crumb of consolation in the final minute when a Harry Winks clearance struck Doherty's arm, and a penalty was given.
Ralph Hasenhuttl admitted the result was a “humiliation” after a promising first half. “We stopped putting pressure on the ball and were very naïve. With the quality Spurs have, they could have scored a lot more.”
Mourinho, meanwhile, is looking forward to getting Bale ready for battle, although he warned it could be next month at the earliest. “Gareth, when fit, is one of the best players in Europe, and a coach always likes to have the best players,” he said.
He already has two of the best strikers in the league in Kane and Son, so has an embarrassment of riches in attack. If he can sort out his leaky defence, Tottenham could start to challenge for honours once again.
McCarthy 6; Walker-Peters 7, Stephens 6, Bednarek 5, Bertrand 6; Ward-Prowse 7, Armstrong 6 (Teller 68), Romeu 6 (Smallbone 54), Djenepo 6; Ings 7, Adams 5 (Long 80).
): Lloris 8; Doherty 7, Sanchez 7, Dier 7, Davies 7; Hojbjerg 7, Winks 7; Moura 6 (Lamela 61), Ndombele 7 (Lo Celso 46), Son 9; Kane 9 (Bergwijn 84).
: David Coote