Football Features

“The baby-faced boss” – Five things learned as Bale’s heroics help Ryan Mason win first game in charge of Spurs

By Muhammad Butt

Published: 20:33, 21 April 2021

In a game of two halves, Spurs came from behind to beat Southampton 2-1 in their first game since sacking José Mourinho.

The win was the first of Ryan Mason’s spell in charge and puts Spurs just two points off Chelsea in fourth place. What did we learn?

1. Bale steps up

With Harry Kane out, someone had to step up and lead Spurs from the front. The Englishman scored twice in their 2-2 draw at Everton last Friday but was out of this match with an injury. And Spurs were 0-1 down at half-time, and they had never come from being down at half-time to win a game. Well someone wanted to change that, and it was Gareth Bale.

The Welshman was Spurs’ best player on the day, looking much more like the kind of talismanic presence who can guide and lead his team not through inspirational words but through his sublime talent. His goal was classic Bale, picking up a rebound and then, from a nice angle but under pressure, effortlessly lifted the ball into the net through a crowd of bodies. This was an incredibly tricky finish and Bale made it look like he was teeing off on the golf course on a lazy Sunday morning.

2. The brittle brilliance of Danny Ings

Danny Ings is a magnificent striker. Of that there can be no doubt. He’s intelligent in his movement, robust in his physicality and lethal in his finishing technique. Ings problem is that as robust as he can be, his body is so weak.

Two massive injuries during his time as a Liverpool player saw him miss almost 500 days of cumulative time and 85 games in all. Since then he joined Saints and has officially picked up seven different injuries in his last three seasons.

Well, make that 8 injuries. The Saints striker had to leave the pitch in the second-half with what looked like a hamstring problem, and when he left so did Southampton’s potency. The striker had given Southampton the lead with an absolutely gorgeous finish, but because of injuries that is just his 10th league goal of the season. Last season, a season where he was injury free the whole time, he scored 22.

He’s so good, but so brittle as well.

3. Ryan Mason: the baby-faced boss

Ryan Mason is 29 years and 312 days old. Ryan Mason is a Premier League manager. The youngest-ever manager in the Premier League.

Take that, Julian Nagelsmann!

When Ryan Mason was given the job to replace José Mourinho, many eyebrows were raised. After all, there are players in the Spurs squad actually older than he is, players who played alongside him. And his coaching experience was minimal to say the least.

But Mason is a club man, and very definitely “gets” what it means to play for Spurs. And when you need someone to rebound from the tireless misery that is José Mourinho, someone as literally fresh-faced as Ryan Mason is kind of perfect?

It’s impossible to judge Mason as a coach based on just one game; but he picked a positive XI (and avoided the hideous beast that is 4-2-3-1), had his team play on the front foot and imbued them with a confidence and drive to come from behind.

The kid might be alright.

4. VAR gives and VAR takes away

Southampton played so well in the first-half but collapsed so thoroughly in the second. They lost so much attacking impetus (especially when Ings went off) as the match wore on and so, predictably, Spurs began applying serious pressure.

They equalised, and then took the lead. Only when they did, VAR stepped in to aid the Saints. Heung-min Son’s finish from Sergio Reguilon’s strike was sweet but Lucas Moura was stood in an offside position and was blocking Alex McCarthy’s view of Son. Disallowed.

However if Saints thought VAR was wearing red tonight they were sorely mistaken. VAR was, is and always will be chaotic neutral. It holds no allegiances except to breaking hearts. So when a Spurs corner in was bundled away by Southampton after a suspected handball, and Moussa Djenepo committed a harsh foul outside the box for a free-kick, Saints began to sweat.

VAR hit Saints with a superb body feint, ruling that the handball was not a penalty, and just as Saints were rejoicing at that fact VAR dropped the hammer of a right hook that Djenepo’s foul was inside the area and would be a penalty.


5. City beware

With the EFL Cup final on the horizon, Spurs absolutely needed not only a win here but to show that there is something about them. Now sure, Southampton bossed the first-half and it took Spurs a while to get going, but get going they did. They were losing at half-time but turned it around into a victory, which is the first time they’ve managed to do that this season.

That mental toughness, especially to keep going after what they thought was the game-winner was ruled out by VAR, shows that they could be more trouble than expected for a misfiring Manchester City in the EFL Cup final. Ryan Mason won his first game in charge thanks to individual genius and a lot of willpower; Pep Guardiola has been undone by that combination before… don’t rule them out!