André Villas-Boas hailed Gareth Bale as "incredible" after a stunning performance for Tottenham against Lyon in which two superb free-kicks earned his side a 2-1 lead going into the second leg of their Europa League knockout tie.
On a night on which Liverpool risked elimination from the competition after a 2-0 defeat at Zenit St Petersburg, Bale yet again proved the match-winner for Tottenham. He has scored each of the club's past six goals, this victory adding to those he delivered against Newcastle United and West Bromwich and the draw he salvaged at Norwich with a run from inside his own half.
On Thursday night Bale opened the scoring with a 35-yard effort in first-half injury-time and secured the win in the dying seconds with a 25-yard strike which again left the Lyon goalkeeper, Rémy Vercoutre, clasping thin air.
Lyon had drawn level following an equally impressive effort from their left-back Samuel Umtiti shortly after half-time, but, not to be outdone, Bale stepped up in the closing stages to seal the victory.
"He's incredible," Villas-Boas said. "Not only his all-round game but this ability that he has to strike these free-kicks. The ball gains so much power when he strikes it and it changes direction very easily. Today we saw not only two great moments but three, because their goal was absolutely fantastic too. Gareth was fantastic."
Villas-Boas claimed that comparisons to Real Madrid's Cristiano Ronaldo were appropriate and admitted there is now a sense of expectation whenever Bale is standing over a set piece.
Asked if the Welshman was comparable to Ronaldo, he said: "Yes, he's going through a great individual moment, scoring lots of goals for the team.
"I think it's his best goalscoring season for Tottenham. You just see that the player is really enjoying his football and taking a buzz out of it.
"We've seen him score three in two games from this situation and there is that possibility, there is an expectation because the player strikes it well and anything can happen, most likely a goal is likely to happen."
Villas-Boas did, however, insist that the Welshman's performance did not mask a poor overall display from his side. "I think it was a great first half and a poor second half. The first half was very good and exciting, we managed to get in behind them and play open football," he said.
The Lyon manager, Rémi Garde, also believes that Bale's ability from set pieces ranks him among the best in the world and agreed that there are similarities with Ronaldo.
"If you mean in the context of the way they take free-kicks, I think you could make a decent comparison, if you're referring to the way the ball dips and drops over the wall. We used to have a player at Lyon called Juninho and we always used to think with him that every time we got a free-kick in that area it was like a penalty. We've seen tonight that it's a little bit like that with Bale and Tottenham."
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