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Manchester City brace for the Bale force

Gareth Bale's reputation was made against one Manchester City defender but it will likely be Pablo Zabaleta, not Maicon, that the Tottenham winger locks up with, writes Richard Jolly.

Tottenham Hotspur's Gareth Bale, right, shoots and score a goal against Manchester City during their English Premier League match at Etihad Stadium, Manchester, England, on January 22, 2012.
Tottenham Hotspur's Gareth Bale, right, shoots and score a goal against Manchester City during their English Premier League match at Etihad Stadium, Manchester, England, on January 22, 2012.

A Manchester City right-back helped make Gareth Bale. He elevated the Welshman's reputation from promising winger to world-beater.

He rendered the Tottenham Hotspur player a target for Europe's elite clubs.

That right-back is not Pablo Zabaleta, whose task on Sunday is to illustrate that Bale is a mere mortal. Should he require a few pointers, however, then the recent addition Maicon may be the man to turn to, albeit for the wrong reasons. He was the victim of Bale's most famous displays of turbocharged brilliance.

Inter Milan were the reigning European champions when Tottenham visited the San Siro in October 2010. They had taken a 4-0 lead against a Spurs side reduced to 10 men. And then came Maicon's electric evisceration at the hands of Bale. His one-man assault on the Inter defence yielded a hat-trick. Few have emerged from a defeat with greater credit.

Two weeks later, Hurricane Bale struck again. He blew away Maicon, setting up two of Tottenham's goals in a 3-1 win and inspiring some colourful rhetoric in Italy.

"He made asphalt of Maicon," said Gazzetta dello Sport, the famous newspaper. "Maicon was trampled upon," said La Repubblica, one of its rivals.

Perhaps, therefore, Maicon's message to Zabaleta will be simple: good luck. As the Argentine assesses the job ahead, he outlined Bale's strengths.

"He is the one of the best wingers, not just in the Premier League but in the world. He has great pace, he is very fast and he has a great cross," he said. "Technically he is very good. He has got a very good left foot. He scores a lot of goals so he is a fantastic player."

And yet, the Argentine is likely to be undaunted. His combative approach equips him well for the tougher tests.

"It is a great motivation when you have to play against a good player," he said.

Roberto Mancini has often selected the 27 year old in direct opposition to the similarly speedy Theo Walcott and Zabaleta has forged a reputation as a man for the bigger occasion.

However, he insists, there will be no special plan for Bale.

"I just do everything the same whether it is Gareth Bale or another winger," he said. "It is not the first time we play against him."

It is not and City have had fewer problems against the 23-year-old than many of their counterparts.

A recent trip to Manchester has happier memories for Bale. He scored one and made another in Tottenham's 3-2 win over Manchester United six weeks ago. It was the high watermark of Andre Villas-Boas' reign and supports Zabaleta's theory that, although Spurs were booed off at White Hart Lane when losing to Wigan Athletic last week, they are a superior side on their travels.

"Away from home I think they play better because they go quickly on the counter-attack so it is going to be really hard," he explained. Part of Spurs' threat on the break comes from Bale's sidekick on the left flank.

Jan Vertonghen may be a central defender by trade but, with Benoit Assou-Ekotto injured, he has flourished as an overlapping full-back. "He's a great player but Tottenham did their scouting well," said his international teammate, Vincent Kompany. "He's a leader and someone that you want to have in your side."

The City captain ought to offer some inside knowledge about his fellow Belgian.

"There is great camaraderie between us," he said. "We happen to be friends and are from a similar age group."

As an attack-minded defender, Vertonghen may be an appropriate addition to a fixture that finished 3-2 last season at the Etihad Stadium, following City's 5-1 win at White Hart Lane.

"It should be a very offensive game," Kompany said.

"The two games last year were great but that's what you get against Tottenham. We're a team who can score goals and so can they, so it'll be a good game.

"If I was a neutral, I'd be looking forward to it."



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