Gareth Bale: When will Tottenham hero be up to full speed for Jose Mourinho's side?

Gareth Bale scored Tottenham's winner against Brighton in November but has largely been limited to substitute appearances in the Premier League and Europa League games; watch Stoke v Tottenham in the Carabao Cup on Wednesday on Sky Sports Football from 5pm; kick-off 5.30pm

Gareth Bale came on at half-time against Leicester but couldn't turn it around for Spurs
Image: Gareth Bale came on at half-time against Leicester but could not turn it around for Spurs

Gareth Bale has made just one Premier League start for Tottenham this season and recorded only 161 minutes on the pitch.

Had he still been at Real Madrid, those figures would have sparked familiar criticisms of Bernabeu boss Zinedine Zidane - "why isn't he playing him?!" - and raised speculation about how unhappy the Wales forward must be to be left out.

Three months into his return at Tottenham, that is not quite the case. But Spurs fans will soon feel entitled to wonder when they will see more of their returning hero, who the club, let's not forget, are paying a sizeable amount of money.

His 45-minute cameo against Leicester was his latest league outing - but, after missing the previous two matches with illness, Bale looked off the pace and struggled to get into the game and turn things around for Spurs.

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Recovery from a knee problem has been at the heart of the problem - and Spurs signed the attacker knowing they would have to be patient. But is his return to fitness and form now taking longer than expected?

Ahead of Tottenham's Carabao Cup quarter-final at Stoke, where Bale could get some more game time, Sky Sports News reporter Paul Gilmour, who covers the club closely, appeared on last week's Pitch to Post Preview Podcast to discuss the situation.

Tottenham Gareth Bale, Harry Winks
Image: Bale has made three sub appearances in the Premier League this season

Spurs taking the sensible option

"There are a number of factors at play," said Gilmour. "I've spoken to somebody and I'm being told Gareth Bale is incredibly happy at Tottenham and that remains the case. Nothing has changed. He's happy, he's enjoying being back.

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"We all know he's 31 years of age, his injury record has not been great in the last couple of years, he has not played much. So I think what Tottenham are doing is taking the sensible approach.

"They have always said they would allow him time to get up to speed. But then add into the mix of course, the players that have been playing have actually impressed and put Tottenham in the position they are in at the moment.

TOTTENHAM 0-2 LEICESTER CITY 2:57
FREE TO WATCH: Highlights from Leicester win over Spur in the Premier League.

"When a Jose Mourinho team is in contention at the top of a league he does historically favour that same sort of spine of players. He's largely kept the same spine of players for Premier League games this season and Gareth Bale has been restricted to Europa League starts and the odd few minutes off the bench in Premier League games.

"From a Tottenham point of view they are taking the sensible approach, they are not rushing him back too soon, in what is a really intense league.

"They have invested a lot of money in this deal and if he were to break down having done too much then that becomes a real problem for Tottenham."

Bale could be key in second half of season

"I get the feeling we are not going to see the best of Gareth Bale in a Tottenham shirt until perhaps the second half of the season.

"It's a long season, Tottenham have a big squad with a lot of competition, as we are seeing with the problems with Dele Alli and Harry Winks at the moment. It is trying to make the best use of that squad.

"There's been no pressure to play Gareth Bale because you look at someone like Steven Bergwijn, and even Dele Alli in the last couple of games. In the absence of Gareth Bale, Dele Alli has got some game time. It's not a bad option to have Dele Alli coming on. That's the depth of the talent in the attacking areas of the squad.

"All of those factors come together to say there's no necessary need to panic, in terms of Tottenham fans are not going to see the best of him and he's going to disappear off back to Real Madrid. I have a feeling it will maybe be the second half of the season before we get to see some meaningful minutes from Gareth Bale."

Patience key, despite emotional pull

"Tottenham fans have great memories of Gareth Bale from his first spell. On the day of his signing, I was there, he came back on the same day as Sergio Reguillon and poor Sergio was completely overshadowed on that day. And he has been the one who has been incredibly impressive this season!

"But Bale has that star quality, that emotional attachment, everyone was talking about him. Pulling on the emotional heart strings.

"Every Tottenham fans wants to see him do well but it is just about patience and he is very happy at the club, I'm told."

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