“Gareth Bale admits he still has to be careful with his body and although he has scored six goals in his last six games for Tottenham, he cannot be the same player he was at Spurs 10 years ago.
Bale scored two hits when Spurs showed a clinical attack display to beat Crystal Palace 4-1 and move to two points in the top four.
Bale has seen a sensational return to form after a season marked by uncertainty about his durability, match fitness and whether he still had the same magic to excel in the Premier League.
The Welsh international was returned to Tottenham on loan in September after joining Real Madrid in 2013 after three truly exceptional seasons of becoming one of the Premier League’s elite players.
His time at the Bernabeu was remarkably successful, with two league titles and four Champions League wins, but it was also fraught with injuries that held him back and then tension with head coach Zinedine Zidane.
Jose Mourinho has been careful with the 31-year-old but has started him in Tottenham’s last three games. This consistency on the field was rewarded with his hit rate, as Spurs now face big games in the Europa League and Arsenal against Dinamo Zagreb in the north London derby.
However, with the phrase “Bale is back” echoing in the Spurs fan base, Bale was keen to soften expectations when speaking to Sky Sports after beating Crystal Palace.
“Time will tell, I’m not 21 anymore,” said Bale when asked if he could get the same batting average as he did during his first Spurs spell. “I’ll just keep working hard, taking every game as it comes, and we’ll go from there.
“Your body changes over time; You don’t have that youthfulness where you can quickly recover where you can sprint for 90 minutes. You learn your body as you get older and I have to do that. “
Mourinho admits that Spurs will remain extra vigilant in managing Bale’s logs, deciding when to replace him during the games.
With Dinamo Zagreb in the Europa League in the round of 16 on Thursday and Arsenal on Sunday, Mourinho wants Bale to be optimally fit for one, if not both, of these games. But the judgment also rests with the player.
“All the credit for him. We trust him and his judgment about his own body and his own feelings, ”said Mourinho.
“We never want him to get very tired. In the 55th / 60th Minute we’re already in contact … eye contact … and we plan to take it off when the first feelings of muscle fatigue appear.
“Usually the players can handle it. Some players end games exhausted. In his care we have to be careful because we need him. As simple as that.”