Gareth Bale managed only two assists in the Premier League last season while on loan at Tottenham. He got that many in one afternoon for Wales against Turkey at the European Championship on Wednesday.
Bale put in a star showing in Wales’ 2-0 win, all but guaranteeing progression to the knockout stages. But it wasn’t a performance typical of the Real Madrid forward.
He missed a penalty and scuffed plenty of opportunities breaking forward on the counter. At his devastating best five years ago, the 31-year-old could have netted a hat-trick against a tired Turkey defence.
Instead, he excelled in a different, deeper role, almost like a quarterback, delivering a sumptuous ball for Aaron Ramsey’s opener, and setting up Connor Roberts in the closing stages.
After a poor loan spell at Tottenham, is Bale about to reinvent himself as a playmaker?
Last season, Bale made 20 appearances in the Premier League (10 as a starter and 10 as a sub). Jose Mourinho and later Ryan Mason used him as a wide forward in a front three, mainly cutting in from the right.
His role was never to be a supplier for fellow strikers Harry Kane and Son Heung-min, instead he always seemed to be the third member of a powerful attacking arsenal.
Bale’s aggregate expected assists (xA) in the Premier League last campaign was just 1.92. After two games at Euro 2020 he’s already racked up an xA of 1.18.
Many Tottenham fans may wonder what might have been last season had Bale dropped deeper more often to set up Kane and Son.
The difference? Bale is dribbling less and passing more.
Against Turkey, Bale unlocked the door with brilliant balls to send through Aaron Ramsey on multiple occasions, and was also linking up well with Daniel James and Kieffer Moore.
With 2.5 key passes already this tournament, he is already way ahead of his Premier League total of 1.1 from 20 games.
With Bale now a creator for Robert Page’s side, Ramsey has found himself in unfamiliar territory as a finisher.
The former Arsenal man got in behind three times in the first-half of Wales’ match with Turkey. All three were from deep runs from midfield, and all were started by a Bale through-ball.
Even in Wales’ tighter group game with Switzerland, Ramsey still had opportunities with late darts into the box. With the scores level at 1-1, the 30-year-old was inches away from tapping in a low David Brooks cross.
At the Euros Ramsey is already averaging an xG of 0.8 compared to an xA of 0.1. For comparison, playing for Juventus last term there was little difference between his xG and xA league averages (0.36 v 0.27).
As Bale drops deep to receive the ball, the burden on Ramsey to create lessens. It also makes him free to attack the space Bale leaves behind.
Both Ramsey and Bale will have to be at the top of their game in Wales’ final group match against Italy in Rome if Page's side are to get anything from the contest - but will they even play?
It’s not a must-win tie. Wales have four points after two games - at Euro 2016, no team with four points failed to progress to the second round.
But Italy, in the midst of a formidable 29-match unbeaten run, have not lost a competitive game in Rome since 1953.
The chance to top the group and secure an 'easier' run in the knockouts is there, and surely Wales will want to maintain the momentum they have gathered.
And Bale will want to move further towards pinching the Welsh Pirlo moniker from team-mate Joe Allen.
What better place to be confirmed.