LONDON (AFP) - Tottenham Hotspur manager Andre Villas-Boas has insisted Gareth Bale is now even more likely to damage Inter Milan's European hopes than in his last celebrated encounter with the Italian giants.
Wales winger Bale, 23, made a name for himself worldwide in October 2010 when he scored a hat-trick at the San Siro and then tormenting Brazil right-back Maicon as Spurs won the reverse fixture 3-1 at White Hart Lane the next month.
But this season he has taken his game to a new level, scoring 20 goals already for Spurs and now manager Villas-Boas expects Bale to do more damage when they face Inter in the first leg of their last 16 Europa League tie at White Hart Lane on Thursday.
"I think Gareth has evolved as player," Villas-Boas told a news conference. "He is even more threatening now," the Portuguese added as he recalled the events of three years ago.
"I remember seeing the highlights of Inter-Tottenham, and how Tottenham came back into the game late on.
"Maicon was an outstanding right-back, one of the Brazilian right backs, so to see a young player like Gareth play like he did against him demonstrates his talent.
"Now, two years on, he plays in a different position. He's become a different player; a bigger player and a more complete player.
"He's the kind of player who can determine the outcome of a game, as we've seen in recent matches." Bale has been key to the unbeaten 12-match run that has seen Tottenham move above London rivals Chelsea into third place in the Premier League, with the star man scoring nine times in seven games.
"He is fine. Most of the players feel fine and fresh," Villas-Boas said.
"There is a lot of rest time between a Thursday and a Sunday (when Tottenham play Liverpool)." Bale has been linked with a move to Real Madrid and speculation in that context intensified when he was seen in the crowd watching the Spaniards' Champions League win over Manchester United at Old Trafford on Tuesday.
"I had no problem with it," Villas-Boas said.
"I was told about it in the afternoon. We spoke about the game (today).
It's a great game of football." Villas-Boas himself has links with Inter, having been their chief scout when now Real manager Jose Mourinho was in charge of the club's team affairs before leaving to become boss of Portuguese club Academica de Coimbra.
"It was a difficult moment of my professional life (to leave Inter)," Villas-Boas said. "At that time I was scouting for Jose. We had conversations because I wanted to be a little bit more involved with first-team training "Jose had always seen me doing the job I was doing.
"It was a difficult step to take, but it was probably the right one."