Cartilage Free Captain is reviewing each of Spurs' first team players and evaluating their season. The series continues today with Tottenham Hotspur midfielder Nabil Bentaleb.
Minutes played: 2,909
What went right?
Saying Nabil Bentaleb is the heartbeat of Tottenham Hotspur Football Club eight months ago would have earned looks of shock and confusion from most Spurs supporters. That statement should no longer raise eyebrows. Bentaleb's one touch passing and willingness to play the more defensive role in the pivot were crucial to Tottenham maintaining any semblance of midfield solidity. When he was injured or at the African Cup of Nations, Spurs never looked settled.
The manner of pass Bentaleb prefers while playing a purely holding role is quick and quite often lateral, but key to maintaining a tempo in attack. What has Spurs supporters everywhere salivating are the glimpses of the young French Algerian's skills when given license to get forward. He has the dynamism to cover ground with his long stride, and the eye for an incisive pass/final ball in the final third that isn't as apparent when sitting deeper on the pitch. Additionally, while scoring but a single goal at the senior level, he has displayed a powerful shot.
In a midfield of talented but flawed players, Bentaleb was the linchpin that kept any semblance of order together.
Oh, and he also plays a mean left back when deputized.
What went wrong?
He was part of a midfield that was pressed off the pitch quite often toward the end of the year. Although it is easy to theorize or speculate why this was not a problem caused solely by the Algerian international, the fact remains. Bentaleb needs to figure out a way to not get caught in possession in his own third while playing the deeper role, and certainly needs to eliminate the type of back passes that plagued him, and the midfield in general, down the stretch. There should be an air of confidence he will do this, however; he is only 20 years old.
Between playing nearly 3,000 senior minutes for Spurs and featuring heavily for Algeria at AFCON, Bentaleb looked gassed in a few matches down the stretch. This cannot really be considered his fault, but he will have to learn from his experiences and figure out a way to deal with what is sure to be a career full of 3,000 minute years patrolling the midfield.
Tottenham have two issues to tackle regarding Nabil Bentaleb: 1) settle his contract situation long term, and 2) make sure he is playing in a true double pivot partnership from here out.
The first issue has made its way into the press as contract extension negotiations have dragged on for months. Each side seems to have a reasonable case in the dispute so, hopefully, cooler heads prevail and a reasonable conclusion to this saga is reached.
The second issue is just as tricky. Nabil Bentaleb is an elite talent and currently being reigned in so Spurs can keep the small sense of midfield organization they have in tact. Whether his partner is Ryan Mason, Mousa Dembele, or a new purchase, that right sided midfielder will need to be as tactically aware and defensively astute as Bentaleb is when our young academy product takes his chance to go forward. Until then, a valuable part of his game will only be seen in fleeting moments, leaving us wanting more.
Grade: 4 Chirpys