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Nacer Chadli had a breakout season for Tottenham. Can he repeat it?

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He was supposed to be a rotation player. He turned out to be one of the most prolific scoring midfielders in the Premier League.

Jan Kruger/Getty Images

Cartilage Free Captain is reviewing each of Spurs' first team players and evaluating their season. The series continues today with Tottenham Hotspur winger Nacer Chadli.

Nacer Chadli

Goals: 13 (11 league)
Assists: 5 (5 league)
Minutes Played: 2940 (2406 league)


What Went Right?

Goals. You need goals to win football matches, it has been noted. The Belgian utility midfielder who scored one goals and assisted three in about 1500 minutes last year found his niche as a wide forward in Mauricio Pochettino's lopsided formation. Staying high up the pitch and looking to run in behind, the fan favorite and man-bun aficianado found a goal-scoring touch that matched the league's elite in production.

chadli g90

And these weren't lucky goals where a deflection wrongfooted the keeper or a ball just happened to fall to Chadli. He consistently took half-chances and turned them into goals. The one that stuck with me, although it came in a dispiriting loss and failed to meaningfully change the game, was one against Stoke City in the spring. Danny Rose overhit a cross into the box, Chadli ran up to it no more than a couple yards from the end line and outside the six-yard box, and he put a video game strike on it to beat Asmir Begovic near post from an impossible angle.

That was cool.

What Went Wrong?

As he found himself as a goal-scorer, Chadli's defensive play seemed to decline commensurately. He never got comfortable in the press, as for example his half-effort to challenge Daley Blind helped open Spurs up for a key goal against Manchester United. In a total system like Pochettino's, even one attacking midfielder failing to coordinate his pressing actions can throw a wrench in the system that can't easily be fixed. Perhaps with a midfield pairing that could consistently clean up messes, Chadli's defensive flaws could have been covered, but Tottenham never came close to fixing midfield. Instead he remained a defensive liability in a starting lineup that could not afford another one.

What Now?

This is a complicated question. There is no question whatsover that Chadli had an excellent season in 2014-2015, with his defensive liabilities merely meaning he wasn't a contender for team player of the year. You get goals and assists like you're David Silva and you can miss a couple pressing triggers.

But can he do it again? And if he can't, is Chadli the right man for a starting job with this club? This year Chadli scored 11 goals and assisted 5 more, but his shots and shot-assists projected a return of only about 6 goals and 4 assists. He was not "lucky" to score 11, as I said above, but such hot runs of finishing don't usually last.

In the 2013-2014 season two Tottenham Hotspur players had big years outperforming expected goals. Emmanuel Adebayor scored 10 and assisted 3 compared to 6 xG and 3 xA. Christian Eriksen scored 7 and assisted 8 compared to 6 and 5 expected. (Eriksen's 15 G+A and 11 xG+xA make a near-perfect match for Chadli.) This year both Adebayor and Eriksen underperformed expected goals by a couple tallies.

In general, while top players can and do outperform expected goals, Nacer Chadli's track record is meager and even guys with skills like Eriksen's regress to the mean. The big Belgian had a big year, but Tottenham probably should not look to him as a nailed-on starter for next year. With Spurs linked to Anthony Martial, likely at least in part to play the "JayRod role" in which Chadli thrived, it appears that Tottenham plan some competition for league minutes.

It is certainly possible that Chadli's defensive frailties could be improved or at least better covered with a competent midfield, and it is possible his finishing skills demonstrated this year can be partly maintained. But instead of betting heavily on what is merely possible, it seems likely that Spurs will ask him to prove that 2014-2015 was not a fluke. We can only hope he silences the doubters again.

Grade: 4 Dolphins

4-dolphins