Today, in the midst of the usual promotional and informational photos and fun social videos, Tottenham Hotspur tweeted a photo of Nabil Bentaleb getting ready to play for Spurs' U21 side against Southampton.
Gentle readers, my mind went straight to the worst-case scenario. Why in the world is Nabil Bentaleb playing with the U21s today? Isn't he still one of the primary central midfield backups? Will he not be in the squad against City this weekend? Does this mean he's been banished like Adebayor and Townsend Oh God he's been Andros'd hasn't he *hyperventilates*
I needed someone to talk me off the ledge. I found Vince.
Should we panic about Nabil Bentaleb playing with Tottenham's U21 side today? Perhaps not, but it may not be a particularly good omen about Bentaleb's future with the club. Recent reports in the British media have brought to light that relations between Nabil and the club have been a bit rocky since last season's protracted contract negotiations, and Pochettino has not been particularly impressed with the attitude displayed by Bentaleb and his retinue.
Not only that, but we have seen examples of the U21 side being used as punishment before. Emmanuel Adebayor was banished from the U21s before eventually being released, and that was also the eventual landing place of Andros Townsend before his eventual transfer to Newcastle.
This is precisely why he should be playing in an U21 match. What better place to find match fitness in an authentic competitive situation? While he may have looked off the boil against Colchester, he was also part of a squad that went to Leicester City and controlled the Premier League leaders as only one other team has done this year.
It's easy to assume that a 21 year old footballer would be immune from rust, nerves, or a really bad game or two, but we know that's not the case. We're reading a lot into a situation that seems rather straightforward. Bentaleb needs minutes and fitness and isn't going to get them in the league at this point. He will, however, be needed in the week to come as there are three cup matches in 8 days. Why let the rust and fitness issues manifest further?
People will make a meal of this as he has gone from preferred to a squad player. That doesn't make him unimportant, simply less important. I take this run out as indication that the club cares about his form and fitness for a crucial set of fixtures, not as his banishment.
It's possible. While Pochettino does use the U21s as a place for players coming back from injury to get fitness and rehabilitation minutes, Bentaleb has, like you mentioned, already made his comeback, playing in two FA Cup matches and making the Premier League bench a number of time. And he hasn't played particularly well in either of his recent matches. This isn't progression, it's regression. At bare minimum this should tell us that Bentaleb probably isn't in Poche's plans for this weekend's trip to the Etihad, and could be an indication that Nabil has dropped even further down the midfield pecking order.
At the beginning of the season, Bentaleb was considered one of the first names on Tottenham's team sheet in midfield. His ankle injury knocked him aside, but since his return he hasn't really done very much to convince the coaching staff that he should regain his starting role with the club anytime soon.
It's too soon to make any definitive decisions on this either way. But if Pochettino has decided that Nabil is no longer one of "his guys" then we could be witnessing the beginning stages of Nabil Bentaleb's eventual departure from the club. I hope I'm wrong, and it would give me no pleasure. But we've seen this movie before.
Sure, but you're forgetting, or have overlooked another important bit of evidence: Josh Onomah is on the bench for today's U21 match. And we know that Joshy is most definitely one of Poche's guys. Don't panic, Menno, Nabil isn't in the doghouse. Yet.
What do you think about the future of Nabil Bentaleb? Have your say in the comments below.