Among the biggest concerns coming into Tottenham Hotspur's 2015-16 season was the state of their central midfield. The beating heart of any squad, Spurs 2014-15 version was in dire (pun intended) need of resuscitation for about the entire season. Yet as August approached, there didn't seem to be any significant changes to the team. Big questions surrounded the depth and quality of Spurs defensive midfield, while the sheer quantity of players vying for the other half of the double pivot seemed confounding and murky.
Further, it looked like the central player in the attacking band would be Christian Eriksen. Mousa Dembélé was deputizing nicely on the right flank, yet with Son, Chadli, Lamela, Townsend, Pritchard, and maybe even Saido Berahino waiting in the wings, Dembélé's role on the right looked tenuous at best.
Spurs had 5 players then -- Mason, Bentaleb, Dembélé, Alli, and Carroll -- vying for the attacking spot in central midfield. Six months later, everything is considerably more clear. Eric Dier has cemented his place as the team's defensive midfielder, the sensational Dele Alli owns the pitch behind Harry Kane, and Mousa Dembélé is having an insanely good season in the center of the park. The consistency of these three players has been remarkable, but their play has iced out, to varying degrees, three experienced young players; Ryan Mason, Nabil Bentaleb, and Tom Carroll.
With 9 games left in the Premier League calendar, it is clear who Poche has chosen. But what about these three players who have been continually left out? All of them are considered talented, unfinished products, yet none of them can afford another season as inactive as this if they are to continue their development. It is for this reason that a summer transfer from White Hart Lane for isn't out of the realm of possibility for any of these players. Who should stay and who should go? We'll explore below.
Reasons to Stay: CFC writer Jake Meador recently wrote an piece highlighting Mason's potential importance in this year's stretch run. Of any of these three players, Mason seems to be the most favored by Pochettino. When he's healthy, Poche usually plays him. He was a first eleven option in the very beginning of the season, before his injury against Sunderland, and is currently the primary back-up for both Mousa Dembélé and Dele Alli. Mason does have crazy energy and does make those pummeling runs from the center of midfield that can open up a defense. While he hasn't been overly tidy in front of net, Mason has a few goals to his name and his performance against Fiorentina exemplifies the impact he can have on a match.
Reasons to Go: The whipping boy for Tottenham's failures last campaign, Mason continues to be a mixed bag. His performance against Arsenal on Saturday was frustrating at best and it seems that he draws the ire of naysayers more than the plaudits of supporters.
Yet for all his frenetic energy one wishes that he'd be more convincing in pressing, tracking, and breaking up play. Mason's positioning leaves a lot to be desired too and so does his touch. It is no coincidence that his greatest qualities are the ones that don't involve having the ball at his feet. He tends to give the ball away too cheaply and rarely connects on a killer through ball. At 24 going on 25, there is a stark possibility that this is simply who he is. If so, what is his future with the team?
Reasons to Stay: There was genuine concern that Nabil Bentaleb might move on last summer. Liverpool were sniffing around and his contract negotiations with the team were stalled. The thought of losing him last June was unfathomable and downright scary. Yes he was part of the disastrous midfield pairing with Ryan Mason, but at the time it was almost unanimous that Tottenham's woes weren't on him. In fact, it was quite the opposite. Harry Kane grabbed the headlines, but Nabil Bentaleb was viewed as someone who was nearly as important to the future of the club. The idea with Bentaleb was that he was simply played out of position. He was definitely not a defensive midfielder, but a true box to box one, maybe even a #10 if he flourished in a more forward position. Tall, strong, and technical; if the burden of shielding the back four was removed, Nabil would shine.
Everything that I just wrote were projections, yet these projections remain the same today. The reason to keep Nabil Bentaleb on Tottenham Hotspur is because he was so damn promising for a season and a half. At just 21 years old, its hard to part with a guy, whether he is playing or not, who was so integral to a club at such a young age.
Reasons to Go: The potential of Nabil Bentaleb is real, but it feels like we are a long time removed from viewing him as the future of Spurs midfield. His season has been ravaged by injury, sure, yet everything else about him this season seems somewhat ominous. Remember when Spurs couldn't score in August and September and tied everyone? Well, Bents was a major feature of those midfields. Heck, he gifted Manchester United the first goal of this season almost single-handedly.
What is more troubling than his lackluster play though is how Poche has used him. Ryan Mason has been injured a ton too, yet when Mason regains his health he has been utilized immediately. Bentaleb had a long layoff in the fall, but he's been healthy for awhile now. Why hasn't Poche played him? Why have Tom Carroll and Ryan Mason consistently been chosen before him? Its not the injuries or his play that are most unsettling, it is how little game time Pochettino has entrusted to him.
Reasons to Stay: Tom Carroll has played a decent amount in a title-contending Tottenham Hotspur side. This, in of itself, is a great thing for our beloved Tawmmy. His performances too have been mostly solid. In a strong Spurs side, Carroll is maybe its most technical player. He has a penchant to pick out a forward pass and is intelligent in his play. Trustworthy with the ball at his feet, Carroll can recycle play quickly and efficiently. In a few instances off the bench this season, the twenty-three year old's influence changed the game. As the primary back-up to Christian Eriksen, Carroll is having a fine campaign.
Reasons to Go: When given the chance to start in the Premier League this season, Tom Carroll hasn't played particularly well. By no means has his play been poor, but there has been little that screams first team future star. His best performances have come off the bench, but I think the most disconcerting part about his game is that his skills are best suited to the double pivot, but his physique is clearly not. When comparing him to Dele Alli, Mousa Dembélé, or Nabil Bentaleb, he simply doesn't have the steel needed to compete. And while he can pick out a pass and move play along, Carroll doesn't possess either the flair or the direct, dangerous attack to shine in a #10 role. In short, he looks like a squad player, nothing more. The question is whether he's OK with being that player for Spurs for the foreseeable future.
Which of these players is primed to leave this summer? Who is likely to stay? Sound off in the comments below.