Cartilage Free Captain continues its series reviewing the players of Tottenham Hotspur and how they performed in the 2015-16 Premier League season. Today's subject: Algerian central midfielder Nabil Bentaleb.
Appearances 2015-16: 10 (5 PL, 4 FA Cup, 1 EL)
Appearances 2014-15: 35 (26 PL, 3 League Cup, 6 EL)
Goals & Assists: 0
Cards: 1 (Yellow)
What went right?
The seminal accomplishment of Nabil Bentaleb's 2015-16 season came on July 6th, 2015 when he signed a five-year contract extension with Tottenham Hotspur. Among the greatest anxieties of last summer was the real chance that one of the club's most promising young players would not re-sign. Reports stated that both Juventus and Liverpool were pursuing Bentaleb and that he was entirely unhappy with his wages. When it was announced that Bents signed a new deal in the ballpark of £35-40K per week, a collective sigh of relief could be heard across White Hart Lane.
For Nabil Bentaleb was the future. Sure it was Harry Kane's team by then, and that Christian Eriksen fellow was a fine player too, but Nabil Bentaleb was a tour de force in his own right. Maybe Tim Sherwood and Mauricio Pochettino hadn't figured out the optimal role for him yet, but with 55 appearances before the age of 21 — 41 of which came in the Premier League — Bentaleb was a platform in the center of midfield for Spurs to build from.
Until he wasn't. The season started off terribly for Bents when he gifted United, in a truly shocking fashion, their first goal of the season. That goal was enough to see Spurs lose 1-0 in their first match of the 2015-16 campaign. Injuries, fitness concerns, the bench, and then complete omissions from the match-day eighteen followed. If there was one positive from Nabil Bentaleb's 2015-16 campaign, it was that he wasn't sold in January.
What went wrong?
In early September Bentaleb sustained an ankle injury that was supposed to sideline him three to four weeks. It turned out to be ligament damage and he was kept out of the squad until late November. Within that time frame a lot happened to Tottenham Hotspur. The team, however encouraging their early performances were, was a side who could do nothing but collect draws in August and September. By the time Bentaleb's two month hiatus was up, Spurs were the hottest team in the Premier League.
At the center of this purple patch were Eric Dier, Dele Alli, and Mousa Dembélé who were dominant in midfield. Bentaleb is probably most suited for Moose's spot, but theoretically he could be deployed in any of these three positions. Yet by the time he returned from injury, he was already an afterthought in what was turning out to be one of the more exciting and refreshing seasons for the club in recent memory.
There were rumors of discontent from Bentaleb and even whispers of lethargy in training, yet the fact remained that by midseason Bents was sixth choice in midfield behind Alli, Dier, Dembélé, Carroll, and Mason. He injured himself in March and promptly ended a season to forget. With just five Premier League appearances, relegation from the match-day eighteen, and just over half the season knocked out with injury, there was a lot that went wrong in Nabil Bentaleb's 2015-16 campaign.
It is wild to think about how far Nabil Bentaleb has fallen in a year. While he was a step below guys like Hugo Lloris, Harry Kane, and Jan Vertonghen for first name on the team-sheet consideration, he was certainly in that second echelon of trusted players. This was a year where he would be unleashed in an attacking role and truly breakout. If you liked what you saw in Bents' first two years with the club, you were salivating over the prospect of him sitting in front of a proper defensive midfielder with more freedom to roam and get forward.
That notion though seems like a very distant thought right now. Victor Wanyama was brought in for cover for Eric Dier, but also to cameo in more attacking spots across midfield too. That is another beastly footballer who Bentaleb needs to contend with. Ryan Mason and Tom Carroll might leave this summer, but even if they do, Wanyama looks to eat up all that playing time that their departure would free-up.
On the bright side, the player isn't sold yet. Bentaleb is still just twenty-one years old and those bags of potential remain. If his attitude was truly poor last year, Pochettino probably would have ruthlessly cut ties with him already. For all of the conjecture surrounding the player's future, the club has given zero indication that they are planning to sell. The guy is still young. Tottenham's season and fixture list is long and crowded. We were incredibly lucky with our core staying healthy last term. It is too early to write off Nabil Bentaleb, if he isn't sold in the next eight weeks, he could still have a bright future with Tottenham Hotspur.
Rating: Two Chirpys