With Ndombele, Lo Celso, and Dele Alli almost guaranteed to not set foot on the pitch again for Spurs this season, Tottenham are in dire need of midfield reinforcements. Strong links to Fiorentina’s Amrabat have come and gone. Now, Tottenham look about set to announce Rodrigo Bentancur from Juventus as their new signing.
What does he bring to the table, and how can he affect Tottenham’s chances for Top 4 this season?
Bentancur as a Player
Spurs have long needed a creative outlet but let’s make one thing clear - Bentancur is not that. Many might wonder why we’re so keen to replace “creative” players like Lo Celso, Ndombele and Dele with someone who is, for the most part, the antithesis of creativity (the Uruguayan has .08 key passes / 90, less than all Tottenham midfielders.)
The answer here is twofold. First, the January window is a window for opportunity. Whereas the summer is utilized for marquee signings that can make a large difference for the club, the January window is for identifying which players can be acquired to fill specific gaps - further, which of those players are under circumstances that make an acquisition possible (poor fit into a system, run of poor form, financial obligations of current club, contract situations, etc.). This is largely true but of course exceptions exist.
Second, barring an unforseeable drop in performance or player/manager relations Bentancur will certainly get a sizeable amount of minutes this season. The same cannot be said for the three mentioned above - as such their creative ability is moot.
But enough of the bigger picture, what of Bentancur as a player? He is as defensive minded as they come, playing in a similar style to Pierre Hojbjerg and Oliver Skipp. In fact, he’s further in the defensive spectrum than both those players, recording 9.47 defensive duels / 90, as opposed to Skipp who’s 7.68 is currently the highest amongst Tottenham midfielders.
Bentancur also wins roughly the same amount of tackles as Hojbjerg (~62%) which is slightly above the league average. (Sidenote - Romero, having played only 7 games, is current the league leader in % of successful defensive duels at 82.86%. His return will be imperative for Tottenham’s end of season push.)
Watching Bentancur play, you can see him fulfilling the role of a screen - again similar to Hojbjerg - in front of his defenders.
Tottenham fans have seen the likes of Skipp and Hojbjerg commit tackles like the one above countless times. Given Tottenham’s fragility in the backline, this is an absolutely crucial responsibility. Conte places a premium on defensive stability being the platform for attacks, and this explains why he typically starts Hojbjerg and Skipp in the same XI so consistently.
Bentancur has a great understanding of when to support his team as well, especially when they are in a difficult situation as Cuadrado below.
Watching him play one of the most obvious things you notice is his sense of sheer diligence in his role. When Juventus are caught on a counterattack, he is consistently relied upon in order to make up ground and put in a tackle.
Given Conte’s reported emphasis on players following instructions, it’s clear from the clips above why he would be interested in a player like Bentancur. Overall, he’s a solid defensive player that will provide much needed depth for responsibilities whose execution is deeply intertwined with Tottenham’s Top 4 hopes. He does have his limitations, however, as he is not the best at progressing the ball and commits fouls fairly often.
What this means for Tottenham
In seasons past, players like Hojbjerg and Son have been unable to perform at their absolute best because they are demanded to play the vast majority of Tottenham’s games. In the midfield this is certainly a problem - exacerbated by a potential injury to one of Skipp or Hojbjerg. Bentancur represents some much needed depth in a position that can scarcely tolerate a drop in quality of player.
Further, he may even have a role to play with two of Hojbjerg, Skipp, and Winks on the pitch. Conte seems to like the 4-3-3, and a midfield three of Bentancur, Skipp, and Hojbjerg/Winks could be a much more well rounded midfield than we’ve seen so far this season.
If Bentancur can take at least some defensive responsibility off of Skipp, the young Englishman might be given the license to make progressive runs more often. Similarly, Winks and Hojbjerg might be able to be found in space after Bentancur wins the ball, empowering the better passing players to create more dangerous passes.
Bentancur might be far from a marquee signing, but he has the potential to further refine Conte’s system.
In the upcoming days I’ll be releasing a similar analysis on Kulusevski.