Six months ago, football fans would have been forgiven for asking what a Bentaleb was. Almost unheard of before Tim Sherwood’s appointment, Tottenham Hotspur midfielder Nabil Bentaleb is now a permanent fixture in the side.
But in his breakthrough season at the club, should the nineteen year old really be the mainstay in a Premier League midfield, especially for a side harbouring European ambitions?
In Spurs’ latest drubbing against Liverpool at the weekend, Bentaleb was a passenger to events as Coutinho and Luis Suarez were able to dictate proceedings. Selected alongside Gylfi Sigurdsson, with the Icelandic star oddly occupying an unfamiliar deeper role, the youngster was unable to prevent the rampant Merseysiders from putting four past Hugo Lloris.
This isn’t to take anything anyway from Bentaleb’s overall performances this season. Statistics compiled on Who Scored prove that the youngster hasn’t been overawed by the demands of the Premier League. With a respectable average rating of 6.68 across all competitions, the midfielder has a pass success rate of 87.8%. In a defensive capacity, the Algerian has averaged 2.8 tackles and 1.8 interceptions per match.
Bentaleb was a regular in the side which compiled an impressive run of results immediately following Sherwood’s appointment. Having worked with the midfielder in the development squad, the Englishman has shown a lot of faith in the youngster by thrusting him into the limelight and has been rewarded with a string of steady and consistent performances.
Former Spurs favourite David Ginola has even suggested that Bentaleb has an outside chance of being selected for France’s World Cup squad, should the midfielder pledge his allegiance to the country. In comments attributed to the London Evening Standard, Ginola stated his view that France manager Didier Deschamps “already knows about Nabil and what he is capable of doing.”
But is it a case of too much, too soon for this Tottenham starlet?
The youngster cuts a very divisive figure in Spurs forums. With Sherwood’s persistent selection of the midfielder, any criticism of Bentaleb almost always manifests into complaints against the manager. By resolutely remaining steadfast by the youngster thus far, the Algerian has come to be symbolise the Englishman’s reign at White Hart Lane.
Bentaleb’s role and effectiveness in the side has been questioned by some on these discussion boards. These fans question whether he has the discipline to be relied upon as defensive midfielder or the creativity to unlock defenses in a more advanced role. Of these comments, many argue that Bentaleb should only be selected in a three man midfield as he presently lacks the capability to be relied upon in a two man partnership.
The fact that Spurs are blessed with so many more established central midfield options only furthers the discussion over Bentaleb’s place in the side. In a defensive capacity, new boy Etienne Capoue and Sandro are the more recognisable choices if Sherwood was looking for someone to sit and shield his back four. Statistics on Who Scored show that Mousa Dembele boasts a better average pass success rate at 91.7% and poses a greater attacking threat by completing more dribbles.
Although Paulinho has failed to justify his £17 million price tag just yet, the Brazilian has still chipped in with four goals and two assists. And for the attacking midfield role, Christian Eriksen and Sigurdsson represent the more creative options with the former being one of the few to impress since arriving in the summer.
With all of these options at Sherwood’s disposal, it is hard to justify Bentaleb’s selection ahead of these aforementioned colleagues on such a consistent basis.
Perhaps it is time for Sherwood to take a leaf out of Roberto Martinez’s book in the Everton manager’s management of Ross Barkley. When the England starlet’s form dipped, the Spaniard rested the youngster and made him work hard to earn his place back in the side. Barkley’s recent level of performances, marked by a stunning solo effort against Newcastle United, seems to have vindicated Martinez’s man-management of the player in his breakout season.
It is an approach that Sherwood should seriously consider.While minutes in the first team are valuable for all young players, perhaps it is time for Bentaleb to be rotated to aid his own development. After the defeat at Norwich, Spurs fans took to Twitter to question the midfielder’s involvement and suggested that participation in the Europa League were affecting the Algerian’s performances.
It is refreshing for a Premier League manager to place such faith in youth. But in the case of Bentaleb, it seems to be a case of too much too soon.