So four games into the Premier League’s restart, and Newcastle are well and truly heading in the right direction.
The Magpies bounced back in style from their disappointing FA Cup exit to Manchester City, putting Bournemouth to the sword on Wednesday night.
Allan Saint-Maximin may have stolen the show with a scintillating performance that saw him get a hat-trick of assists, but in the middle of the park, Nabil Bentaleb helped run the show for Newcastle.
The Algerian arrived on loan from Bundesliga side Schalke back in the January transfer window, and after playing the full 90 minutes in three consecutive Premier League games, found himself on the bench for the Magpies’ last two Premier League games before football was postponed.
Wednesday evening saw Bentaleb make his first start for the Tyneside club since the restart, and he delivered the kind of performance that would have left Steve Bruce nodding his head in approval.
Lining up alongside Jonjo Shelvey in the engine room, the 25-year-old acted as the destroyer, breaking up attacks and then feeding balls into his more advanced teammates.
And it was an approach that brought rich rewards. As per Sofascore, he made a team-high five tackles (two more than Emil Krafth in second), whilst his two interceptions was joint-second amongst the rest of the Newcastle players.
Bentaleb was aggressive and in the faces of the Bournemouth midfield, hunting them down and putting himself into the 50/50 challenges – in total, he contested 17 total duels over the course of the 90 minutes, winning nine of them.
With Matty Longstaff’s future uncertain amid speculation linking him with a move away from the club, players like Bentaleb need to step up and do more. Reports back in January suggested that Newcastle have the option to make the deal permanent, but based on his performances for the club before Wednesday, it seemed unlikely they would have taken that up.
But the display against the Cherries offered some promise about how he could still make the grade at St James’ Park, and Bruce will be hoping it can help him kick-start his career.