Tottenham’s recent history of coming close but ultimately missing out on the Champions League continued last season, with Mauricio Pochettino’s men finishing fifth in the Argentine’s first campaign as the club’s manager.
Looking back on a season that promised so much but ultimately petered out, one of the most encouraging aspects from the on-pitch action was a new central midfield partnership.
Spurs have lacked a duo in the boiler room to take on the Premier League’s elite, with a host of players signed with expectation only to leave the club.
Benjamin Stambouli, Etienne Capoue, Paulinho, Lewis Holtby and others have all been shown the door in recent times, but in Ryan Mason and Nabil Bentaleb it looked like the North Londoners finally had a winning formula.
[ffc-gal cat=”tottenham” no=”5″]
Mason’s drive forward from the centre of the park and energy at both ends of the pitch was complemented by Bentaleb’s aggression and positional discipline, in an encouraging sign for the White Hart Lane faithful.
Such was the duo’s perceived influence, Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho openly admitted to deploying enforcer Kurt Zouma in the centre of midfield in last season’s Capital One Cup final in an effort to nullify their influence.
Bentaleb in particular looked like a leader of men; a player that had come through the ranks and proven that he could be a top performer for Spurs for years to come. A new five-year contract was offered to and accepted by the Algeria international, who was widely expected to progress this season with more experience under his belt.
However, the defensive midfield star has struggled for fitness this term and has watched the majority of the 2015-16 Premier League action from the sidelines due to injury.
Of the games that the young midfielder has started, he has looked slightly off the pace and not as imposing a character as the one that impressed so much last term.
Wayward passing and giving the ball away in dangerous areas were things that Bentaleb was guilty of in 2014-15, and this has continued this term; it was the 20-year-old that was culpable of coughing up possession against Manchester United on the opening day of the season that led to the only goal of Spurs’ only defeat this term.
While Bentaleb has been out of action, a new driving force in the heart of Spurs’ team has taken the limelight in the form of Eric Dier.
The central defender has moved forward into midfield with aplomb and has been complemented by youngster Dele Alli in an exciting new boiler room combination this term.
With Mason still set to return also, Bentaleb’s role once fit now becomes a real point of contention, especially given Dier’s supreme performances to date this term.
With scope for only one holding midfielder and the former Sporting Lisbon man fulfilling this role well, it could be that Bentaleb faces time on the bench when he is fit and available to Pochettino.