Saturday, October 24, 2020

Nabil Bentaleb – Where does he fit and what does it mean for the team?

As reported by Sky Sports, it seems as though Nabil Bentaleb is to become the first signing of the January window for Steve Bruce and Newcastle United. The former Spurs midfielder has fallen out of favour at Schalke this season, and will join the Magpies on loan with a reported £8.5million option to buy.

On paper, the central midfield position is perhaps one of the strongest positions in the Newcastle team depth wise. With Jonjo Shelvey, Isaac Hayden and the Longstaff brothers to call on, Bruce isn’t without talent in that area.

Bentaleb – What will he bring?

Bentaleb is a 25-year-old central midfielder with bags of talent but a history of disciplinary problems. So far this season he is yet to play a single game for Schalke’s senior team and racking up just two appearances for the Under 23’s in Regionalliga West.

This is due to the fact he was dropped from the senior side at the back end of last as a punishment for “disciplinary issues”. It’s reported that the reason behind the punishment was because the midfielder didn’t follow team orders – allegedly skipping his language lessons.

Away from those off-field issues, albeit minor issues, what you get on the field with Nabil Bentaleb is a very committed and very capable footballer. He describes himself as a classic “box-to-box” midfielder and from what I’ve seen, I’d struggle to disagree.

On the ball, he’s a powerful runner, he has some silky skills and is not only capable of beating a man, but seems to actively enjoy taking on defenders. He has an incredible passing range, with the ability to play long balls over the top, or spot a run not many others would and slice a defence open with a through ball.

He has a wand of left-foot that, as I just mentioned, is capable of splitting a defence in half but is just as capable of ripping a gaping hole in the net from 30 yards out.

In a lot of ways, Bentaleb mirrors the ability of current Newcastle playmaker Jonjo Shelvey – while simultaneously offering a piece of the defensive ability you’d get from Isaac Hayden. He’s a very committed tackler and with uses his powerful frame to ease opposition players off the ball in a way most midfielders would struggle to do.

Last season, Bentaleb averaged 36 passes per game with a success rate of 79.3%. By contrast, this season, Shelvey has averaged 33 passes per game with a success rate of 74.2% – meaning United may have a new passing king when Bentaleb arrives.

On the other side of the ball, Bentaleb averaged 1.3 tackles, 1.4 interceptions and 0.7 clearances per game last term. This year, Isaac Hayden has averaged 2.4 tackles, 1.4 interceptions and 1.5 clearances per game. As a result, if/when Bentaleb comes into the side, I think he’s more of a natural replacement for Shelvey than he is Hayden.

Shelvey averages less tackles, less interceptions, less clearances and an offers an all around poorer defensive ability than Bentaleb does. At the same time, the thing we often laud about Shelvey is his superior passing ability, but the Algerian even has better stats in that regard than the Englishman – albeit in a different league and different system.

Once he’s given the time to settle in and find his match fitness, I’d like to see a midfield partnership of Bentaleb and Hayden going forward. It’d be interesting to see if he can bring the energy, power and sheer talent he brought to the Schalke side into the Newcastle team.

Injuries

Of late, Newcastle’s injury woes have been very well documented – and they don’t seem likely to ease anytime soon as loanee wing-back Jetro Willems and full-back Paul Dummett are both set to miss the rest of the season.

Given that, as well as the injuries to right sided defenders DeAndre Yedlin and Javier Manquillo, it seems the priority should most definitely be cover in the wing-back positions. According to Sky Italia, it seems United could be set to complete a deal for Inter Milan right wing-back/winger Valentino Lazaro – who would definitely fill a need.

Now that Willems and Dummett are done for the year, Bruce is left with just Matt Ritchie to play that wing-back role on the left side – so you’d think the priority will shift there once the Lazaro and Bentaleb deals are done.

The Longstaff Bros

While the older of the two brothers Sean is often the more talked about, it’s actually been Matty who has captured the love of the fans this season. Since his debut of dreams against Manchester United earlier in the season, wherein he grabbed a late winner in front of the Gallowgate, he’s been a revelation.

Despite that, he’s out of contract in the summer and it would be nothing short of a travesty if United can’t rectify that situation in the near future. While many might see the Bentaleb deal as a threat to Matty’s place in the squad, I actually see it as more of a threat to Sean’s place in the squad.

It’s no secret Sean has been in poor form of late. He’s been struggling to string passes together and having little effect on the matches he’s played a part in – as a result, his involvement in the team has becoming more and more sporadic. I see the Bentaleb deal only further diluting Sean’s first team opportunities – while Matty will continue to deputise for Hayden.

What do you think, will Bentaleb prove to be a good signing for Newcastle? Let us know in the comments below.

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