The continuing presence of Nabil Bentaleb in the Tottenham midfield has attracted differing views from supporters over the past weeks as manager Tim Sherwood selects him ahead of more experienced international players. Tottenham managers have been criticised over past seasons for not giving youth a chance in the first team. Now, when Tim Sherwood has opted to give a young player a regular starting place in the team, his judgement is called into question.
At the centre of this debate is the young Algerian-born, French Under-19 international, Nabil Bentaleb. He was selected among the substitutes for Sherwood’s first Premier League game in charge at Southampton. His only previous first team experience had been in the Capital One Cup tie against Hull City when he was an unused substitute.
Early in the second half at the St.Mary’s Stadium, when Mousa Dembele went off injured, Sherwood opted to give Bentaleb his first team debut rather than send on the more experienced Etienne Capoue, a French international midfield player. Bentaleb made a good impression as Spurs went on the win the game and after two further appearances from the bench, including just under half an hour in the win at Old Trafford, he started his first game in the FA Cup against Arsenal.In a poor Tottenham display, much of the game at the Emirates seemed to pass him by but Bentaleb has retained his place in the team for every subsequent game with 6 full appearances to his name. When he was initially introduced into the team Sherwood had a shortage of midfield players at his disposal with Paulinho, Sandro, Lewis Holtby and Gylfi Sigurdsson out with injury but with players now available Bentaleb has retained his place in the team.
Bentaleb has shown a willingness to work in midfield, he is confident in possession, takes up a position to receive a pass and is prepared to shoot when the opportunity offers itself. He was unfortunate not to score against Crystal Palace in his full home debut when his shot struck the inside of the post and went across the goal without going into the net. For that display against Palace, Bentaleb was voted the Man of the Match by HotspurHQ readers. The young midfielder also came close to scoring a late winner at Hull, his shot going just past the post.
In yesterday’s article on fans’ reaction to the win over Everton I highlighted the contrasting views on Bentaleb. Here are two further comments tweeted by Tottenham supporters on the young player.
Don't get me wrong, Nabil Bentaleb has the potential to be special – not just yet though. Picking him over Sandro is insane. #THFC
— Spurs In The Blood™ (@SpursInTheBlood) February 10, 2014
Thought Bentaleb had a good game today. He's getting better each match.
— Robbie Keano (@I_AM_TOTTENHAM) February 9, 2014
Like all young players when they come into the team, there are good points and there are situations where they show their inexperience. Two examples against Everton stood out for me.
- Inexperience: Early in the game when Everton were dominant, Leon Osman was unmarked on the edge of the box to receive the pass and shoot for goal with Bentaleb a bystander instead of closing him down in such a dangerous position. It was only an outstanding save from Hugo Lloris which kept the game scoreless.
- Leading by Example: Later in the half, however, Bentaleb showed a desire and enthusiasm which was absent from the game of rest of his more experienced team mates. With Spurs still looking disinterested and lacking any motivation, the young player crashed into a challenge to win the ball inside his own half and carried it forward to deliver a forward pass. Unfortunately it didn’t find a Spurs player but he showed desire and passion as he urged greater effort from everyone in the team. No one else seemed inclined to do that during the first half. It was the 19-year-old who was trying to lift the team while others were content to go through the motions with Everton controlling the game.
Fans question why Bentaleb is starting ahead of experienced internationals. Sandro still hasn’t recovered from his injury which has kept him out since the beginning of December. Paulinho has returned to the team in the last two matches but his performances have had little influence in the games, apart from scoring against Hull. Capoue has played so little football since joining Spurs that he doesn’t look match fit.
While Tim Sherwood continues to select Bentaleb, he needs to ensure that the young player isn’t over-exposed to first team football and burn himself out. Young players, while they want to play every game, need to be treated sensibly. Even the great Bill Nicholson realised that Steve Perryman had to be rested during his debut season in the first team back in the 1969-70 season. It was the one and only time Perryman was left out of the team.
Bentaleb has impressed over a short period and hasn’t been found wanting. With the return of Mousa Dembele for the Everton game I had expected the young player to be among the substitutes but Sherwood continued to show confidence in him to deliver by including him in a changed formation.
With the midfield players currently available to Tim Sherwood, would you select Nabil Bentaleb in the midfield for the game at Newcastle?
Nabil Bentaleb has many admirers with David Ginola suggesting that the young player could make the French World Cup squad if he maintains his form and pledges his allegiance to France. The former Tottenham player’s comments were reported in the Daily Mail.
I have watched him many times and he is a young talent. He will be even better in two or three years’ time. He has lots of progress in front of him. He is going to be a tremendous player.