Spurs: Love Bentaleb, Hate Backstabber Tim Sherwood
This season has seen an abundance of talented youngsters make their mark on the Premier League. Adnan Januzaj, Ross Barkley, Raheem Sterling, Serge Gnabry, Luke Shaw have all contributed towards their sides position in the table. For the first half of the season Spurs, despite having a young side, had no young player who had broken through the ranks that was until Tim Sherwood displaced Andre Villas-Boas and abruptly introduced 19 year-old Nabil Bentaleb into the first team fold.
Setting my stall out on this one I’m not a fan of Sherwood’s – I don’t think he deserved the job, he’s a backstabber and he’s got a face only marginally less slappable than Jack Wilshere’s. With that said he deserves credit for a few things since getting the job. Reintroducing Emmanuel Adebayor back into the side has reaped immediate obvious rewards. Sherwood has also appeared to learn quickly that 4-4-2 is only appropriate some of the time and has made some brave calls in selection that have paid off. He also deserves credit for placing his faith in a young player in such an important position.
For those of you who haven’t seen Bentaleb play many times he’s a technically assured player with good passing, vision and positioning. He’s played most games as the deepest midfielder but has played this position with more similarity to Michael Carrick than a destructive holding midfielder such as Sandro or Lucas. He relies on his passing ability and interception rather than crunching tackles. He has had the most passes on the pitch in nearly all of his starts for Spurs. It’s really been a breath of fresh air to the Spurs midfield to have a player whose foremost skill is passing. Moussa Dembele, Paulinho, Etienne Capoue and Sandro are all good players but for none of them would their best asset would be described as their passing. Whilst clearly not in Luka Modric’s class for the first time since he left Bentaleb has offered some rhythm and intelligence to our midfield’s passing.
The last two games, versus Newcastle and Dnipro, have gone some way to show Bentaleb’s future in the long and short term. They were also arguably his best and worst game respectably. Whereas his previous matches had seen him deployed as the deepest lying of a midfield two, usually alongside Dembele, here he was pushed forward in a midfield three with Capoue sitting deeper.
Against Newcastle Bentaleb showed his attacking instincts off setting up Adebayor’s opener with a fantastic driving run and cross. He seemed more comfortable in this position and considering he had played there for the U21s suggests that this may be his long-term future position.
Against Dnipro he had arguably his poorest game – his passing was ineffective and he was bypassed repeatedly and appeared to be struggling in terms of fitness. In his short-term future he surely needs a break in the next couple of games. He has done admirably to become a first-term fixture at his age in such a short-time but he is still a young player and should be managed as such.
Whilst some of the criticism Sherwood has received before he got the job and some mistakes he made in his opening games was warranted I think he has to take an awful lot of credit for playing Bentaleb. He has not merely played because he is Sherwood’s favourite as has been levelled but because he’s been the most effective member of our midfielder in most games he’s played. I hope that he is managed correctly and is developed into what appears to be an outstanding young player.