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Undisciplined or Just Unfortunate: A Deep Dive on Newcastle Target Nabil Bentaleb

Newcastle are linked to potentially rescue another out of favor player. Can they be successful in doing so?

Manchester City v FC Schalke 04 - UEFA Champions League Round of 16: Second Leg
The Answer to our Midfield?
Photo by TF-Images/Getty Images

According to The Chronicle’s Lee Ryder, Schalke midfielder Nabil Bentaleb is in Newcastle having a medical for a loan move.

It is uncertain the terms of this loan move, but my suspicion is that this could be a loan to buy move for Newcastle as Schalke are likely ready to move on from the Algerian midfielder. Some unreliable sources on Twitter are claiming this is a loan to buy deal with a €10m, a fee that is significantly lower than the roughly €20m Schalke paid for him after their loan to buy deal for the player. I would imagine the fee to be closer to what Schalke paid for the midfielder, as they tend to rely on player sales to fund a lot of their purchases.

Last season after Schalke’s manager Domenico Tedesco was saced the relationship between Bentaleb and the club turned sour. Bentaleb was told to train with to the U23s after not showing up to support the first team while dealing with a groin injury. He was again asked to train with the U23s a few weeks later after what interim manager Huub Stevens claimed he was left with no option.

The club released a statement in which Stevens said this about Bentaleb

“I couldn’t do anything differently in this situation. I spoke to several people before taking this action. But it’s a team sport, things don’t revolve around one player,”

Again, this statement was released by the club, signifying a rocky relationship between the player and the club.

This rocky end to the end of last season as given him a somewhat unfair label of being a player with discipline issues. This is one situation in 6 years as a professional where he has had “disciplinary issues”.

Again, until that point in his career Bentaleb had no disciplinary issues.

Under new manager David Wagner, Bentaleb has not been able get minutes in the first team. Part of this can be attributed to an early injury this season in which Bentaleb tore his meniscus. Additionally, Wagner’s system has been favorable to different players in the midfield which has left some Schalke players like Bentaleb struggling for consistent minutes.

That being said, Bentaleb has fallen out favor at Schalke, and it is uncertain whether this is because of talent or preconceived notions about the player’s discipline. The talent seemed to be there in his first two season at Schalke when he was playing under a manager who was less strict off the field and was a more personable manager.

In a tactical profile of the manager popular footballing site Outside of the Boot had this to say about Tedesco’s off field personality.

His charisma, charm and focus have rubbed off on his players, fostering a team ethic that replicates that of their manager. He demands everything from his players in every training session, let alone every match, but he is open and considerate enough to open the floor to his players.

When Bentaleb thrived, it was underneath a “players manager” who had a wonderful relationship with his players and was not known for being strict towards his players. Steve Bruce mirrors this sentiment perfectly. As we all know, Steve Bruce’s impact at Newcastle thus far has been more about his relationship with the players than his on field product. The players seem to enjoy him as a manager, and he certainly brings a different vibe than the strict nature of Rafa Benitez.

Manchester City v FC Schalke 04 - UEFA Champions League - Round of 16 - Second Leg - Etihad Stadium
Tedesco at Schalke was a strict tactician who was able to have a great relationship with his players
Photo by Martin Rickett/PA Images via Getty Images

Players like Allan Saint-Maximin, who has according to Christian Atsu, has been late to meetings, trainings etc. or players like Jonjo Shelvey, who had a rocky relationship with Rafa, would have or have already struggled under less lenient manager like Benitez.

Both players are full of confidence under Steve Bruce, who truly values his relationships with the players over anything else. Bentaleb returning to an environment with a manager like Bruce could be the move he needed to get back on track

Bentaleb does not have an awful injury record as some people on Twitter have suggested. That being said, it is not like Bentaleb has never dealt with some concerning injuries either. Bentaleb in recent seasons has dealt with a torn Meniscus, and the freakish condition Pubitis. Early in his career as a youth player with Tottenham Bentaleb dealt with back to back ankle injuries followed by a knee surgery. Outside of those injuries, Bentaleb has dealt with your typical calf strains, and groin strains that every player experiences during the season. He has only missed more than 10 games in a season once in his career.

The key takeaway from his injury history is the multiple ankle and knee injuries. When ligaments are injured once, they are easier injure again. Outside of that, there is really nothing in his injury history that would suggest Bentaleb won’t be available for nearly every match during a stint at Newcastle.

FC Schalke 04 v Borussia Dortmund - Bundesliga
what a sick picture tbh
Photo by Alexander Scheuber/Bundesliga/Bundesliga Collection via Getty Images

Bentaleb, who is still just 25 years of age, is your typical box-to-box midfielder who’s biggest strength is ball retention. Bentaleb is excellent at receiving the ball and navigating tight spaces in order to spring himself free to set up a teammate. If you are an MLS fan or American soccer fan, Bentaleb’s play on the pitch is almost identical to Columbus Crew play Darlington Nagbe’s. There are many times where Bentaleb will emerge out of a crowded midfield with the ball and will leave viewers wondering how he was able to do so.

A perfect example of this is represented in the gif below from a match last season against Bayern, where Bentaleb receives the ball on a counterattack and is able to out dribble 3 defenders before finding Weston McKennie (playing as a second striker in this match) who finds Kutucu for the easy counterattacking goal.

Bentaleb finds McKennie, who sets up Kutucu for the goal
Fox Sports, Bitter and Blue.com

Bentaleb’s ability to retain the ball could be crucial for a Newcastle side who have struggled to retain the ball and start counterattacks after winning the ball in defense. At Newcastle Bentaleb could be a link between the midfield and forwards, to actually implement the explosive counterattacking offense we have been dreaming of.

It should be interesting to see if Steve Bruce does anything tactically to change the formation to suit Bentaleb. Newcastle have been able to operate with just 2 midfielders for the majority of the season and did not seem as if they needed another midfielder in the fold. However, with Isaac Hayden having to play a lot of minutes recently along the back line, you can argue some of the midfield depth we were praising the side for having has now been partially depleted. The good news for Bruce is that Bentaleb already has experience playing the same back 5 formations Bruce employs, and has played a variety of positions for Schalke due to the club facing an injury crisis last season that was nearly identical to the one Newcastle are facing now.

While at Schalke Bentaleb most played as a Central midfielder, with some appearances as a CAM and some as CDM sprinkled in due to tactics. For a stretch of the 2018/19 season Bentaleb even played as a second striker due to the team having no healthy strikers, and also found himself playing out wide on occasion as a Right Midfielder, although his experience as a wide man purely came from in match adjustments.

FC Schalke 04 v Bayer 04 Leverkusen - Bundesliga
Bentaleb also has an eye for goal, typically shooting from distance.
Photo by TF-Images/Getty Images

Bentaleb’s best position is operating as a pure central midfielder focused on maintaining possession for his team in order to help the attacking players thrive. He got his start at Tottenham for retaining the ball well and making smart, safe and simple passes to his midfield partners or forwards. Since then, Bentaleb’s confidence has grown as well as his ability, and he now has added Shelvey like long balls to his arsenal, the ability to finish from distance and has transformed himself into a set piece specialist.

Newcastle might be doing a good bit of business here as they are looking at a loan deal , hopefully with an option to buy, for a player who has fallen out of favor with the club not necessarily for his ability who could benefit from a fresh start. Newcastle hit the jack pot with doing this with Jetro Willems, and could strike gold again here.

Unlike Newcastle’s recent signings outside of Andy Carroll, Bentaleb also brings with him over 60 games of Premier League experience. His tenure during the Premier League is similar to that of the Longstaff brothers, as he too was an academy prospect who found his way into the first team at a very young age. The same expectations we place on the Longstaff brothers were placed on him, and like the Longstaff brothers he had games at Tottenham where he struggled but also games at Tottenham where his ability as a Premier League talent was displayed. If Bentaleb is able to come in and further help the development of the Longstaff brothers, than the loan deal is worth it for that reason alone. The great thing about this potential deal is that he can do that, and potentially also help drastically improve the Newcastle offense.

As with many of Newcastle’s recent transfer links and signings: Almiron, Saint-Maximin, Çalhanoğlu, Willems, and Lookman, it seems as if Newcastle have scouted directly from FIFA 18. Honestly, it’s worked out so far, so maybe they should just keep doing it.