Player Profile: Nabil Bentaleb.

Thomas Millman
7 min readJan 26, 2020



The 21st of January 2020 saw Newcastle United make their first addition to the first team squad during the winter transfer window in the form of central midfield player Nabil Bentaleb. The Algerian international joined the Tyneside club on an initial 6-month loan deal, with Newcastle having the option to make the move permanent in the summer for an estimated fee of £8.5 million.

Bentaleb had found himself out of favour at Schalke during the first half of the season following disputes with the Schalke hierarchy and an injury issue, consequently failing to register an appearance for the German outfit this campaign having previously played a key part in the side over the last few seasons. The midfielder started his professional career in England with Tottenham Hotspur, making 57 appearances for the Premier League side and has now been brought back to England’s top division.

The sturdily built 6ft 2 Algerian is a big presence in the centre of the park and will certainly contribute to the physicality of the Newcastle midfield as well as being an exciting player with the ball at his feet when going forward. From a Newcastle perspective it is a low risk addition due to it only being a 6-month loan, but it is also an opportunity to sign a player who has both Premier League and Champions League experience and who remains relatively young at 25.


Bentaleb is a big physical presence in the middle of midfield and has a big frame which he makes good use of, both in attack and defence. When attacking he is able to shield the ball well whilst dribbling and he is very difficult to get off the ball. In defence he is able to comfortably challenge in aerial battles due to his height and win shoulder to shoulder duels. Pace wise he is not the fastest, however, once he starts running, he is very powerful and can generate some speed. Overall, Bentaleb could be described as a powerhouse who can more than hold his own in midfield battles.


With the ball at his feet, Bentaleb is capable of taking the ball past players by using his strength as well as skill, of which he possesses a good amount for a man of big stature. The Algerian can be a very tidy player when he chooses to, making crisp passes and retaining possession. He has a very impressive left foot which he always favours use of, with his right being decent yet significantly weaker. On occasion he could be found guilty of overplaying in some dangerous areas of the pitch but he is a risk taker who wishes to see his team progress up the pitch. His passing range is wide and varied which allows him to have more options available to him when receiving the ball. He often makes first time passes to invite the full backs forward and tries to make sure the play does not remain too static.

He is far from a typical midfield hardman and is not afraid to demonstrate that he is a cultured footballer, for example, prior to the issues that led to his exclusion, he was Schalke’s penalty taker and possesses the ability to step up and finish. The midfielder can also take other set pieces if necessary, which always adds value and depth to a squad. In open play his shooting can vary with the former Spurs man not afraid to have a shot from distance. Defensively, Bentaleb is certainly hard to get past but he may need to improve on his awareness, especially when adapting his style of play to a team that has very little possession and so must do a lot of defensive work.

Bentaleb in action for his new club (Newcastle United)


Tactically, Bentaleb’s positioning is to a good standard and he is able to take up good defensive and attacking positions during a match. Within midfield he is fairly versatile and can play as an advanced midfielder supporting the striker or as a more defensively minded player. For Schalke he was used as both, with several examples of him either playing in a more attacking role or dropping team to receive the ball from the defence. His favoured position is that of a 6, and this is linked to his exclusion as he apparently was unhappy with being regularly played out of position.

The Algerian can be very important to the team with his ability to beat his man and drive the team up with pitch from the heart of midfield. Furthermore, he often has the awareness to play first time passes and allow the play to keep moving quickly when necessary. Defensively, at times he can overcommit or make a rash challenge, and he would do well to improve his awareness of opposition players and make more of a conscious effort to regularly check his shoulders. Bentaleb is a useful player to have at any managers disposal and with a couple of minor improvements to certain aspects of his awareness he has the potential to become a very impressive all-round player.


Issues have previously been raised surrounding Bentaleb’s attitude and this could be linked to why he has been unable to get any game time at the German outfit this season. However, it is very difficult to judge a player’s off field attitude and dynamics from an outside perspective, for example in the case of Saint-Maximin many questioned whether his attitude was right when he signed for Newcastle and he has gone on to provide a breath of fresh air to the club with his enthusiasm and flair. So we must be wary not to judge a book by its cover so to speak and allow Bentaleb to have a clean slate at his new club without any preconceived ideas surrounding his mentality.

On the pitch, Bentaleb works hard and battles well for his team, however, his concentration can waver at times when defending and he could be occasionally guilty of ball watching or finding himself too static when trying to challenge for the ball. Overall, as long as he works hard and battles for the team, those are the most important psychological qualities for a midfield player and the concentration can come with time and perhaps a change of surroundings and personnel as he joins Newcastle.


If we examine his statistics radar during his time with Schalke 04, Bentaleb comes across as an all-round solid midfield player with no clear and obvious weakness in his game. His passing stats are solid with over 80% accuracy, whilst his dribbling is also fairly impressive, rarely being dispossessed. Defensively, he makes a good number of interceptions (2) per 90, whilst also making over 2 successful tackles per 90 and opposition players rarely manage to get past him.

Nabil Bentaleb radar from his time at Schalke 04 (all per 90mins)

How he could fit in at NUFC:

Going into the transfer window, if you had asked the majority of people that follow Newcastle what the squad needed, a central midfielder would probably not have been that high on the list, with Isaac Hayden (24), Jonjo Shelvey (27), Sean Longstaff (22) and Matty Longstaff (19) all having featured fairly heavily for Newcastle this season and with Ki Sung-Yueng (31) and Henri Saivet (29) not getting a look in. However, Steve Bruce and the Newcastle United hierarchy evidently felt that it was a move that would improve the quality of the squad, and this makes sense as it seems a fairly low-risk loan for a player about to enter his prime who already has Premier League and Champions League experience.

In the radars below you can see a comparison between Bentaleb’s time at Schalke and an average of Newcastle’s four main central midfielders this season. This is an attempt to show what Bentaleb can add to the midfield during the second half of the campaign. A couple of different areas that become apparent are passing accuracy, where Bentaleb comes out on top, perhaps demonstrating the level of composure he can bring to the side, and the number of successful dribbles, where Bentaleb has almost double that of the Newcastle midfield. This improvement in dribbling could be a real asset to Newcastle if used correctly as it can relieve pressure off of a team that does a lot of defending whilst also setting up attacks. Newcastle fans will also take to him very well if he can provide a positive injection into the midfield and get the crowd on the edge of their seat.

Nabil Bentaleb’s radar (left) in comparison to an average radar of Newcastle’s central midfielders this season (right).

It is hard to imagine Bruce making any drastic changes to the system in order to incorporate Bentaleb, it would seem more likely that he will step in to one of the two deeper central midfield positions in Newcastle’s 5–4–1 / 5–2–1–2 formations. Bentaleb does not offer the same level of defensive protection and solidity as that of Hayden so it is difficult to imagine him in that role, however, he would be capable of playing alongside him. Bentaleb can offer a different dynamic to the Newcastle midfield, he adds powerful dribbling from deep to Newcastle’s attack, something different from the passing of Shelvey or the combativeness and youth of the Longstaffs. Without a doubt, the Algerian certainly adds quality in areas that the Newcastle midfield was lacking it and it will be interesting to see how Bruce intends to use him for the remainder of the season.

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