The match against Bournemouth was easily the best and most complete performance we have seen from a Newcastle United team in quite some time. Allan Saint-Maximin quite rightly takes the plaudits for his three assists. I wrote recently that this is quickly becoming his team and he starred again on the South Coast.
Due to the number of changes, fringe players were afforded a chance to prove their worth. Sean Longstaff and Valentino Lazaro both got on the scoresheet, but it will be the performance of Nabil Bentaleb that has given Steve Bruce food for thought. It is believed that there is an option to buy the midfielder for £8.5m. If he maintains this level of performance, that will become more and more appealing.
It has been a tricky start for Bentaleb on Tyneside, as he arrived severely lacking match fitness. Due to this, he was in and out of the team. His time on the pitch can be best described as patchy, with Jonjo Shelvey and Isaac Hayden performing better in central midfield.
However, he showed his talent on Wednesday, with an excellent show of tenacity in the middle of the park.
Since the restart, I have wrote that he could cover and compete with Hayden in midfield, due to ball-winning ability. Although he lacks the mobility of the Englishman, he has similar battling qualities and he is arguably better on the ball.
During the match, Bentaleb completed five of his nine tackles and made a further two interceptions. His work rate and ball winning qualities gave a platform for the rest of the team to thrive. It was also noticeable that Shelvey was getting into more advanced positions than he usually does. This is likely an effect of the work being done by his midfield partner.
His pass success rate of 89% displayed his intelligence in possession. In previous appearances, he has been accused of lacking concentration when he has the ball, with stray passes being criticised. There was no sign of this on Wednesday, which could be a sign that he is beginning to build match sharpness for the first time since his loan move was confirmed.
In his role, the basic expectation is for Bentaleb to maintain possession. There is more to his game on the ball than that though, as he showed against Bournemouth. He made two key passes and completed two dribbles. This underlines how effective he can be during transition. His confidence to take risks can cause problems, but when he is on form, it can be a huge positive for the team.
Despite playing a more advanced role, Shelvey only managed the same number of key passes than his midfield partner. If Bruce can find a way to get both performing on a regular basis, there will be more creativity in the centre of the pitch.
One performance doesn’t make a Newcastle career and we need to see more from the on-loan Schalke midfielder. That said, he does look the most likely player to make his move to Tyneside permanent, due to the low fee involved.
There is more work to be done before he secures a regular starting place, but this was an excellent performance and I hope to see more starts for him in the coming weeks.