Newcastle United have once again raided the Bundesliga to bolster their ranks ahead of what could be a battle for survival over the next couple of months.
The Magpies shattered their transfer record in the summer to add Hoffenheim’s Joelinton to their squad while Jetro Willems joined on loan from Eintracht Frankfurt. Steve Bruce has made it a hat-trick of signings from Germany with the capture of Nabil Bentaleb.
The 25-year-old has moved to St James' Park on loan with an option to buy at the end of the season. No stranger to the English top-flight, Bentaleb was a Tottenham Hotspur player prior to the move to Germany. The Algeria international was a key part of the Spurs side during the 2014/15 campaign, appearing in 26 Premier League matches.
However, Mauricio Pochettino didn't fancy the former Lille youngster and phased him out. Heading into the final week of the 2016 summer transfer window, Bentaleb was loaned to Schalke.
It was in Gelsenkirchen that he really exploded. He scored seven in the 44 appearances he made on loan. What he brought to the team was much more than goals. He formed a good relationship in the middle third with Leon Goretzka.
The following campaign, Schalke stunned the masses with a second-place finish under new manager Domenico Tedesco. Bentaleb appeared in more than half their Bundesliga matches and only three players scored more goals than the former Spurs man. It was an impressive showing in what was a stacked Schalke side at the time.
He was vying for a place in the starting XI against Goretzka, Max Meyer, Benjamin Stambouli, Weston McKennie, Daniel Caligiuri.
Injuries and disciplinary issues have meant Bentaleb hasn't appeared for Schalke for close to a year. But a change of scenery could be what gets his career back on track again.
The player is excited to be back in England: “I'm very happy to come back to the Premier League,” the 25-year-old told the Newcastle website.
“The project really interested me. I wanted absolutely to come back to the Premier League. The coach had some trust in me and the club also – I saw that straight away – and I think it's the perfect move for me.”
Manager Steve Bruce seems content with the club's first signing of the window, too.
“The fact that he's played in the Premier League before helps, because we know that he can play and knows what the demands of the Premier League are,” said the Magpies boss.
“He's gone from the Premier League to Schalke and played in the Champions League as well, so we're delighted to get him. It's a great signing.”
Newcastle find themselves seven points clear of the relegation zone and beat Chelsea 1-0 at the weekend. It was only the second time in their last seven matches they've managed to pick up maximum points. The clean sheet was also their first in close to a month.
Bruce's game plan hinges on being defensively resilient. The fact they've struggled to shut the opposition out has hurt them. That may be something Bentaleb can help with.
To get a fair sample size, we had to look at his stats over the 2017/18 and 2018/19 campaigns. Over that time period, the 25-year-old averaged 7.49 ball recoveries. For context, Fabinho, largely considered to be the best destroyer in the Premier League, averages 7.02. That isn't to say Bentaleb will be as good as the Brazilian, just he has it in him to be as busy.
Aerially, he chips in, too. He was winning 1.61 duels per 90 from the 2.5 he attempted. Bentaleb covers the ground well and shields his defence.
On the ball, he's just as handy. Of the 46 passes he attempts on average, he finds a team-mate with 81 per cent of them and, impressively, close to 30 per cent of all his passes are forward. The two latter stats highlight two things: Bentaleb is progressive in his play but he's also frugal with the ball. He'll take risks but he'll also retain possession.
He gives Bruce options in the middle third. He adds experience to a part of the pitch that the Magpies don't have beyond Jonjo Shelvey and Isaac Hayden. He could turn out to be a shrewd signing for Newcastle and another piece of intelligent business.