Having made his return from injury in Thursday night’s 4-1 Europa League win over Monaco, the all-action midfielder is now looking forward to a pair of Premier League fixtures which will undoubtedly bring back memories of two of his most significant achievements at the club to date.
His first and, so far, only senior Spurs goal arrived in a Capital One Cup fifth round win over Newcastle United at White Hart Lane on December 17 last year, so it’s fitting that the Magpies are visiting us once more this Sunday with Premier League points at stake – almost a year to the day since Nabil’s strike.
Then on Saturday, December 19, we visit Southampton, just a few days short of the two-year anniversary of Nabil’s Spurs debut – which also came in an away game against the Saints!
Now that he’s back in action after more than four months out with ankle problems, we spoke to the 21-year-old about these two coincidental anniversaries, plus his difficult journey back to fitness and Thursday night’s fine victory as we rounded off our Europa League Group J campaign in style…
How does it feel to be back in action?
Nabil Bentaleb: It feels great. I was out for a long time and it’s never easy when you’re away from the football pitch for that length of time, but I’m glad that I’m back now.
How frustrating was it to be on the verge of a comeback last month, only to take another knock on international duty for Algeria?
Nabil: I had to get my head around it sometimes. I tried to come back three times and all three times I had to pull back from training but thankfully I worked really well with the medical department, I listened to their advice and now that’s paid off because I’m back on the pitch. I’m feeling 100 per cent now and I’m very glad about that.
How do you assess our performance against Monaco?
Nabil: It was a great win. We knew if we let them play they could produce some great football but we managed to block them and we played really well. It’s great to get a 4-1 win.
We were already 3-0 up when you came on for Eric Dier to mark your return on Thursday night. Did that represent an easier situation for you to come into, having been out for so long?
Nabil: For me, I don’t think about these things. After I got injured last season I came back straight away into the Premier League against Everton after coming on against Partizan so I was not thinking about that. I’m not that type of player. If you put me in a game I will always give 200 per cent and I won’t think about anything other than my performance. There are never any easy games – they are all tough.
How pleased were you to see Erik Lamela score his first hat-trick against Monaco?
Nabil: Very pleased! He’s been working hard on his finishing at the training ground and his hard work has paid off. I’m so glad for him because now we can see what his capabilities are. When he first arrived at the club he had a hard time but now we can see what a player he is and what he can bring to the team.
We host Newcastle United on Sunday, almost a year to the day since you scored your first goal for us against them at the Lane. That must bring back happy memories for you…
Nabil: Yes! It’s always good to score and all I want to do is perform well. First of all I have to do my job right and after that, if I can have a bonus of scoring goals I will take it. I would be happy to score again and hopefully that will come soon. We are on a positive run at the moment, though, and we need to keep going. Newcastle at the moment are confident, we saw what they are capable of when they beat Liverpool last week so it’s going to be tough, but we will fight 200 per cent against them.
After Newcastle we go to Southampton. You made your debut for us in the equivalent fixture almost two years ago to the day. Do you remember how you felt that day?
Nabil: Of course! How can you forget your first time? I was nervous before I went onto the pitch but once I got out there I felt confident. I don’t really count time, to be honest. Okay, it’s been two years already, time flies and maybe it feels like I’ve only been playing for a few months but I think I’ve come far since that day at Southampton. I’ve improved a lot since the first time I stepped out on the pitch but I still have lots of ways in which I can improve more.
With the Newcastle and Southampton games to come, plus the matches over the festive period, what are your thoughts on our upcoming challenges?
Nabil: This month is a really tough one and we’re going to have matches coming up really quickly, sometimes a game every two or three days, but we have the squad to get through this period and we know we can be strong enough to compete against the teams at the top of the table.