Rodrigo Bentancur’s return to the starting lineup has been well appreciated at a time when Ange Postecoglou and Tottenham are struggling to fill the shoes of several important players. Giving everyone a huge lift in Spurs’ final game of 2023 as he was named in the starting XI against Bournemouth way ahead of schedule after previously looking set to be out of action until the middle of February, the Uruguayan demonstrated why he is such an instrumental figure for the Lilywhites in Sunday’s 2-2 draw with Manchester United.
Bentancur was a bit rusty in his previous two games, which makes sense considering how little football he played in 2023 because of two different ailments. However, against Old Trafford, he looked much sharper and significantly influenced the game’s outcome. Spurs took the game to their opponents despite missing a number of players, with the 26-year-old dominating in the middle of the park alongside Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg and Oliver Skipp. Cristian Romero followed in his footsteps by returning from injury early this season, so he did not wear the captain’s armband this time.
Even without players like Yves Bissouma, Dejan Kulusevski, Pape Matar Sarr, James Maddison, and Son Heung-min, Tottenham was still the superior team and, on a different day, could have won all three points at the Theatre of Dreams. Their performance made it clear that they are improving under Postecoglou and that, if their injured players return, they will only become better.
Similarly, Postecoglou stated in his news conference following the game that Bentancur is “nowhere near the fitness levels or the level he wants to be” for the midfield player. Postecoglou acknowledged that whenever he regains his prior level of play, he will be a “fantastic asset” and that he will only get better. He was excellent against Manchester United.
Throughout the entire ninety minutes, Bentancur exerted significant influence on both ends of the pitch. After Diogo Dalot made a crucial touch on the ball, he saw a header from a corner go wide early on. The Uruguayan then significantly assisted Spurs at the other end when Bruno Fernandes burst into the area and Micky van de Ven was caught in possession before making a crucial tackle.
His greatest contribution came 50 seconds into the second half, when he levelled the score for Spurs after Marcus Rashford’s strike five minutes earlier had put United ahead. Entering the box, Bentancur received a pass from rookie Timo Werner. He then took a touch around Jonny Evans and unleashed a powerful drive that beat Andre Onana and found the net.
Bentancur was an important midfield player who helped Tottenham cause United a lot of problems as he attempted to influence things moving forward for the Lilywhites. He completed five of his six long balls and made 11 passes into the final third. He was accurate with 49 of his 58 deliveries.
Bentancur gave a really strong effort, therefore it was not surprising that Postecoglou called him “outstanding” when he addressed the media following the game.
Bentancur responded, “Yeah outstanding,” when it was pointed out to him that his success following two separate injuries says a lot about his character. Yes, it does. He is another who, according to the original diagnosis, ought to be well beyond what we considered a recuperation period.
“Look, I want to help, I need to play, I need to help these guys,” he stated to me a few weeks ago. He could tell that things were difficult for us.
It speaks much about his character. He is a truly remarkable individual. I made him captain for the previous game in part to honour him as a person, and I felt he performed admirably today as well.
“When we needed to get on the ball and show some composure he was outstanding and again he’s nowhere near the fitness levels or the level he wants to be, but he will get there and when he does he’ll be a fantastic asset for us to have in the team.”
Bentancur, who left Juventus in mid-season and played a key role in the team’s Champions League run in 2021–2022, may play a key role once more in May as Spurs aim for a top–four finish in Postecoglou’s first season in N17. As he tries to make up for lost time, he will only get better between now and May, which is encouraging for Tottenham.