Benjamin Stambouli knew he needed to leave PSG at the beginning of this season in order to get his career back on track and receive some more regular minutes.
Being behind the likes of Marco Verratti, Blaise Matuidi, Adrien Rabiot, Thiago Motta and new signing Grzegorz Krychowiak in the midfield pecking order at the Parisien club, combined with the fact Unai Emery left him out of his squad for PSG’s Ligue 1 opener, Stambouli recognised the writing was on the wall that he had to leave.
Having endured a largely unsuccessful spell with Tottenham Hotspur prior to joining PSG, it was essential his next move was a well calculated one, for he didn’t want a third consecutive disheartening stint.
Despite interest from the likes of AC Milan and Real Betis, Stambouli opted for Schalke 04, signing in a deal worth €8.5 million. Indeed, moving to one of the Bundesliga biggest and most well renowned clubs, who harbour strong ambitions to get back to their former glory, appeared a sound choice on the surface.
Following a period of adjustment and integration in the first half of the season, that predominantly saw him feature as a substitute in the league, stuck behind the talented Johannes Geis, the Frenchman has really began to impose himself since the resumption of the winter break. It must be said, however, that the former Montpellier star did still put in some encouraging showings, particular in the Europa League, as he gradually settled into life in his new surroundings.
Schalke’s stirring recent 1-1 draw with the formidable Bayern Munich unquestionably served as the catalyst for his striking upturn in form, with the 26-year-old putting in a performance full of upside. Importantly, he’s continued his strong form thereafter, going from strength to strength. Schalke’s manager, Markus Weinzeirl, has crucially been suitably impressed, and has rewarded him by picking him ahead of Geis in midfield.
The fact he’s played every minute of the Royal Blues’ last four Bundesliga matches has been a glowing reflection of his efforts. Playing alongside Nabil Bentaleb in central midfield, the pair have formed an excellent, complimentary relationship that has given the side plenty of grit, aggression and fight in the middle of the park.“Benjamin got the chance and used it. He’s played well. He did the team well with his calm on the ball. He wants to be deployed in defensive midfield and has given our game stability, “said Weinzierl.
Weinzeirl then went onto mention his admiration of his newfound midfield duo, noting: “the two are always looking for one another and have a strong understanding.”
Stambouli’s insatiable appetite for work and stamina have given him a brilliant platform from which to undertake his work with the utmost durability and stamina. In addition, his power and strength have seen him be extremely difficult to outmuscle, which has subsequently meant he’s rarely beaten in 1v1 duels, both in the air and on the ground.
Upon factoring in his balance, coherent reading of the play and body positioning, it’s easy to see he’s such a challenging proposition for his adversaries to overcome. Stambouli’s strong football intelligence also transfers over when he regularly performs situational switches with Bentaleb, where he’ll regularly shift across if his teammate is drawn out of slot to fulfill a marking assignment. Indeed, this sort of astute action ensures the structure of his side remains in tact, not leaving gaping holes in their formation for the opposition to exploit.
While he’s less effective in Schalke’s possession phases, he still contributes efficiently here too. Proficient on the ball and sensible in his decision making, he acts as a tidy facilitator of possession, who doesn’t take any unnecessary risks. That’s not to say he’s uninspiring with the ball, for his first touch, capacity to dribble away from his man and passing are at a reasonably high level, it’s just he knows his role within the side and where his strengths lie.
Another less heralded aspect in his offensive skillset is the way he cleverly moves out of opposition cover shadows to manufacture openings for his colleagues to pass to him, something that only adds to his undeniable worth.
Now entering the prime years of his career, it’s terrific to see him hitting his stride at Schalke, despite his slow start. The Miners’ towering centre-back, Naldo, recently expressed his delight at Stambouli’s form, stating: “It was not easy for Benji at the beginning of the season. But now he shows what he has for qualities. Benjamin is very important for the team, he is very strong. He is doing well. ”
The challenge for him moving forward will be keeping up his exemplary level to truly cement his spot in Weinzeirl’s dynamic side. So important structurally on both sides of the ball, Stambouli looks like he might be finally finding some stability in his career with Schalke.
Let’s just hope it stays that way for him, as a repeat of his struggles at Tottenham and PSG would be unthinkable at this juncture.
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