His bedding in period at Schalke a personal success, midfielder Nabil Bentaleb is aiming high ahead of his second season in Gelsenkirchen, with the 22-year-old telling Bundesliga.com that the Royal Blues are ready to make a marked improvement on last season.
Initially arriving on loan from English Premier League team Tottenham Hostpur last year, the Algeria international immediately impressed with his high-energy performances and superb goals earning him a a regular starting berth in the Schalke side. Despite Bentaleb scoring five times - seven in all competitions - in 32 Bundesliga appearances, his team largely disappointed during a campaign in which they finished tenth and missed out on a European berth. Speaking from Schalke's #BLWorldTour in China, the midfield dynamo said consistency is the goal under new coach Domenico Tedesco in 2017/18.
Watch: Nabil Bentaleb's Goal of the Season winner!
Bundesliga.com: Nabil Bentaleb, how was your summer break?
Bentaleb: It was very relaxing. I had a nice time with my family and friends. I got to see more sun than we have in Germany. It was pretty cool. I was in Algeria and the south of France. But for most of my holiday I stayed in my home town in the north of France.
Bundesliga.com: Which team-mate did you miss the most?
Bentaleb: There wasn’t one team-mate I would say I missed the most, it was more a case of missing the group and how we joke and get on together. But I enjoyed the time with my family as I don’t get to see them often.
Bundesliga.com: Is it a special group at Schalke?
Bentaleb: Yeah, we have a pretty mixed group. We have the older players and then the younger players and it fits really well as everyone gets along. There is a pretty cool atmosphere.
Bundesliga.com: What are your first impressions of Shanghai?
Bentaleb: It's very humid and very hot. I’m pretty excited to go into town and visit the place. The people are very nice and they welcomed us really well at the airport and and even in the hotel.
Bundesliga.com: Are you surprised by the local fans' reaction to your arrival?
Bentaleb: A little bit. I didn’t know that football was such a big sport for them. When we arrived the supporters all knew our names and they knew where each player played. They even tell you some stories about you from your past. Football is a really big thing here.
Bundesliga.com: What are the benefits of a pre-season trip like this?
Bentaleb: We have a season to prepare for and we have to prepare it really well. We have to stay positive. We know how important the beginning of the season is. We're playing football here and trying to improve our game. We have two great matches to play [on this tour] that will provide us with good tests for the start of the season.
Bundesliga.com: What about your new coach? Are you beginning to notice the changes under him?
Bentaleb: Yes, of course. He has his own mentality and his own way of thinking. He’s trying to leave his mark on us at the moment. He’s trying to make sure that we play as he wants. This will take time. But game by game and training session by training session we are getting there, slowly but surely.
Bundesliga.com: What stage of that process are you in right now?
Bentaleb: We are pretty fit so it’s more about the tactical way of thinking now and looking at how we want to play. We are just focusing on things game by game. Session by session we want to improve how we are playing. We have several more games to play before we face [RB] Leipzig [in Schalke's Bundesliga season opener] on 19 August.
Bundesliga.com: What are your personal aims for next season?
Bentaleb: I want to continue performing as I have been up until now. I will try to increase my level. I always try to push myself even harder. I try to improve my game and increase my strength. Most importantly I want to try to work on my weaknesses and to correct them.
Bundesliga.com: What are your strengths and what do you bring to Schalke?
Bentaleb: I have a strong fighting spirit that I bring to the team. I also bring some offensive and defensive strength. In our team there is no Cristiano Ronaldo or Lionel Messi so I just try to give my best every time I step onto the pitch in a Schalke shirt. I give 200% of myself. Sometimes I play well but maybe at others I won’t but I try to be as consistent as possible and that’s what makes a good player.
Bundesliga.com: How would you sum up your first year at Schalke?
Bentaleb: From a personal point of view it was pretty good. I got to play a lot of games. Coming from Tottenham I didn’t play as I was injured for the most part of the season. The positive thing to take from the last campaign was that I didn’t get injured. I played around 90% of the games and managed to score seven goals and I had some good stats. The disappointing part was that as a team we didn’t perform as we wanted to and we didn’t [achieve] a European place.
Bundesliga.com: You’ve become one of the leaders of this team; how do you like that role?
Bentaleb: Away from the pitch I don’t speak a lot and I’m not the type of leader who will be talking in the changing room. I will speak if I have to, in some games if we are playing badly, for example. However, on the pitch it's a different matter: I am always active and I always speak. That’s my way of playing. I need to speak and to give instructions. I need to feel important in the game. It’s not a calculated thing, it’s just the way I am. The players here remember that in my first game at the club against [Eintracht] Frankfurt, I had just arrived and spent two days with the boys. I didn’t know many of them on a personal basis [yet] but when I went onto the pitch it was as if I had been playing for five years with the team. It’s just the way I play. On the pitch it’s a different world.
Bundesliga.com: Last year Schalke finished tenth. What has to change in order to get back to being a top five club?
Bentaleb: Consistency. A lack of it is what killed us last season. We started really badly with five losses in the first five games. Later we went 13 matches unbeaten while after that there were ups and downs. We need to find the right level of playing. We have to be consistent in terms of if we are playing badly, making sure we are not playing too badly. We know we have quality and that we can do it. It comes down to how badly we want it and the work we put in.
Bundesliga.com: How important is the returning Breel Embolo to the team?
Bentaleb: He’s very important. He’s a great player and a great guy also. Unfortunately for him and for the team he was injured in Augsburg at the beginning of last season. We missed him for the whole season but he’s getting there step by step. He hasn’t played a [pre-season] game for us yet and he’s taking things slowly. Hopefully he’ll perform really well for us this season.
Bundesliga.com: Where do you see Schalke at the end of next season?
Bentaleb: Only god knows. We will give 200% of ourselves. Everybody here knows what the aim is. We know it’s going to be tough. We know there are some great teams but we want to be one of those great teams.
Bundesliga.com: Who will be Bundesliga champions next season?
Bentaleb: This is football, so you can’t predict anything. We want to be up there with the best teams. We’re not saying we’re going to win the league but we’ll try to be in the top four or the top three. The aim for us is to get back into European competition. With the talent we have we have nothing to worry about. If we keep on working like we have been, we will hopefully do some great things.