At the beginning of the season, hardly a single soul felt optimistic about Moussa Sissoko at Tottenham Hotspur. The Frenchman had failed to make a positive impact during his opening two seasons in North London and he was seemingly preparing for another uneventful season out of the frame.
Tottenham Hotspur caused shockwaves across the club fanbase when they spent £30 million to lure Moussa Sissoko from the then recently relegated Newcastle United. The price tag had many people scratching their heads and his subsequent performances led to further heavy criticism.
Fast forward six months into the 2018/19 season and Sissoko has resuscitated his seemingly fading career with a string of fantastic performances. No longer a figure of ridicule, the Frenchman has become an integral part of Spurs’ midfield and is hoping to remain an important player as they look to go in pursuit of the Premier League title.
Sissoko arrived at White Hart Lane off the back of an impressive summer, where he helped France reach the Euro 2016 final. His powerful midfield displays alongside Blaise Matuidi and Paul Pogba attracted the attention of the footballing world, and with Newcastle preparing for a season in the Championship, it seemed inevitable that Moussa had done enough to earn himself a move.
After everything appeared to be set for a move to Everton, Spurs came in late to hijack the deal with a £30m bid, and Sissoko performed a U-turn in order to become Tottenham’s fourth and final signing of the window. His debut campaign panned out disappointingly however, making just eight starts in the league and appearing just once in the Champions League.
Pochettino was set on playing a 4-2-3-1 formation for the majority of the season. Wanyama, Dier and Dembele were all ahead of Sissoko in the pecking order, which meant he was either forced to play out of position on the right side of midfield or on the bench. As if it wasn’t hard enough for him to prove his price tag in the first place, playing out of position made it far more difficult for him to flourish with Spurs.
Out of his Depth, They Said!
Sissoko had showcased his talent in midfield at the Euros, so logic would suggest that playing him in a similar role would be the first step towards getting the best out of him.
Some may have argued that he should be used to playing on the right as that was his most common position at Newcastle, but his role there was vastly different. Newcastle were a side that played most of the game without the ball, defending for longer periods than they attacked.
This meant that Sissoko’s job was mainly to track back and support his full-back, making things difficult for the opposition. When winning the ball, he was then able to use his pace and power to break forward, and aim to pick a pass to start a counter-attack or maraud down the wing and deliver a cross.
This was a role that met Sissoko’s strengths, however the wide-forward role at Tottenham didn’t. Spurs usually dominate possession in their games, meaning there are fewer counter attacking opportunities and chances are generally created by breaking down low blocks with intricate movement and creativity. If you took Tottenham’s other options for these roles (Lamela, Eriksen, Alli and Son), then you’d notice how they are much more suitable for this type of role. Sissoko just didn’t fit the bill!
The Stepping Stone to More Promising Times
After a season of mainly coming off the bench when things weren’t going Spurs’ way and failing to change that due to unrealistic expectations of his ability, Pochettino began to use Sissoko a little differently. The 2017-18 season wasn’t a massive improvement from his first, but it was better at least. He got more game time, made more of an impact, and due to numerous injuries and Pochettino’s experimentation with a back three, he found himself in a more comfortable position.
Sissoko was clearly influencing games far more from central midfield. His strength, work rate and stamina made him a great candidate for the box-to-box midfield role, and he was starting to benefit from playing there more regularly. He dominated midfield in Tottenham’s 3-2 win over West Ham, scored his first goal for the club in a 4-0 win at Huddersfield, and even played key roles in Tottenham’s Champions League victories against Real Madrid and Borussia Dortmund.
He may still have been some way off of becoming a regular starter for Spurs, but he fought against a barrage of abuse from fans to become an adequate squad player, and despite lacking in ability he continued to work hard whenever given a chance to do so, but no one envisioned this being the stepping stone towards Sissoko’s biggest season yet…