He found his feet in the Premier League after signing for Newcastle from French side Toulouse for £1.3 million back in 2013. Despite gaining moderate success with a solid run as captain that saw Newcastle beat Spurs 5-1, the Magpies still couldn’t escape the drop and were relegated to the Championship at the end of the 2015/16 season.
Spurs then beat out Everton to sign the French midfielder for a fee of £30 million on transfer deadline day, a decision likely influenced by a solid performance for the French national side in the 2016 Euros.
— Tottenham Hotspur (@SpursOfficial) August 31, 2016
Sadly however, his opening seasons did little to justify the price Tottenham Hotspur paid, and he became a bit of a running joke among Spurs fans. A man without a clear role in the squad, a rushed deadline day deal for an extortionate price, a rare misstep in the normally shrewd transfer dealings of Pochettino & Levy.
The few times he was on the pitch, Sissoko didn’t exactly make a name for himself. Before Christmas of his opening season, he had earned himself a three-match ban for elbowing Bournemouth’s Harry Arter, and made only 4 more starts for the rest of the season.
He got chances to prove himself again in 2017/18, and while he put in a number of solid performances, he was yet to reach the consistency and quality of a number of the other Spurs regulars.
However, 2018/19 is proving to be a bit of a perfect storm for Moussa Sissoko. Pochettino is the master of getting the most out of his players, particularly when they cost him £30 million, and Sissoko has obviously benefited from the Mauricio method.
Spurs have also had an ongoing injury crisis since the summer that has required regular squad rotations, giving a number of fringe players a chance to stretch their legs; look at Lucas Moura and Erik Lamela as other examples. Sissoko has obviously benefited from the extra match time and has come at the season with the mindset to do well. However, his greatest chance so far this season has been his redeployment within the team.
In previous seasons he has been deployed on the wing, a position he has regularly proven to be ill-suited for. While he can range forward with the best of them, he regularly loses composure in front of goal and found himself boxed out by defenders with nowhere else to go. Compare this with the clinical, lightning-fast approach players like Kane, Eriksen & Dele score their goals with, and Sissoko couldn’t get a look in.
— Tottenham Hotspur (@SpursOfficial) November 27, 2018
The problem lies in that a winger that is scared of defenders and folds in front of the goal is no winger at all. However, 2018/19 has seen him in more of a holding role in the central midfield, and the French phoenix has risen from the ashes in his new position.
Mauricio Pochettino on Moussa Sissoko:
“His team-mates are so happy that the fans are now starting to show the love.”
— Ricky Sacks 🎙 (@RickSpur) November 28, 2018
The current Spurs squad is defined by calm and precise play across the pitch; Harry Kane knows exactly where Dele Alli will place the ball for a meticulously practised goal. Vertonghen and Alderwiereld sit at the back of the pack, chasing down any striker who fancies trying something clever.
Moussa Sissoko, for all his pluses, is not precise. He is a hand grenade of a player that injects some much needed chaos into the Spurs squad. You play him down the centre of the midfield, and the other team will have no idea where the ball is going next, because half the time it looks like he’s still working out the finer details of that himself.
Take two recent examples. When Spurs faced Chelsea on the 24th November, Son Heung-Min received the ball at the outer edge of the pitch, before gracefully arcing round to slip behind Chelsea’s defence for a goal that felt right out of the handbook.
On the other hand, when Spurs faced Inter Milan on the 28th, Moussa Sissoko charged through the opposition defence, drawing in four Inter Milan players, leaving the rest of the box open for a swift one-two between Dele and Eriksen to keep Spurs’ Champions League dreams alive.
It wasn’t the safest of choices, but if he’d acted safely Spurs would have been knocked out the Champions League.
— Tottenham Hotspur (@SpursOfficial) November 29, 2018
One benefit of having an agent of chaos on your team is that they are utterly infuriating to play against, and Sissoko is taking full advantage of that fact.
His hold up play in the team is second to none. Ranging far and wide for his prey, like a pack of wolves through the forest, Sissoko can be found providing comprehensive defensive coverage in a number of key games recently. Chelsea’s Mateo Kovacic is a prime example of one his victims, Toby barely had to take his hands out his pockets.
— Tottenham Sweden (@TottenhamSweden) November 25, 2018
It’s not all lawless abandon and swivel eyes lunacy with Sissoko however. Once the dust has settled and he’s found his rhythm, his awareness of the game and what needs to be done to get the ball over the line is remarkable. Combine this with his ability to dole out crunching, ball winning tackles and he’s establishing himself as a vital part of Pochettino’s signature play-it-out-from-the-back, momentum building technique.
Pochettino himself had this to say after Spurs beat Inter Milan;
“He provides the team with a very good balance in transitions and defensive situations and plays in possession better than we thought. That shows that being professional and working hard you can improve a lot.”
There’s certainly weight to the argument that Moussa Sissoko’s bar for success is much lower than a good amount of the rest of the squad, but if he can settle into his new position for the long run and keep his run of good form as Lamela and Moura have, he could become one of one Spurs’ modern day success stories.
Regardless, his days as a £30 million outcast are behind him, and with yet another busy month ahead for Spurs before the New Year, we say may long it continue.
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