How Moussa Sissoko will change the Spurs midfield

Pace, power, direct dribbling, ball recovery, through passes and crossing will see Moussa Sissoko give Spurs increased options.

Moussa Sissoko became our fifth signing of the summer in dramatic fashion. Arriving last minute as the transfer window slammed shut, Mauricio Pochettino got his man for a club record equalling fee. But what will he bring to Spurs and how will he change the dynamic of our midfield?

Direct dribbling

Mauricio Pochettino’s quotes about us lacking pace have been well reported. He said “we need a player who is more direct, more aggressive offensively,” after our draw with Liverpool.

Moussa Sissoko adds that, but brings more to the table. He has outstanding pace and power for a big man. Sissoko’s ability to shrug off opponents and accelerate away from a standing start is highly undervalued.

We saw this Moussa Sissoko for France at Euro 2016. It is how Sissoko does it that will also have raised Pochettino’s eyebrows. Often it is from a standing start in the middle third of the pitch with his back to goal. In these areas, going past the first man then draws the defence in and opens up lanes for others.


Moussa Sissoko passes received and take-ons, France 0-1 Portugal.

His dribbling style is very direct with no hint of flashiness or jinking around. Sissoko just rumbles past opponents who can’t contend with his pace and power. He uses minimal fuss and maximum body to fend off and shield the ball from would be tacklers as he goes by them. His height and range aid him in doing this, whilst proving particularly useful to nick the ball in tight situations.

Whilst Sissoko was a powerhouse for France, fingers can rightly be pointed that he mailed it in last season at Newcastle. He underperformed in many areas, but his dribbling still remained at a high level. Only Wilfred Zaha, Riyad Mahrez and Ross Barkley attempted more than Sissoko in the Premier League.

The ability to dribble is nothing new in Spurs midfield. Where Moussa Sissoko will change the dynamic is with how he does it. Erik Lamela can jink past opponents, Christian Eriksen has neat feet to evade challenges and Mousa Dembele can roll past his man with ease. However, Moussa Sissoko will bring a directness with his dribbling that will get through the levels of an opposition defence much quicker. His ability to drop a shoulder and run with speed and power will unsettle teams unlike before.

Accurate crossing

With his size and strength, Moussa Sissoko shouldn’t be a good crosser of the ball, but he is. The more enticing thing for Mauricio Pochettino is that he can deliver a decent ball on the run, something we struggle to currently do.

Despite a poor season last year, Sissoko still ranked a lofty thirteenth in the Premier League for total crosses completed.

We had a first hand glimpse of just what Sissoko can do during the abject 5-1 defeat up at Newcastle. His cross on the run put the second goal on a plate for Alexander Mitrovic.


Moussa Sissoko picks out Alexander Mitrovic with his cross.

Kyle Walker completed 23% of his crosses last season, Danny Rose just 13%. Mousa Sissoko’s 29% completion rate should see more dangerous balls coming in from the flank during open play. With the aerial threats of Harry Kane and Vincent Janssen to aim for, expect to see more goals from crosses this season.

Through balls

An underrated and little talked part of Mousa Sissoko’s game is his ability to deliver a through ball. These are not often short, neat, slid in passes. More often they are played over distance or ‘around the corner’ to a team mate running through. Just as he does here against Liverpool and Norwich last season.

It is this ‘quick strike’ mentality that Mauricio Pochettino likes to have in his teams. We’ve consistently seen the early passes for Dele All’s runs in-behind last season. Moussa Sissoko will add to that with his early use of the through ball from the middle third.

Ball recovery

For a big man with strength and size, Mousa Sissoko’s tackling is well below where it should be. His rangy legs should also intercept more balls than he does. These are both areas that he needs to work on.

Where Sissoko does excel though is in recovering loose balls. Mauricio Pochettino does place a lot of emphasis on being first to the loose ball as we often nick it away or cause an opponent to make an error through pressure.

Whilst his tackles and interception numbers were woeful last season, Moussa Sissoko recovered more loose balls than any current Spurs player. His 225 loose ball recoveries saw him just edge out our current top incumbent, Mousa Dembele’s 223.

Mauricio Pochettino may well have identified Moussa Sissoko for his powerful and direct dribbling, but this cannot have escaped his eye. Sissoko’s ability to go quickly through the gears after having hoovered up a loose ball will see us transition from defence to attack much quicker this season.

Set piece power

Adding Moussa Sissoko will also enhance our power at set pieces.

We’ve seen an enormous increase in set piece goals since Mauricio Pochettino has come in. The manager places particular emphasis on size and power to gain goals from free kicks and corners. Toby Alderweireld and Eric Dier are top of the list, but Victor Wanyama has also shown he can be a threat, along with Harry Kane and Vincent Janssen.

Adding Moussa Sissoko to the mix will see us with more height and aerial power than most opponents will be able to handle. This will create mismatches that will see more goals, but it could also see an increase in penalty opportunities. The new laws on holding have already created quite a stir and we’ve already seen a number given this season. Adding Sissoko alongside the height we already have will mean that teams will have to mark up with undersized opponents somewhere. They will then be forced to go beyond the new laws to stop them or risk conceding free headers at goal.

Concerns about Moussa Sissoko

There are a number of concerns about bringing Moussa Sissoko in.


Attitude, spirit and team chemistry are just as integral to Mauricio Pochettino’s Spurs as ability and skill.

There was a massive difference between Moussa Sissoko at Newcastle and his performances for France at Euro 2016. For the Magpies, Sissoko seemed disinterested and disengaged until Rafael Benitez handed him the captaincy.  For France he was like a new player. Very much like the Sissoko that arrived at St. James’ Park in 2013 and impressed with his powerful performances and three goals in his first four Premier League games.  It is this Sissoko that Spurs will need to succeed.

Lack of goals

For all of his powerful and direct play, Moussa Sissoko doesn’t score enough. We saw fine evidence of this on the final day of last season when he ran through 1v1 against Hugo Lloris to make a hash of the chance.

His shot accuracy is often the culprit. Sissoko often lacks composure when in shooting positions. His 30% on target last season stacks up poorly amongst Premier League midfielders and it needs working on.


While Sissoko recovers loose balls, his tackling is not great and he often fouls. He committed the most fouls amongst Newcastle players last season. This is a concern as the Magpies were a reactive team. With our preference for pressing, we are very much active and we do commit fouls as a result. Only Man Utd, Watford and Crystal Palace committed more fouls than us last season. Mousa Sissoko’s mistimed challenges could see him pick up more yellows, and potentially reds, when asked to be more aggressive to regain the ball.

How Moussa Sissoko will change the Spurs midfield

Pace, power, direct dribbling, ball recovery, through passes and crossing will see Moussa Sissoko give Spurs increased options this season.

Positional versatility is also a big draw. Moussa Sissoko has the ability to play a number of positions in both advanced midfield and at the base should we be without Mousa Dembele. What’s more, stacking him up alongside the size and strength we already have in the side will see us overpower a great number of teams.

Mauricio Pochettino has the direct, aggressive player that he wanted in spite of the large price tag.

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31 Responses to How Moussa Sissoko will change the Spurs midfield

  1. Ric Gannon 1st September 2016 at 8:04 pm #

    Great analysis. It’s his pace that I like. We have plenty at the back, but where it’s really needed up front to terrorise defences, it has been lacking up to now. If Poch can beef up his attitude he’ll be worth £50 million. i can’t wait to see him turn out alongside Dembele.

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 1st September 2016 at 9:06 pm #

      Dembele and him should be a formidable force! Excited to see how this is going to go!

  2. Matt 1st September 2016 at 8:21 pm #

    Great analysis that the doom mongers should read. I’d like to see him on rotation as a starter for Dembele and as an impact sub in the attacking 3 to add pace and crossing when teams have parked the bus. That versatility means he’ll get quite a bit of playing time IMO.

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 1st September 2016 at 9:08 pm #

      Be interesting to see just when Poch introduces him and how long it takes him to learn the system…

  3. Jackplug 1st September 2016 at 8:27 pm #

    Great but who we going to drop to make way? Dier? Eriksen? Alli? Lamela? Wanyama? Or we going sneak him on as twelfth man?

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 1st September 2016 at 9:10 pm #

      I’m sure he’ll get plenty of opportunities depending on who we’re playing and who is out suspended or injured. Gives Poch more options with regards to how we attack opponents. Plenty of top class games this season for everyone to be involved. Any body showing signs of fatigue can be switched.

  4. Antonyj7 1st September 2016 at 9:05 pm #

    Given the number of competitions we are in this season and given some inevitable injuries, all of our squad should get more than enough playing time.

    Having different type of skills available is also a necessary boost to our options in any game.

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 1st September 2016 at 11:39 pm #

      Spot on. Player and formation flexibility is the next step we need to take. It was too rigid last season with a first XI and a set formation. Having a Plan B and the resources to go to it is what this season should be about.

  5. Glynski 1st September 2016 at 9:55 pm #

    I think that sissoko will be worth every cent and some ,as we havnt seen the best of him yet !!!!.he will get of the bus which a lot of teams park and create havoc I guarantee with his pace and strength it is going to create a cup winning side

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 1st September 2016 at 11:27 pm #

      Winning a cup would be a good step to make this season.

  6. Sheffield Spur 1st September 2016 at 10:25 pm #

    I thought Sissoko would be the box-to-box option alongside Dier or Waynama rather than playing alongside Démbéle. But Démbéle is a key player and would certainly be one of the first on the team sheet. In which case, can we expect to see our record signing frequently warming the bench? And how might he react do you think?

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 1st September 2016 at 11:33 pm #

      I think he may well be on the bench while he learns the system. He should rotate with Dembele for some games, but can also play across the advanced midfield three, so lots of opportunities. He should be able to take being on the bench otherwise Poch will get rid of him like Townsend. Am sure there would have been a conversation about what he can expect and that no one is guaranteed to start or undroppable.

  7. Timbo 1st September 2016 at 10:32 pm #

    Hopefully all the downsides can be ironed out, he will make a great captain in the centre of the park , just what we needed…. A beast in midfield that can boss.

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 1st September 2016 at 11:34 pm #

      Poch has a good record of improving players, so hopefully he can work his magic again. We’ll have a beast of a midfield lineup if he can.

  8. Colin SC 1st September 2016 at 10:46 pm #

    Wanayama is Diers replacement player and Sissoko will be Dembele’s. I think this is a great signing because we now have pretty well everyone covered and can chop and change for the CL games.

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 1st September 2016 at 11:35 pm #

      Spot on Colin. Options and rotation is what this season is about with so many games, and top level games at that, to play.

  9. Sam Abe 2nd September 2016 at 12:44 am #

    Thanks Mark!

    Ok,its the champs league final against Barca. They’ve been tearing it up all season but we fancy our chances. What’s our lineup?

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 2nd September 2016 at 10:21 am #

      Good question Sam. We’d be heavily pressed so we’d want our most press resistant players that can get in down the flanks as that is where Barca leaves space. I would go:
      Lloris-walker, Alderweireld, Vertonghen, Rose-Dier,Dembele-Eriksen,Sissoko,Lamela-Kane

  10. Blair Barefoot 2nd September 2016 at 2:03 am #

    I’m so impressed with this article. You’ve answered every question I had. If Poch wanted him then he believes he has a plan. I wasn’t worried at all.

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 2nd September 2016 at 10:21 am #

      Thanks Blair.

  11. Kin 2nd September 2016 at 4:33 am #

    In early days, I’d expect to see him further up the pitch whilst still learning the system, he could be our go to guy on the right flank when we switch to playing Kane and Janssen up top with N’koudou on the left. His future position would be in the pivot, the prospect of playing two bullish players who can dribble excites me…

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 2nd September 2016 at 10:23 am #

      Yes, we definitely now have options and players that have different skill sets. Gives us much more versatility to attack an opponent’s weakness.

  12. Anthony 2nd September 2016 at 11:11 am #

    my only criticism is the use of the term “for a big guy” that is a bit of dated thinking.

    other than that it was a great read and very insightful, i think we have a better squad than last year and every player will need to bring their A game or risk being dropped (Ali has sort of seen this already).

    We also still have Youth team players knocking on the door too (by all accounts Edwards is excellent).

    i would have liked another striker in the team though.

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 2nd September 2016 at 2:33 pm #

      Cheers Anthony, yes if a player isn’t performing there are now extremely talented individuals waiting in the wings. Poch’s task will be keeping everyone happy. Not sure what you find dated about the use of ‘for a big man?’

  13. Glynski 2nd September 2016 at 11:28 am #

    Hi mark I don’t think I know we have done well with our new signings,Lets not forget we have three Frenchman that could start in the starting lineup which is great for our captain!!! Nice bit of Camembert French stick and a nice glass of wine to celebrate our many victories

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 2nd September 2016 at 2:35 pm #

      The French and Belgian national teams are stacked with talent. Its good we have a number of their players!

  14. Glynski 2nd September 2016 at 11:38 am #

    How’s my hero greavesy getting on,as I now live in Australia its sometimes difficult to find out how the best goal scorer of all time is ta

  15. John P 2nd September 2016 at 6:50 pm #

    Fantastic read and very insightful. I love this signing as he will bring that pace and power as mentioned… On another note, he is really taking the lime light off Nkoudu and that should help him, not as much pressure… One thing very evident from our first 3 games was the bench, it looked very weak. Barring a few obvious names… Our matchday squad will be very strong going forward with plenty of options. Yes we need a plan B, but our first 11 are very good, as good as anyone. We now have a great bench also…

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 2nd September 2016 at 7:17 pm #

      Good points John. We have lots of options now and plenty of competition for places, which should drive each player to step up their level for fear of being dropped.

  16. SumDude 2nd September 2016 at 9:30 pm #

    I’m chuffed to bits with this signing! I thought he was great at Newcastle when he played well, probably their best player. I see him as competition for Lamella on the right as he can eat space and then deliver the right ball in. I like Lamella too but he has yet to reach his potential in attack (or such is my view at least). Do you think he should start over Lamella (or any other player)? Particularly against defensive teams it cold be decidive. As far as attitude goes I think if we play him the chaps league he’ll have all the motivation we could hope for. This has been a serious window for us. every player really adds to the team and formations flexibility is now assured.

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 2nd September 2016 at 11:59 pm #

      It has been a seriously good window. I can see him starting in several positions, mainly on the right and centre of the advanced midfield trio and alongside Dier or Wanyama at the base. I think we’ll see a lot of combinations and interchanging of players to avoid fatigue and wearing down over a long season. Nobody’s place in the side will be safe. I’m hoping for this, just so we are more versatile than last season where our best 11 and formation picked itself. The element of surprise and guesswork of who is playing and where, should see us catch a number of teams out.