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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.