Jose Mourinho’s arrival raises questions for Moussa Sissoko

Sissoko Title

When Jose Mourinho was appointed manager of Tottenham Hotspur following the departure of Mauricio Pochettino, it raised many questions what the Portuguese maestro would do with this talent laden Spurs squad.

While it’s obvious the likes of Harry Kane, Son Heung-Min and Dele Alli will be an integral part of Mourinho’s plans, it’ll be fascinating to see how he handles some of the other players who aren’t guaranteed starters. One such player whose fortunes are up in the air is Moussa Sissoko.

Sissoko’s arrival at Tottenham just over three years ago might have set the stage for future drama, as the Frenchman and his agent Bakari Sanogo navigated a last-minute reversal in negotiations between the then-Newcastle midfielder, Everton, and Tottenham on the final day of the transfer deadline. After Newcastle were relegated and Sanogo’s talks with Chelsea and Tottenham dragged on, Everton agreed to Sissoko’s price tag and thought they’d closed the deal – until Tottenham signed him instead.

After that dramatic entrance, however, Sissoko got down to business. Proving himself under Pochettino’s guidance to be a very handy contributor, especially in the last 18 months, and always fulfilling his role wholeheartedly, the imposing player’s energy, work rate and athleticism appeared a good fit for Mourinho’s counter punching approach.

Sissoko’s performance with the Spurs also got him called back up to France’s reigning champion national team after their 2018 World Cup win. Discussing his “return to favour” with the France’s Le Parisien in September, the Frenchman attributed his turnaround to spending far more time as a central midfielder and to gaining confidence over the course of several matches at the start of the year. He even gave his agent a shoutout, saying Bakari Sanogo has helped him see where he can improve.

The fact Sissoko’s so versatile was another reason for optimism, as he gives his new manager plenty of tactical flexibility as to how best deploy him, for he can play in a variety of midfield roles and formations and even at full back if need be.

Having not started Mourinho’s first game in charge against West Ham and heard the former Manchester United coach’s comments, though, it certainly looks like Sissoko faces an uphill battle to convince his new manager of what he brings to the team. “When I see Moussa, he is a very good player, but he is very different than my needs. I need that stability from Dier and the kid to move the ball faster, also positionally and also to find the attacking players in the positions we want,” explained Mourinho.

Sissoko, however, has faced his fair share of criticism and setbacks, so he’ll be eager to rise to the challenge and prove his worth. Possessing a good range of attributes, there’s certainly a lot Sissoko can offer.

To begin with his defensive output, and the man who’s learnt so much under the tactically sophisticated tutelage of Pochettino is a real asset in this regard. Full of energy and intensity in his approach, he does a top job of making life uncomfortable for his enemies. A keen presser who’s always on the lookout for triggers to arise such as an opponent receiving back to goal, in an open body posture, in wide areas or if they are inheriting a poor pass, Sissoko pounces to get at his targets. In doing so, this ensures they can’t easily turn him or enjoy much time on the ball, which impacts their ability to execute.

Factor in his hulking strength, speed and relentlessness to win back the ball, plus how he angles his pressure to cut off pass routes behind him, and it’s easy to see why he’s so competent here.

Image 1 - Sissoko's smartly angled pressing
Sissoko smartly angled pressing

The same goes for his counterpressing, where he hunts down the ball after Tottenham lose it. This subsequently gives the opponent minimal time to assess options while giving Tottenham a great chance of recovering possession high against spread out teams who are preparing for a transition of their own.

When it comes to settling back into a mid or low block, Sissoko’s shown how efficiently he stays in shape, shifts laterally, drops back in unison, marks opponents in his zone or steps out to press.

Image 2 - Great covering behind when his centre back steps out
Great covering behind when his centre back steps out

Moreover, by communicating with his colleagues, this has seen him crossover marking duties well when opposition players perform rotations around him.

A manful competitor in aerial duels too, the intimidating 187 cm enforcer acquits himself admirably in these duels by using his explosive leap, capacity to read the ball’s flight and balance.

Although he can sometimes be overzealous in his attempts to win back possession, with his timing being off on occasion, it’s been pleasing to see his intent to force turnovers and get stuck in.

Sissoko’s work on the attacking side of things accompanies his stopping efforts nicely. Catching the eye most keenly with his ball carrying prowess, his powerful forward surges are always a highlight, with these seeing him place backlines under pressure and lure opponents out of shape to get at backlines. So quick and hard to push off the ball, this means he often rides challenges sternly and draws fouls in key areas.

If inheriting possession in tight spaces, the way he protects the ball by getting his body between the man and the ball and uses his arms and shoulders, gives him a good platform to spin away or hold up the ball while he waits for a viable option.

To switch the focus over to his passing, and the French international typically keeps things simple most of the time to get the ball into the feet of Spurs’ more attackingly talented players. If the situation arises he can, however, play some more expansive passes, such as penetrative line breaking passes, crafty through balls or switches of play.

Image 3 - Wicked line breaking pass
Wicked line breaking pass

Tying everything together with his movement, Sissoko’s quality in this compartment allows him to make space for his colleagues and find openings for himself. In terms of manufacturing room for his teammates, he’s excellent at moving to open up passing lanes and pinning markers so his mates can exploit unoccupied spaces.

Image 4 - Sissoko neatly drawing two men
Sissoko neatly drawing two men

Image 5 - Sissoko pinning his man to help free up his teammate out wide
Sissoko pinning his man to help free up his teammate out wide

On an individual level, he embarks on some damaging runs into the channels and into the box, which are so hard to track, plus supports attacks in wider and central areas by forming 5v4 and 4v3 numerical superiorities to help bypass their foes.

Image 6 - Forming a 4v3 as he serves as the free man down the channel
Forming a 4v3 as he serves as the free man down the channel

Image 7 - Sissoko being the free man as Spurs form a 4v3
Sissoko being the free man as Spurs form a 4v3

Image 8 - Sissoko brilliant forward run to exploit the space
Sissoko brilliant forward run to exploit the space

Image 9 - Quality run in behind as he places huge pressure on the opposition
Quality run in behind as he places huge pressure on the opposition

Image 10 - Sissoko finding space well
Sissoko finding space well

By the numbers from the last five seasons, his 2.24 dribbles per game, 1.93 progressive runs pg, 1.65 touches inside the box pg, 4.14 accurate final third passes pg at 80%, 3.42 interceptions pg, 1.15 tackles pg, 4.1 free ball pick ups pg and 2.6 ball recoveries pg demonstrate his solid two-way contribution.

While it’ll be a tough ask to replicate his amazing form from Spurs’ memorable run to the Champions League final last campaign, it was encouraging to see him gain some minutes in his team’s 4-2 victory over Olympiakos this week.

Determined and always willing to do his part for the benefit of the team, the experienced 30-year-old will relish every chance to endear himself to Mourinho even if the Portuguese whizz may take some convincing.

Will Pep Guardiola leave Manchester City at the end of the season?

At the end of this season, Pep Guardiola will have spent four years in Manchester. He’s never coached a team for longer than three years and so many have questioned as to whether he will remain at Manchester City beyond the end of the season.

The Spaniard has already stated he will see out his contract with the Premier League club, but there’s still that small possibility that he could leave the reigning champions, despite unfinished business.

He came to Manchester to win the Champions League. He’s yet to do that, with two consecutive Champions League quarter-final exits, against runners-up on both occasions – Liverpool in 2018 and Tottenham Hotspur in 2019. If he wins the Champions League this reason, then perhaps he doesn’t have a reason to stay.

With interest coming from former club Bayern Munich following their dismissal of Niko Kovac after a thrashing defeat at Eintracht Frankfurt, rumours of a Guardiola return to the Allianz Arena have been strong.

Guardiola says he was “incredibly happy” at Bayern Munich but insists he will honour his Manchester City contract. However, we know that these things change on a day-to-day basis in football.

When asked about a potential return to Bayern Munich, Guardiola responded: “When these things appear, is it the media or the club? We don’t know. It could be one guy [starting a rumour] and then people take it.

“I like the people from Bayern a lot. I was incredibly happy there, but they know I’m a guy that respects what I sign.

“In football, when you are not getting results you can be sacked but in this case if the club [Manchester City] wants me, I want to stay here.

“It doesn’t matter if Bayern want me or not in the future. My love for the city, the club and the people I met there is incredible.

“It is the same in Barcelona because it is my hometown, but the same happened here. I have more things to do.”

The chances of Manchester City sacking Guardiola at the end of the season even if he misses out on the Premier League and Champions League is extremely slim. Therefore, the chances of him leaving the Etihad this summer is also slim. But you can never say never in football.

Bayern Munich CEO Karl-Heinz Rummenigge has already expressed his interest in his former coach with Mauricio Pochetinno, Erik ten Hag and Thomas Tuchel also coaches that have been named with the vacant position. And with Bayern in no rush to name a successor to Kovac with interim Hansi Flick doing an adequate job, Bayern may prove a tempting proposition for Guardiola come the summer if he does part ways with Manchester City.

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Liverpool took the lead through Fabinho after just six minutes when the Brazilian’s 25-yard strike nestled its way past Claudio Bravo. It wasn’t until VAR checked for a handball against Liverpool defender Trent Alexander-Arnold in the build-up. After consultation, the goal was given, to Pep Guardiola’s distain. Continue reading

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How will Chelsea’s Transfer Ban affect their Season?

Chelsea might have finished third in the Premier League last season, picking up European honors along the way, but it was far from a success in the eyes of some supporters.

27 points separated them and second-placed Liverpool, meaning manager Maurizio Sarri’s first ever trophy wasn’t enough to keep him in a job. They’ve turned to Frank Lampard- from Derby County- who is a Blues legend following his success on the field with the club.

If he wants to be the same off the field, he has a huge job. The BBC reported how they failed to overturn a two-window transfer ban, effectively condemning them to pretty much the same squad this season as the last one. Couple that with Eden Hazard’s departure for a fee believed to be around $108m, and they’re arguably weaker than last season.

Can they still be a success, despite the obvious obstacles they face? Or will they continue in the pattern of the last couple of years?

There are plenty of positives; one of Sarri’s main faults was his reluctance to hand first team experience to Callum Hudson-Odoi and Ruben Loftus-Cheek. The latter won’t be able to help for much of this season, as he ruptured his Achilles tendon in a friendly and won’t be back until at least November, according to Football London.

However, there is plenty of youth waiting to impress this season and are expected to get the chance due to the ban on incoming players. Tammy Abraham has impressed in loan spells with Bristol City and Aston Villa, with his time at Villa Park last season a raging success. His goals have been credited with firing them back to the Premier League and he looks ready to take on the top flight.

Lampard will be expected to attack much more than Sarri and Conte before him, which might be a big ask without one key man.

They’ll miss Hazard’s creativity, but in Mason Mount they might have a home-grown alternative who can break through as well. He was on loan with Derby last season and had a whole year to impress his new manager.

He even earned an England call-up from Gareth Southgate whilst in the Championship. Southgate has a good eye for spotting young talent; in Coral’s guide to last year’s World Cup managers, they note how he had three years of experience with the Under 21s before becoming England manager.

If Lampard shows belief in promoting players from Under 21 to senior football, he could be rewarded. Mount is much like Lampard was as a player; how the Blues could do with him to have the same input.

They will also be able to call on 20-year-old United States international Christian Pulisic, who was bought from Dortmund in January and loaned back for the rest of the season. He’s a new face, something different to add to the squad. He’s a winger who will likely be Hazard’s replacement, although he’s got a lot to prove at such a tender age.

Chelsea of 2019/20 will be youthful; they’ll be fighting against the odds and playing the underdog. In truth, they could be about to reap the rewards of their previous policy of loaning out lots of their players.

There isn’t a good reason why they can’t be back in the top three come May, not with the collection of talent they’ve amassed over the last couple of seasons.

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