Jose Mourinho’s arrival raises questions for Moussa Sissoko

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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.

EPL: Premier League Predictions for Week 31

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With the FA Cup taking place this weekend in England, the Premier League fixtures have been reduced but there are still some mouth watering ties for us to look over and debate about. Which teams will benefit this weekend and which players will be looking to make the difference and earn more fantasy points? Let’s take a look below.

Bournemouth v Newcastle

Newcastle could join Bournemouth on the same point (37) with a win here. The home side did get a win last weekend but that was against Huddersfield and have otherwise been poor. Newcastle’s form has been solid and they are scoring goals. Salomon Rondon is in great form and is Newcastle’s top performer with 41 points and he can brought into your team for just 7m. Newcastle to beat Bournemouth

Burnley v Leicester

Burnley have lost 3 games coming into this game and are in 17th and in danger of being relegated. Leicester have a new manager in Brendan Rodgers and they will not be afraid to attack. Jamie Vardy scored a brace last weekend and he is 11.5m to snap up but is Leicester’s best player in the fantasy rankings and gained 10pts last weekend. Burnley and Leicester to draw

West Ham v Huddersfield

West Ham have been in great form at home and should have no problems to beat Huddersfield. Felipe Anderson has 45pts for The Hammers and has already scored earlier in the season against Huddersfield, if he can do so again and put a good performance in he would be worth having in your team for 8m. West Ham to beat Huddersfield

Fulham v Liverpool

Fulham are going to be relegated this season and Liverpool are trying to win the title and there should be only one winner here. The Reds will be the massive favourites not only to win but score a few goals too. Goalkeeper Alisson rarely lets goals in and he is the best performing goalkeeper in ELF fantasy and can be brought into your team for 10m. He has a whopping 110pts already this season. Liverpool to beat Fulham

Everton v Chelsea

Everton have not been very good for the past four months and have won only odd games. They threw away a 2 goal lead at Newcastle last weekend and lost 3-2. Chelsea are hoping for a top 4 place and have improved, although could only draw against Wolves last weekend. Gonzalo Higuaín to score against Everton could be a shrewd move and the Argentina international is 10m and has already racked up 32pts for The Blues.

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Manchester United 3-2 Southampton: Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s men bounce back in some fashion

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Manchester United had a big chance to re-enter the top four positions for the first time in recent weeks, with their next fixture being at home to Southampton, a side that have only won six league games and are just above the relegation zone. With Arsenal and Tottenham facing one another in the early kick off, it was important for the team to pick up the three points and in a secure manner.

Overall, United dominated majority of the game from the first second of the match till the final whistle, where they could have even scored a further couple of goals to pile on the misery. Though, the much needed wakeup call came through a screamer from Yan Valery and a peach of a free-kick from James Ward-Prowse, which led Ole Gunnar Solskjaer to make some vital tactical adjustments.

The first half was quite good despite the poor finishing, as the front three failed to make an instant statement and did not help the side’s cause of a magical comeback. Despite the side’s list of injuries and lack of depth available to them and the manager, a brace from Romelu Lukaku as well as an incredible goal from Andreas Pereira allowed the hosts to pick the victory over the hostile visitors in the end.

Here are the three valuable factors we learnt from Manchester United’s latest league game…

Romelu Lukaku came up with the luxury goods

With the likes of Anthony Martial, Jesse Lingard and Juan Mata missing due to injury issues, United were limited with their attacking options for the fixtures against Crystal Palace and Southampton. However, Romelu Lukaku showed up for when his side needed him the most, scoring four goals in United’s last two games and is now the side’s top goal scorer in the Premier League this season. Recent form of the Belgian striker could mean that it’s time to put him back into your Fantasy Premier League Team. To see which other players you should look at including in your selections for Fantasy Premier League take a look at Footy Accumulators.

On top of that, Alexis Sanchez failed to take this massive opportunity to prove to the coach and the critics that he is still a quality player. Focusing back onto Lukaku, he may not be the fan’s favourite player or a clinical forward, but he is showing huge signs that he has improved since the managerial change. The Belgian international may have done enough to remain in the club’s long-term plans.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer showed off his in-game management

Week after week, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is proving that he has the intelligence to make the much needed changes to the team or the system, whether it’s to increase the amount of chances the side are creating or to see out the game until the final whistle. Some of his decisions maybe seen as bizarre and questionable, but in the end, he is yet to suffer a league defeat since taking on the job.

Solskjaer showed off his flexibility in the second half of the match, where he went to a back-three setup to match Southampton’s style, placing Ashley Young at right centre-back, whilst allowing both Luke Shaw and Diogo Dalot to play as the advanced wing-backs. Due to this fine tweak, it allowed United to have an advantage on the opposition, letting them to turn around the game for the win.

The Red Devils are evidently missing a world beater of a centre back

At this moment of time, it can easily be stated that Victor Lindelof is United’s best centre-back, but he is in need of a partner that is vastly experienced and that has the presence to lift the mentality and spirits of the defence. Until this hole is filled within the backline, the side will constantly have grey patches and dark moments, where they will lapse in concentration and are bound to suffer from this setback.

If the board and Ed Woodward want to fix the ongoing defensive issues the side are facing, they should look to relentlessly target either of Jose Gimenez, Kalidou Koulibaly or Toby Alderweireld. These three centre-backs should be seen as the perfect and most realistic candidates, especially when you consider the incredible defensive contributions they have produced for their respective teams.

EPL Game of the Weekend – Bournemouth vs Wolves

bournemouthvswolvesWith a host of games in the Premier League seeing plenty of entertaining action as well as goals in all but one of the games, it is perhaps somewhat surprising that the game of the weekend in this case should be a 1-1 draw, but when Wolves travelled down south to Dean Court to take on Bournemouth the spectacle on display was anything but a dull affair. Penalties, plenty of controversy and an unscheduled water display ensured that fans attending Bournemouth’s ground were well entertained to say the least. If former Gladiators referee John Anderson were addressing entertainment in general, he would have said “you will go on my first whistle…..”

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EPL Best XI – Week 27

zahaWith the title race continuing to hot up, this weekend’s Premier League action saw contenders Liverpool going toe-to-toe with rivals Manchester United, while champions Manchester City took the weekend off from league action to battle Chelsea in Sunday’s Carabao Cup Final. At the lower end of the table, Newcastle hosted Huddersfield in what could be described as a relegation six-pointer. With that said, let us take a look at which players performed the best for their clubs over the past few days.

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Euro Fantasy League Podcast – #29 – Ramsey’s Future In Turin

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This time round, Jamie and Dave look at all the latest happenings across the Premier League, Serie A and La Liga as usual, and then discuss Aaron Ramsey’s future as a Juventus player, and consider whether this is really a good deal for all parties.

 

You can follow Dave on Twitter @daveyfenwick and Jamie is @JAMcLean1984. The podcast is of course on there too, @eurofantasypod, and you can e-mail us at eurofantasypod@gmail.com.

 

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Manchester City can’t afford to be complacent against Wolves

Manchester City v FC Barcelona - UEFA Champions League Group Stage - Group C

With nine dropped points in December, Pep Guardiola will be eager to keep the pressure on Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool when his Manchester City welcome Wolves to the Etihad Stadium on Monday night.

Being labelled as giant killers, the visitors have recently beaten Tottenham Hotspur and Liverpool and so Guardiola will warn his team against complacency, despite coming into this fixture on the back of a morale boosting wins against Rotherham (7-0) and Burton Albion (9-0) in the FA Cup and Carabao Cup semi-final. Continue reading

Euro Fantasy League Podcast – #27 – Asif Norat on Man Utd

EuroFantasyPodCover700x300Jamie welcomes Asif Norat along for the Premier League section of the show before later being joined by Dave for Serie A & La Liga.

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Back to business for Manchester City

For the mess that Manchester City have been in off the pitch with these Football Leaks allegations, it was business as usual for Pep Guardiola’s team on Saturday afternoon after they made West Ham United look like a Championship club. David Silva, Raheem Sterling and Leroy Sané had the Premier League champions 3-0 up inside 35 minutes before the latter added a second in second-half stoppage time.

For the fans of Manchester City, it was a sense of relief. With an international break last weekend, the last two weeks have been torturous for City fans following allegations by Football Leaks suggesting that the club may have conducted itself dishonestly or sought to illegitimately evade financial fair play (FFP) rules, with UEFA officials now examining these allegations before a likely investigation.

These allegations made by German outlet Der Spiegel suggest that Manchester City had tried to cheat FFP rules by City selling image rights of players to a company, Fordham Sports Management, to lower their wage bill. Whether this is true or not, it could be damaging to Manchester City while the consequences could well be severe. Manchester City aren’t the only club involved in these Football Leaks but with the eye of the world watching, Guardiola would have been keen to not let it affect his team.

Their performance against West Ham United on Saturday afternoon suggests that normality has remained on the pitch with Guardiola’s side now two points clear ahead of closest challengers Liverpool following their 4-0 win in London. And while the score line may suggest City were in top form, it certainly wasn’t their best performance with West Ham under par, as has often been the case this season. As one of two remaining undefeated teams, Pep Guardiola’s task will be to keep his players focussed with an important Champions League fixture coming up.

Despite that, Manchester City have scored 21 goals in the first-half of Premier League games this season, more than Manchester United, Tottenham Hotspur and 13 other clubs have in total, per Manchester Evening News journalist Simon Bajkowski. But while it’s an impressive stat, it still won’t be good enough for Pep Guardiola who rightly always wants more from his players.

“I give a lot of credit to our players for the victory, but it was not the best performance. I think we got a bit lucky. West Ham had a lot of chances and should have scored. But we will have more chances to be a lot better,” Guardiola said in his post-match press conference.

“We are consistent and we are a humble team, today we wasn’t so good but I love the way we run. The Premier League remains tough and we cannot deny this. I didn’t expect after what we achieved last season to have these results.”

Raheem Sterling integral to Manchester City’s season

One of those players that Pep Guardiola wants more of is perhaps Raheem Sterling, despite his impressive stats. Frustrating for England, Pep Guardiola has moulded the 23-year-old into one of the best players in the Premier League. In 44 Premier League fixtures, Sterling has 25 goals and 18 assists but Guardiola surely believes that the youngster can still do better. And maybe that’s just one reason why Manchester City have just extended the contract of Sterling until 2023, worth a potential £300,000 per week.

The understanding that Raheem Sterling has with both Sergio Aguero and Leroy Sané shares the same characteristics as that of Samuel Eto’o, Thierry Henry and Lionel Messi of Guardiola’s Barcelona side in 2009. And although Pep Guardiola has distanced himself from his time at Barcelona, this Manchester City side certainly shares the same philosophy to some degree.

Whether they retain their Premier League title this season, this Manchester City squad is frightening and will no doubt go down as one of the greatest teams in European history. Of course, winning the Champions League is the goal for everyone involved with the club, it’s the trophy that’s eluded them while many suggest winning the European competition eclipses that of winning another Premier League title.

They have the players, the staff and the backing to do so but it will be up to Pep Guardiola to guide them to a Champions League final, something they’ve yet to do.

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The Three Lions from different backgrounds ushering in England’s new era

Phil Foden, Jadon Sancho and Mason Mount were all included in Gareth Southgate’s recent Nations League squad and all three have taken unique routes to get there. They are the first set of players coming from the academy set-up that threaten to overshadow the wonderful era of Gerrard and Lampard and could well usher in an exciting period for our international team. Continue reading