It’s fair to say that this season has been a particularly strange one for Moussa Sissoko at Tottenham.
The Frenchman started the campaign as one of Jose Mourinho’s trusted lieutenants in the middle of the park, even going on a run of starting 11 consecutive Premier League games from early October to mid-December.
The turn of the year has seen him fall out of favour somewhat, with Tanguy Ndombele’s real emergence onto the scene a key factor behind his French compatriot taking a back-seat – the former Lyon man had started the previous 13 top-flight games before being rested against Crystal Palace at the weekend.
In comparison, Sissoko hasn’t completed the full 90 minutes in the league since the 1-0 defeat to Chelsea in early February. But, with a crucial game against Dinamo Zagreb in the Europa League on Thursday night, the £16.2m-rated powerhouse should be restored to the starting line-up.
With the first leg at home, Mourinho wil,l of course, want to get off to a good start, certainly picking up a win before the return fixture. But, perhaps most importantly, is ensuring Zagreb don’t get a potentially damaging away goal and give themselves something to hold on to when they head back to Croatia.
Sissoko’s introduction into the side would give Spurs a bit more protection and energy in front of the back four, and help to ensure that Zagreb can’t catch the north London side slacking on counter-attacks or in transitions – the Frenchman averages over one tackle and interception apiece this season, with his 1.2 interceptions per game actually ranking him second among all his teammates.
Speaking just last season, Kevin Phillips raved about Sissoko’s ability, saying: “At one point Kane, Son and, Sissoko were the first names on the teamsheet. We keep speaking about Son and Kane and Sissoko goes under the radar. He is a superb player – power, pace and travels with the ball really well. He can take the ball in tight situations with his strength.”
In a piece for The Athletic last year, they wrote: “While he has never been famed for his distribution, Sissoko’s hunger to win the ball back in transitions also stood out last season. It’s tempting to put his skill at doing this down to athleticism alone but Sissoko also possesses a positional intelligence that is often — there’s that word again — underrated. That’s certainly the view of one of his former coaches, who points to the way he anticipates danger and makes tackles.”
That midfield control and protection is something Mourinho will absolutely need, particularly in European competitions, and Sissoko’s return to the side would help offer that. He could well be the Spurs boss’ game-changer, from a defensive standpoint in particular, when Dinamo come to town tonight.