Moussa Sissoko has improved recently, but when you’ve been as underwhelming as the £30 million summer signing from Newcastle United, any level of performance would have been acceptable.
The France international has his place, and that’s why Didier Deschamps continues to pick him in his squads. He knows he is going to get a willing runner, an athlete, a powerhouse. What he’s not picking Sissoko for, is guile, creativity and as a threat in the final third.
Against Southampton, in perhaps Spurs best performance of the season, the 27-year-old started on the right of the 4-2-3-1, that’s where he plays for France and it’s the only position where Mauricio Pochettino can slot him in playing this way. He’d also be well suited to the right of a central three if they ever went 3-5-2 again.
Newcastle fans must tune into every Spurs game just so they can watch Sissoko and laugh their bollocks off. £30 million. Jesus.
— Paddy Power (@paddypower) December 28, 2016
Sissoko had one key pass, then his cross was deflected onto Dele Alli’s head for the equaliser. Statistically, what he did after that isn’t picked up by sites like WhoScored. He made three tackles, attempted two crosses and only made 37 passes for the 73 minutes he was on the pitch. Hugo Lloris and Harry Kane are the only two starting players that made fewer.
There is a time and a place for Sissoko. Playing against the likes of Burnley, Hull City and Swansea, you can outmuscle them, battle with them, you need someone that can bring that physical presence. If he was consistent, then at least you would know what you were getting, but paying £30 million for someone who can’t even provide you with the elements of the game he is good at, week in week out, isn’t good enough for a club with Spurs ambitions.
Pochettino’s side sit just one point behind Arsenal in fourth and 10 behind the leaders Chelsea. What is telling this season is that they have failed to beat Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool. Manchester City are the only club in the top seven that they’ve taken three points off. To change that, they need a touch of class. Some guile, someone to provide the unexpected in the final third.
Spending a huge amount of money on Sissoko on the final day of the summer transfer window may hinder what Spurs can do in January, but if they want to push up the table, they need to act sooner rather than later.
Here are three options for the North London club to pursue next month:
Nabil Fekir paints a picture
“Fekir is an artist,” the words of Olympique Lyonnais coach, Bruno Genesio in September. Magician might be a better word, either way, he is a forward that makes things happen. Able to play on the wing, as a No.10 or even as a forward, he has it all.
He’s compact, but powerful. The 23-year-old is explosive and fiery, plus he has the skill to jink past defenders, then the strength to hold them off whilst finding a pass or a finish.
This season he is still trying to find his full fitness after last year’s terrible cruciate knee ligament injury that saw him miss out on the European Championships. He’s still managed four goals and two assists. Fekir averages 2.3 shots per game, 1.9 key passes and 1.6 dribbles per game. The France international makes things happen. Either he can do that with slick build up play, or he can magic something from nothing.
Contracted until 2020, it would take a bid of Sissoko proportions to get Lyon talking. OL president, Jean-Michel Aulas might be a pain to deal with, especially after drawn out process the London club took to sign Clinton N’Jie, but Aulas will never put that before getting a deal done. He also has the same agent as Sissoko, so they will be happy to deal with Spurs again.
Before his injury, he managed 13 goals and nine assists during the 2014/15 season, that saw his profile rise to the top and Arsenal were heavily linked with a move. Instead of targeting players like N’Jie and Georges-Kevin Nkoudou, who play on a level below Fekir, Spurs need to chase the bigger fish.
Isco: The bargain of the year
In 666 minutes of limited La Liga action, Isco has picked up two goals and three assists this term. The 24-year-old Spaniard is unhappy that he’s not a regular starter for Los Blancos, and that’s understandable.
His contract runs out in 2018, and if Real can’t convince him to extend that deal, there is a real bargain to be had in the Spanish capital. The former Malaga star can play on either flank, even though he heavily prefers his right-foot.
From watching his fleeting minutes in the Real Madrid first-team, you can see exactly how he would blend in with Kane, Alli and Christian Eriksen. Isco is an instigator and a worker, his running creates problems and he can fashion chances from anywhere in the final third. He plays with his head up, looking for chinks in the defensive armour. That unselfishness and vision can be priceless.
Last season, in his 21 starts, he picked up seven assists and averaged 1.3 shots, 1.4 key passes and 1.8 dribbles per game.
Spurs like to play it tight through the middle and link little triangles of passes. That’s right up Isco’s street. He is exactly the type of player you need when defences are being stubborn and you need that bit of something different to unlock them.
Julian Brandt: The future
This 20-year-old German winger is one of the most exciting prospects in Europe. Starring for Bayer Leverkusen, he has shown glimpses that he has the complete game needed to excel at the highest level.
At 6 foot 1 inches tall, he’s a physical player, but he has the pace to burn defenders down either flank. With close control to escape from tight, tricky situations, he has the touch of an old-fashioned winger, but then he will get his head up and knock the ball into space and burst down the touchline.
With two goals and six assists this season, he is one of the most productive players in the Bundesliga. He’s averaging 1.3 shots, 1.6 key passes and 2.4 dribbles per game.
He signed a deal in 2014 that takes him up to 2019, but as he is on just £17,000 a week, Spurs would have no problem in offering him a bumper new deal.
Brandt, due to the way Leverkusen play, has been touted with a transfer to Liverpool in the summer, but Spurs are in the market for similar players and if they could make a big move in January, it would not only steal a march on their rivals, but give them a very promising player that can add to the team now, not in a few years.
Three players, all at different stages of their career, with different reasons to move in January. If Spurs want to seriously challenge the top four and look forward, rather than at the chasing pack, they need someone of this calibre to beat the top teams.