What does Moussa Sissoko bring to Tottenham? Currently, it seems little more than squad depth. Something that has been truly tested in recent weeks and this will continue to be the case. A look at the fixtures to follow is truly terrifying. Without a range of first choice options, it’s hard to see where the next Spurs win is coming from.
Newcastle United fans could not wait to get rid of Moussa Sissoko in the Summer. Questions over his attitude, desire to play and hunger for the contest were raised and seemingly answered in the response to his departure. As well as his performances. The same questions cannot be asked by Tottenham supporters, as Sissoko is clearly trying. There is an understanding that he feels the level at Newcastle was too low for him, evidence by his impressive showing for France at the Euros.
But for Spurs, most of that is irrelevant. Of much greater relevance is how he performs for them. Whilst Erik Lamela has hardly set the world alight on the right of attacking midfield in recent times, Sissoko’s poor showing means he is missed far more than should be the case. Sissoko just looks off the pace, like his mind is not quite ticking over fast enough, his reactions look slow and some of his passing is nothing short of dreadful. Even at his most threatening moments, when he has time to find the right pass or his brain is operating at full functionality, something goes awry. A turnover or a 50-50 ball at best that hampers Spurs’ attacking forays.
To be fair to Sissoko, his inability to execute is reflective of the entire squad since the 2-0 victory over Manchester City. Which seems an eternity ago. Surely it didn’t happen this season when Spurs can’t buy a goal, but rather last whilst challenging for the Premier League title? It’s somewhat ironic that in their best performance of the season Lamela missed a penalty, yet since then the only way Tottenham have been able to score is from the spot. Perhaps best not to consider how much worse the sluggish goal scoring record would look without those Janssen spot kicks – at least they do count as goals, even if not from open play.
Without Harry Kane, Toby Alderweireld and Lamela, squad depth is truly tested and shown to be severely lacking. Three key positions on the pitch – Kane and Alderweireld in particular. As the old adage goes, “you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone,” well…Harry and Toby have shown through their missing games of football, just how good at it they really are. And how crucially important they are to Spurs. They simply cannot be replaced. The fact that Lamela too, not in the same class of influence as the aforementioned pair, can also not be covered, points to alarming issues related to quality outside the starting eleven.
This is the crux of the issue; Spurs had an eleven or twelve in the Premier League last season that stayed fit and healthy, were in form and allowed a challenge at the top of the table. This time around, and you could hardly call what is happening an injury crisis; the ability of players to step up and fill in at anywhere near the same level is just not there. You simply can’t drop or give a decent rest to the likes of Christian Eriksen when there is no one of proven quality to come in and take his position for more than a game or so at a time.
Whilst Sissoko, Victor Wanyama and Vincent Janssen were added in the Summer, only Wanyama has proven himself a first choice player. The other two are either not up to it consistently (Sissoko), not in form or learning how to play in a new competition (Janssen and Georges-Kevin N’Koudou). That Sissoko in particular is unable to fill in to a competent level, apart from his early cameo appearances, is a real indictment on the player. If Wanyama can do it, then so should Sissoko be able to at his age and experience. Add this to the fact that the absent Alderweireld is clearly one of the best players in his position in the Premier League, and you’re down to the bare bones.
With depth lacking and the remaining members of the squad unable to reach levels of last season, Mauricio Pochettino has only one option. To persist. And find a way with these players at his disposal, to hang in and hope that Kane and Alderweireld can make the difference and provide a lift to their teammates upon returning. Short term, this could be problematic. Beginning with the North London Derby. Will this massive fixture be enough to spark the players into a sudden turn around in form? Medium term, there seems more hope. If Spurs can win or draw enough games in the next few weeks to avoid dropping completely out of contention, then a top 4 spot may still be within reach.
Long term though, the challenges are immense. The depth needs improving, either in the transfer window/s or by blooding more youngsters in more important competitions. It is just not viable to rely on 14 or 15 players to get through a Premier League and Champions League campaign. Especially when two or three of those are not (yet?) up to the mark, and another two or three are injured. Pochettino needs high quality reinforcements in one form or another, or Tottenham’s return to the upper echelon of competition will be nothing but a brief flirtation.