It was the 94th minute of an edgy contest between Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester United. Bruno Fernandes seemed to have found Marcus Rashford in a dangerous position with a brilliant pass. Were it not for Moussa Sissoko's well-timed tackle, United may well have clinched the win in a match where they looked menacing in attack since the introduction of Paul Pogba.
Sissoko was not always so dependable for Spurs when he first joined them from Newcastle United on deadline day in the summer of 2016 for a reported £30 million. He was seen as inconsistent by Mauricio Pochettino, who used him mostly as a substitute. Sissoko would not even cross the 1,000-minute mark in his first season in the Premier League with Tottenham.
Sissoko, who played as a winger for Newcastle, had to adapt as he was converted into a central midfielder. Last season was when Sissoko stood out for Tottenham as he played more than 2,000 minutes in the Premier League and contributed significantly to the team.
The Frenchman, who had been out injured alongside Harry Kane and Son Heung-Min before the pandemic was missed as Spurs went through a bad run of form. His physical presence and endless energy were missed in the middle of the pitch as Mourinho complained about his "lack of midfield" in the game against Burnley.
Jose Mourinho's tactics
Jose Mourinho has built his reputation as a head coach who depends on defensive diligence and incisive counters to win matches over his career. This was one of the big reasons why things went awry for him at Manchester United, where teams sat deep and gave Mourinho a dose of his own medicine.
Such a style of play means Mourinho likes to employ pivots in the midfield to ensure stability at the back. This means the Portuguese tactician also usually prefers a robust presence in the midfield to sweep up through balls and win second balls.
Tottenham also lacks personnel in midfield with just Tanguy Ndombele, Harry Winks, Sissoko, and January addition Gedson Fernandes to chose from.
Moussa Sissoko stands out under Jose Mourinho
Mourinho's criticism of Ndombele is somewhat understandable when you see the gulf of difference between his and Sissoko's defensive numbers.
He had remarked before the lockdown that he expected more from the Frenchman. While the Portuguese can be pretty blase and out of order when it comes to criticizing players, he does seem to have a point about Ndombele.
Ndombele intercepting 26 passes in his own half is not enough by any standards, considering he has made 19 appearances in the league. Harry Winks, the only other option for Mourinho in the midfield besides Gedson Fernandes, has done much better defensively but is still way behind Sissoko.
Sissoko is way ahead of every other Tottenham midfielder when it comes to defensive contributions and his nous to smother attacks is apparent. He has intercepted 70 passes in his own half so far this season, something which Mourinho appreciates and demands from his midfielders.
The former Newcastle player's attacking output is also impressive considering his overarching defensive contributions to this Tottenham team. He has the same amount of expected assists as Harry Winks and beats Ndombele in this category, which is surprising as they are both considered to be technically better.
The Frenchman is better still as a passer of the ball into the final third and has completed 46 so far this season, a stat which dwarfs those of his midfield teammates. Such an all-round performance throughout the midfield is why Sissoko was such a sore absence for Mourinho and Tottenham in the days leading up to lockdown.
The lack of competition for places in midfield also means that despite him turning 31 this August, he will surely have an important part to play. Especially if it's under Mourinho's Tottenham.Published 26 Jun 2020, 17:03 IST