A 1-0 home win over struggling Auxerre in Ligue 1 on March 25, 2012, propelled Toulouse up to 4th in the league table. The last time they finished that high at season’s closing was back in the 08/09 season.
They are undefeated in their last 6 games, winning 5 and drawing 1, and are just 3 points off 3rd-placed Lille in the race for that final Champions League spot. Over the course of such a largely successful season, it is Etienne Capoue who has proven to be the club’s standout performer. As the lone covering midfielder in Alain Casanova’s preferred 4-1-4-1 system, the rugged Frenchman has impressed, attracting attention from many clubs in the process.
Recently, though, a transfer story broke concerning another of Toulouse’s gems — Moussa Sissoko. The highly-rated midfielder, who nearly moved to Spurs a few years back, has seemingly caught the eye of clubs around Europe. This is somewhat of a surprise, considering that Sissoko hasn’t really been at his best over the last few years. He certainly hasn’t been as consistent as Capoue. Flix & Trix examines the reason why…
This is the main reason why Sissoko has struggled for consistency over the past 3 years. Since arriving at Toulouse in 2008, Alain Casanova has favored 1-striker systems. WhenAndré-Pierre Gignac was there, he used a 4-5-1 setup more often than not. From last season, he began favoring the 4-1-4-1.
As mentioned, Etienne Capoue claimed the position of the lone holding midfielder as his own. As a result, in order for Moussa Sissoko to get adequate playing time, he has had to make himself comfortable in a more advanced central midfield position. Unfortunately, though, Sissoko hasn’t completely adjusted.
From a broad, attacking point of view, the 14 goals and 7 assists he has contributed over the last 3 years isn’t too shabby. However, as is well known, stats can sometimes prove deceptive. Indeed, beneath all these decent numbers, a problem lies beneath — one that has seen regression take place over the last 3 years, rather than progression.
This problem concerns his passing. Quite simply, despite his incredible athleticism, Sissoko’s passing range and quality aren’t exactly suited to that of a creative midfielder who is supposed to be so decisive in the final third. His preference for the short pass along with a pass completion percentage averaging 76.9 over the last 3 years evidences this. His long ball completion percentage over the same period isn’t too impressive either, standing at 66.5.
This has manifested itself via possession turnovers. Sissoko has turned the ball over 2.1 times per game on average over the last 3 years despite averaging 1.2 key passes per game over that same period, indicating that he isn’t reliable when it comes to unlocking defenses in the final third. This helps explain why Toulouse, although 4th, have the 8th worst attack in the league with 31 goals scored and the club’s top league scorer has a mediocre tally of 4 goals.
In addition, Sissoko has fouled almost twice per game (1.7) over that same period of 3 years. Lining these stats up together, they tell the story of a player who, upon seeing his attempted passes cut out in an advanced position on the pitch, tracks back desperately to atone for his error and subsequently breaks up his opponents’ play. His tally of 14 yellow cards since 2009 is further proof of this. But if Sissoko isn’t suited to an advanced role, where should he play?
Despite featuring in a slightly more advanced position, Sissoko has demonstrated an ability to defend. Since 2009, he has averaged 1.4 tackles, 1.3 interceptions (both per game) and is dribbled by opponents just .4 times per game. That last stat indicates that his positioning is quite good. These things said, it would be wise to withdraw Sissoko from his advanced position and partner him with Capoue in defensive midfield instead, perhaps in a 4-2-3-1 setup.
Sissoko actually featured as a defensive midfielder once this season — in August 2011 in a 2-0 home win over Dijon — and impressed immensely, even setting up a goal. On the defensive side, he won 4 tackles in that game, giving further proof that he deserves more of a chance in that position. And interestingly enough, the formation used in that win was…the 4-2-3-1.
Even though he would be positioned deeper in midfield, it doesn’t mean that Sissoko’s impressive athleticism should be disregarded. The consistently reliable defensive cover that Capoue offers should allow Sissoko the freedom to make runs off the ball from deep. Although not exactly a pass master, given his ability to go past his man with pace, power and a bit of trickery, Sissoko would definitely make things happen as he links up with team-mates positioned higher up the pitch.
Sissoko also has the ability to release players ahead of him by means of through balls. Over the last 3 years, he has completed 40% of these, which is quite decent. So while he isn’t reliable in the final third with his passing, he can at least start moves, which is quite encouraging.
All in all, there is no doubting Sissoko’s talent. The fact that clubs are reportedly circling him shows that there is indeed something to him. As was seen, however, he is not yet at his best. So if clubs are interested now, just imagine when he is.
*- Ratings (out of 10) and stats courtesy of whoscored.com