When he arrived at St James’ Park from Toulouse, Moussa Sissoko was one of the more unheralded French internationals in Didier Deschamps’ squad.
Now, thanks to an explosive introduction to life on Tyneside, the 23-year-old is one of the most exciting members of Newcastle coach Alan Pardew’s growing French contingent.
With two goals and two assists from three games, Sissoko has adapted to life in the Premier League faster and better than many would have expected from his time in Ligue 1.
Undoubtedly talented, he struggled for consistency in a team that regularly blew hot and cold, but was one of the more creative members of Alain Casanova’s side despite his regular positioning in front of the defence.
Now enjoying a more advanced role for club and country, the Magpies are reaping the benefits of Pardew’s decision to deploy Sissoko further forward. The strengths of the midfielder’s game lie in his tough tackling, no-nonsense approach with an energetic and fast style of play thanks to his athletic physique.
His creativity comes from his all-round ability, that sees him contributing goals despite playing primarily as a box-to-box midfielder.
Now out of Ligue 1 where his role in the centre of the pitch was pivotal in gaining control of matches given le Championnat’s heavy tactical focus, Sissoko has been empowered by the freedom to forget his defensive duties and concentrate on complementing the attack.
His superb technique was evidenced as early as his debut in the Aston Villa match at Villa Park where he laid on the opening goal for Papiss Cisse with a cutting through ball, perfectly weighted into the path of the Senegalese. The goal came from deep where Sissoko picked up the ball, touching on his roots as a midfield enforcer, but the vision and awareness he showed in picking out the pass was equal to that of a No. 10.
That was nothing compared to the impact he had on his home debut against Chelsea, though. His performance against the reigning European champions demonstrated that all-round ability, with his pace particularly coming to the fore.
His first goal was thanks to his pace to keep up with an incisive Geordie breakaway and quick reaction to beat Petr Cech to a parried Yoan Gouffran shot, but his second was Sissoko in a nutshell.
Davide Santon had burst into the box from the left, but Sissoko hung back on the edge of the area, ready to either take the shot or dink a cross into the box in search of the winner. He took the shot, Newcastle won the match 3-2 and the rest is history—it wasone of the Premier League’s best debut performances from the man who cost just £1.8 million.
That goal demonstrates the intelligence of the player. He has already illustrated his ability to switch from defensive lynchpin to attacking catalyst, but it is his ability to find space in such areas that allows him to exert his influence on games the way he has so far.
Defeat to Tottenham Hotspur followed, but Sissoko still managed to grab another assist, this time providing for compatriot Gouffran’s first goal in Newcastle colours.
Once again the 23-year-old displayed the importance of his speed, making a bursting run before neatly cutting the ball back for the former Bordeaux striker who finished with the aid of a deflection.
These early performances all demonstrate different aspects of Sissoko’s game. His raw power, pace, flawless technique and tireless work ethic, but the thing that knits it all together is his determination.
It would be fair to say that his ability was never in doubt at Toulouse, but his attitude was. It appears that he lost his motivation in his surroundings in the Pink City, but that has been reinvigorated now at Newcastle, hence the surprised reactions from the French press regarding his massive impact.
The presence of the large French contingent at St James’ Park also helps. Sissoko is now playing a style of football more suited to his game, but he is doing so in surroundings that are still very familiar to him given the number of French spoken players in the dressing room.
Jean-Paul Ndoumin’s role of interpreter to the team has enabled the former TFC to understand exactly what Pardew expects from him, but the high-octane nature of Premier League football has brought the best out of Sissoko because of his ability to play at such a high tempo.
Although it is still too early to judge Sissoko’s contribution in greater detail, his immediate impact has been great.
Whether he can maintain that form until the end of the season remains to be seen; for now he is the player that Toulouse knew they had, but Ligue 1 only got to see fleeting glimpses of.
Avoiding relegation looks a certainty now, but Sissoko will be even more of an asset next season as the Magpies undoubtedly chase European qualification.