Momo Sissoko and Xabi Alonso's Midfield Battle Highlights Opposite Career Paths

Paul WilkesFeatured ColumnistMarch 9, 2014

MADRID, SPAIN - MARCH 09: Xabi Alonso of Real Madrid CF competes for the ball behind Mohamed Sissoko of Levante UD during the La Liga match between Real Madrid CF and Levante UD at Estadio Satiago Bernabeu on March 9, 2014 in Madrid, Spain.  (Photo by Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images)
Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images

"Woah woah woah, we've got the best midfield in the world. Xabi Alonso, Momo Sissoko, Gerrard and Mascherano," the Liverpool fans used to sing. It wasn't an overly exaggerated assumption, the song was sung between 2006 and 2008 with the Reds reaching a second Champions League final in three years in between.

It was also before the Xavi, Andres Iniesta and Sergio Busquets trio emerged at Barcelona. There were no doubt other midfields in world football of a high standing, but the fact that Spain's big two subsequently picked off two of those players when Liverpool's financial problems became public showed the level the four were operating at.

Before Javier Mascherano joined from West Ham, it was Sissoko and Alonso who formed a partnership, with Steven Gerrard moved out to the right-hand side. Sissoko's energy and tenacity, alongside the vision and technique of Alonso allowed Gerrard a free role to roam inside.

LIVERPOOL, UNITED KINGDOM - SEPTEMBER 20:  Xabi Alonso of Liverpool celebrates with his teammates goalkeeper Jose Reina, Momo Sissoko and Daniel Agger after he scored during the Barclays Premiership match between Liverpool and Newcastle United at Anfield
Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

The Mali international was playing with Alonso, when the Spaniard scored from his own half against Newcastle, via The Independent. An injury to Sissoko's eye certainly hampered the 21-year old's good form, per BBC. He never quite hit the early heights after that for Liverpool, and he left for Juventus in 2008.

Here the two former midfield teammates came head to head with their careers having travelled in very different directions. The move to Italy wasn't a step down for Sissoko, but his injury problems persisted, and he never showed his full ability, via ESPN FC. Juve won the league the season after he left, having finished seventh previously.

That was followed by two years at PSG including a short loan move to Fiorentina, before spending five months without a club. Now Sissoko finds himself at Levante, a club renowned for signing misfits and players who have failed to live up to their promise.

Alonso is now in his fifth season with Los Blancos and has been one of their most important players. He is 32 and still crucial to dictating the tempo of the team.

At the Bernabeu, Sissoko made his full debut for the club from Valencia. "We have nothing to lose against Real Madrid, it’s them that has something to lose," the midfielder told the press before the match, via Inside Spanish Football. "We’re going there with absolutely zero pressure. We want to have a good game and take points."

It's hard to believe that Sissoko is still only 29 and should be at his peak using conventional wisdom. He has won seven trophies throughout his career, and six of those came before the age 22, which highlights his history on the treatment table.

No one completed more passes than Alonso against Levante, via FourFourTwo stats zone; he controlled the game with relative ease. His long diagonal balls out to the feet of Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale were exquisite.

Sissoko has never been the greatest of passers, preferring to keep it simple and carry the ball instead. The fact he made more passes than any of his teammates symbolises not only his sides lack of invention but also his own fitness concerns. He gave the ball away needlessly at times as he looked to conjure something up.

When he pressed the opposition, he was passed around with ease; the tireless energy that he once displayed to get around the field was replaced with just tiredness.

It was of course his first full 90 minutes in almost a year, and he was the best tackler on the pitch. He made the same amount of ball recoveries as Alonso, but the positioning of these illustrates the difference between the two teams in terms of pressure.

This was Alonso doing what he does best; it was nothing out of the ordinary for the Basque because standards have been set so high. For Sissoko it could be the start of a mini-revival, providing he can stay free from injury.