Mauricio Pochettino had just seen his Tottenham side draw their second game of the season when he gave a clue to his dramatic deadline night move for Moussa Sissoko. Pochettino does not go into specifics much when discussing players or transfers, but in a corridor at White Hart Lane after Saturday’s 1-1 draw with Liverpool, he said what he would be looking for in the window’s final days.
“We need a player who is more direct, more aggressive offensively,” Pochettino revealed. “Because we have players like Eriksen, [Heung-Min] Son or Lamela who like the ball played into their feet. So we need someone who has characteristics like we saw from Liverpool, like Sadio Mané, the type of player that can break the defensive line. I’m not talking about kicking or punching someone, only running and having the right mentality.”
It was a fair assessment of a type of player that Spurs have been lacking. They are a team built on energy and dynamism, but they do not have much real pace. Harry Kane is a great athlete but is not the quickest, Christian Eriksen is more about speed of thought, and Erik Lamela is more of a scurrier than a sprinter.
Dele Alli is the only man in the front four with real acceleration but even then Pochettino wanted more in his front line. Everton and Liverpool have smothered Spurs effectively already this season, in two 1-1 draws that Spurs wanted more from. Pace scares teams, and Pochettino knows that Spurs need more of it.
This is why Spurs bid £12million for Wilfried Zaha on Monday, because Pochettino knew that to give his team an extra edge they needed a player who could run in behind. Crystal Palace did not want to sell Zaha, though, but Spurs found on Wednesday evening that they could sign Sissoko, just for much more money. Georges-Kevin N’Koudou is a talented young winger from Marseille, but Sissoko is established and ready to go.
Tottenham vs Liverpool player ratings
Michel Vorm – 8 out of 10
Saved brilliantly with his feet from Coutinho early on, and continually showed how quick off his line he can be when mopping up Liverpool breaks
Kyle Walker – 5 out of 10
Subdued and eventually succumbed to illness in the first half
Toby Alderweireld – 7 out of 10
Responsible for some solid blocks, and a couple of classic raking passes over the Liverpool defence
Jan Vertonghen – 5 out of 10
Endured a difficult afternoon as he struggled to cope with the movement and pace of Liverpool’s forwards
Danny Rose – 7 out of 10
Second best in a fierce battle with Mane, but popped up at the other end with a vital equaliser.
Eric Dier – 7 out of 10
With Wanyama in midfield, he forced himself forward more than usual, supplying some testing crosses from the right.
Victor Wanyama – 6 out of 10
Struggled to keep pace when Liverpool broke at speed, but never lost heart.
Erik Lamela – 6 out of 10
Always a dangerous presence around the box when Tottenham forced themselves forward. However, he was responsible for conceding a penalty at the other end.
Dele Alli – 5 out of 10
There were flashes of last season early in proceedings, but after a series of miskicks, he faded as the match grew old.
Christian Eriksen – 5 out of 10
Anonymous for long periods, he fluffed his side’s best move of the match in the second half.
Harry Kane – 5 out of 10
Another game where the striker failed to impact on Tottenham attacks. The second game this season in which he did not register a shot on goal.
Simon Mignolet – 6 out of 10
After a run of conceding each shot on target faced this season, he made a couple of blinding saves to deny Lamela and Alderweireld – only to concede minutes later.
Nathaniel Clyne – 5 out of 10
Went missing for the Tottenham equaliser, and was not the attacking presence he can so often be.
Joel Matip – 7 out of 10
Added some much-needed reassurance to Liverpool’s backline on his first Premier League start. Nearly netted with a header too.
Dejan lovren – 7 out of 10
Another improved performance from the often criticised defender. His partnership with Matip could be one to watch.
James Milner – 7 out of 10
The makeshift left-back competed well, and converted a great penalty to give Liverpool a half-time lead.
Georginio Wijnaldum – 6 out of 10
Relatively neat in midfield, but the former Newcastle man is still finding his way in Jurgen Klopp’s side.
Jordan Henderson – 7 out of 10
The most defensive-minded of Liverpool’s midfield, he dealt with any rare Tottenham breaks and showed a willingness to get forward himself.
Sadio Mane – 8 out of 10
The only played who looked capable of stopping his electric pace and intelligent movement was himself. Fortunate to stay on after following a booking with two clumsy challenges.
Adam Lallana – 6 out of 10
Looked to get forward from midfield, he was marginally offside as he ran and centred for Mane’s disallowed goal.
Philippe Coutinho – 5 out of 10
A frustrating day for the Brazilian. Wayward with his shooting and a needless booking. Eventually substituted.
Roberto Firmino – 7 out of 10
Showed great awareness of his teammates in attack. and did extremely well to win Liverpool’s penalty.
Sissoko may not be an obvious Pochettino player, given the worries about his application and consistency. But he proved at Euro 2016 that he can rise to the occasion, and it may well be that in a better environment, with a better coach and team-mates, that he would deliver more often. It takes some time to learn exactly what Pochettino demands, with and without the ball, and no-one can expect Sissoko to settle in at White Hart Lane instantly. Even for that money.
But when Sissoko does adjust to the unique requirements of Pochettino football, he will give Spurs pace and power down the right that they have lacked. Opponents will be less willing to squeeze up, knowing that Sissoko can break through their defence. This, in turn, will make more space for Eriksen and Lamela to create in. Spurs play the game fast, but they still needed one more fast player. They have spent a record fee on Sissoko, and Pochettino hopes that their jigsaw is now complete.