Striding Sissoko stakes claim for France role at Euro 2016

Lille (France) (AFP) – With a purposeful display against Switzerland, France’s Moussa Sissoko served notice that he can bring drive and dynamism to the Euro 2016 hosts’ problematic midfield.

Aligned alongside Yohan Cabaye and Paul Pogba in a three-man midfield, Sissoko impressed as France recorded a 0-0 draw against the Swiss in Lille on Sunday that took them into the last 16 as Group A winners.

As well as catching the eye with his driving runs, his inclusion allowed Pogba to excel in his preferred left-sided role and with Blaise Matuidi struggling for form, the 26-year-old Newcastle United midfielder has given coach Didier Deschamps food for thought.

“Didier has a difficult choice to make,” former France midfielder Alain Boghossian told Monday’s edition of French sports daily L’Equipe.

“With Pogba having rediscovered his place, Blaise Matuidi could pay the price, even though he’s shone brilliantly for the past two years.

“Moussa Sissoko’s power and acceleration are impressive. He also put in a superb cross for (Dimitri) Payet. He’s always in perpetual motion.”

Switzerland have proved happy adversaries for Sissoko, for it was against the same team that he produced his best performance of the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, scoring what remains his only France goal in a 5-2 win.

Although he did not hit the same heights in Lille, he covered more ground than any other French player and almost set up the winning goal with a thrilling run and cross that substitute Payet volleyed against the bar.

In addition, his presence seemed to liberate under-fire Juventus star Pogba, who produced his most cohesive performance of the tournament to date, going close on three occasions in the first half.

“I know what he’s capable of doing,” Deschamps said of Sissoko.

“He’s always done it for us, whether it’s five minutes, 10 minutes or a half. He brings a lot, like at the World Cup. Picking him to start (against Switzerland) doesn’t mean I won’t do it again.”

– Matuidi memes –

Sissoko’s display against Switzerland arrived at an unfortunate moment for Matuidi.

The Paris Saint-Germain flier has been one of the first names on the team sheet in the Deschamps era, but he produced a below-par display in France’s opening 2-1 win over Romania and looked uncomfortable in an experimental 4-2-3-1 system during the 2-0 defeat of Albania.

Despite being one of France’s most popular players, the 29-year-old’s showing against Albania saw him mocked on social media, with one image of a cowering Matuidi spawning a flood of Internet memes.

Speaking after the Romania game, he said: “There are lots of things to look at, but I’m working on it mentally and on the pitch.”

While the Switzerland game may not have made pleasant viewing for Matuidi, there was little to trouble the other rested members of Deschamps’s nominal first-choice XI.

Crystal Palace midfielder Cabaye produced a tenacious display in the holding role, but Leicester City’s N’Golo Kante is expected to return for France’s last 16 tie against as yet unknown opponents in Lyon on Sunday.

Striker Andre-Pierre Gignac did not do enough to suggest that he should be in the side ahead of Olivier Giroud, while Payet’s instant impact as a late substitute emphasised his new status as France’s go-to creative force.

Restored to the team along with Pogba, Antoine Griezmann did not have the same impact from the right flank, but his atypical profile and superb recent form for Atletico Madrid continue to count in his favour.

Deschamps picked the same back four and goalkeeper for all three group games and with only one goal conceded, he will be encouraged that his defence is holding firm despite the pre-tournament withdrawals of centre-backs Raphael Varane, Mamadou Sakho and Jeremy Mathieu.

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