By Isa Sulayman
Another season, another new left-back. Aly Cissokho is the latest to attempt to solve what has really been a problem area for the club since Wilfred Bouma’s final [playing] season in 2008.
Paul Lambert will certainly be desperate for the French player to succeed given his particular failure with left-backs so far. As will the fans who have had the misfortune of suffering through the performances of Stephen Warnock, Joe Bennett and Antonio Luna in recent years. Despite a respectable career which includes spells with the likes of Porto, Lyon and Valencia, and transfer fees including €12 million and €5 million moves in his career, the Frenchman’s arrival has generated some degree of skepticism from those only acquainted with him from his disappointing loan spell at Liverpool last season. But was that a true reflection of his ability?
What is he?
First things first, let’s get down to seeing what type of player Cissokho is. During his first interview with Liverpool upon signing for them, he was asked to describe his qualities as a player. “I’m an athletic player and use my strength and speed down the left hand side. I like to get up and down my side of the field.” he replied. When asked the same by Jack Woodward of AVTV, he said: “I’m quick and strong. I like to go forward and help my teammate and also defend with the centre-back.”
The use of the word ‘athletic’ is particularly apt and it is his physical attributes that primarily define his game, especially defensively.
Formidable physicality and genuine pace are underpinned by a robust engine. All of which enable him to be adept at dealing with things like one-on-one’s, pitch coverage and even aerial duels. He does have a fair positional awareness alongside all of this though. Rarely will he be caught out or completely fail to track his runner and he can be trusted to adequately cover for teammates when necessary.
Importantly, he strikes a sensible defence/offense balance whereby he provides a consistent attacking outlet but never at the expense of prioritising his defensive responsibilities. One slight blemish would be that he is prone to being a little rash at times and give away silly fouls, thus picking up needless cautions. Though he has only picked up three red cards in the last five years which suggests he is able to keep it in check.
Moving on to the technical side of his game and he does seem to have developed a reputation for being a poor ball-player since his spell at Liverpool last season. Which is understandable as he didn’t exactly impress in that department (or many others for that matter) while there. However he has previously demonstrated that he can be competent, even if unspectacular, in possession. At Lyon, who were a possession-based side, he didn’t look out of place at all and retained the ball comfortably enough. It was the same at Valencia. As long as he keeps it simple, there is no issue and he definitely isn’t the clogger he is being portrayed as in some quarters.
But if you like full-backs that contribute a great deal offensively then you won’t be overawed by Cissokho. As a crosser he is pretty deficient, he doesn’t drift/cut inside enough to find himself in many goalscoring opportunities, nor is he known for possessing a lethal strike. Saying this, he is an impressive dribbler and is capable of beating opponents to still find himself in useful attacking positions.
It is important though that other players anticipate this and move into proximity to Cissokho himself, so he doesn’t have to be too ambitious in his final distribution. By far his most valuable offensive contribution though is the freedom he is is able to afford the player ahead of him due to his conservative nature, as Michel Bastos and Jonas would testify.
Regarding his time at Liverpool (which the above video takes an ironic and funny stab at), it cannot be whitewashed but at the same time it shouldn’t be read too deeply into. Firstly, it is widely acknowledged that even the best players sometimes require an adaptation period in the Premier League and 12 starts doesn’t constitute this by any standards.
He didn’t seem fully fit either as he appeared surprisingly sluggish for a player that possesses such undoubted speed and mobility. Again, the lack of game-time hardly helped him to find match-sharpness. Finally, we should also remember that he has already proven himself at a high standard of football prior to this, in La Liga with Valencia and in the Champions League with multiple clubs. So there is more than enough basis to believe he is capable of playing to an acceptable standard here and as already mentioned, he has the physical attributes to suggest he should be able to finally adjust to the pace of this league.
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