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Sissoko determined to make amends for last season's Liverpool horror show
WHEN Moussa Sissoko crossed the Channel and moved to England, one of the things he was most looking forward to was an encounter with Liverpool.
Locking horns with one of the most iconic clubs in European football. Taking on some of the leading centre-forwards plying their trade in the Premier League. And hopefully coming out on top in front of a passionate and expectant St James' Park crowd.
Suffice to say that when his wish was finally granted in April, things did not exactly go to plan.
“I'd never lost a game 6-0,” said Sissoko, who, like the rest of his team-mates six months ago, was powerless to prevent Liverpool running riot as they inflicted Newcastle's heaviest defeat of the season. “It was very hard to take.
“When you lose 6-0 in a game, it is never easy. Yes, I was embarrassed and angry. I was angry because when you lose 6-0, it is very hard on you. You are also very sad.
“The feeling was bad, but thankfully it was a long time ago. I think me and all the other players have tried to forget last season and move on. It's a new season and a new start.”
The cathartic process will not be complete, however, until Newcastle have avenged their embarrassment with a victory of their own, and the opportunity for redemption arrives this lunch-time as Liverpool return to Tyneside looking to move ahead of Arsenal at the top of the Premier League table.
While Brendan Rodgers' side have started the season impressively, Newcastle's form has been a mixed bag. Wretched against Manchester City and Everton, and worryingly flat against Hull, their away victories at Aston Villa and Cardiff have hinted at the potential within a squad that contains enough ability to make a top-ten finish a more than viable proposition.
On their day, Newcastle are capable of competing with the best, a moniker that no longer looks out of place when attached to Liverpool. As last season's humiliation displayed, though, the Magpies remain infuriatingly inconsistent, and when things go wrong, they tend to collapse completely.
“For us, the start of the season has not been too bad, but it has not been too good either,” agreed Sissoko. “Against Aston Villa and Cardiff, the team played very well. But in the first half at Manchester City and at Everton, we were bad.
“Together, we have to work hard and make the team better. We have come back from the international break and we are all very happy. The game against Liverpool will not be an easy one for us, but if we play well, we will win.”
In many ways, Sissoko's personal form in the last ten months has mirrored Newcastle's fortunes as a whole. There have been glimpses of brilliance, and the occasional performance that has hinted at great things to come. But there have also been spells of mediocrity and a nagging sense that at least some of the latent potential is going unfulfilled.
Last season, the 24-year-old spent most of his time in an advanced attacking midfield role, and while he appeared ideally suited to it as he produced a man-of-the-match display in an explosive debut at Aston Villa, many of his subsequent performances were ineffectual as he looked uncomfortable playing so close to the striker.
There have been times this term when he has played in an advanced position, but his most productive performances have come when he has dropped deeper to partner either Cheik Tiote or Vurnon Anita. With the likes of Yohan Cabaye, Hatem Ben Arfa, Yoan Gouffran and Loic Remy to accommodate, that is surely Sissoko's optimal role.
“I like both positions in midfield,” he said. “Last season I played at number ten, more attacking, and now I am playing more as a number eight, more defensive.
“I have to stay in the middle. Sometimes, I go forward, but when we have Hatem, Loic, Yoan, four or five players who are very offensive, then I have to stay back and be disciplined.”
As part of a January influx that also included Mathieu Debuchy, Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa, Massadio Haidara and Gouffran, Sissoko found himself at the centre of a storm that posited Newcastle's overseas players against the club's domestic contingent as results nosedived towards the end of last season.
The situation within the dressing room was never as simple as that, but Alan Pardew admitted that the language barrier had presented problems and the overseas players were instructed to step up their English lessons over the summer.
They are clearly making progress, and while there will inevitably be times when French is spoken, communication does not appear to be as much of a problem as it perhaps was five or six months ago.
“My English is not so good, but I do try and I talk with the other players at school and I like it,” said Sissoko. “It is fun, but it is also very important for the team.
“I think the best in the English lessons is Yohan Cabaye. Of the new ones, I think the best is Yoan Gouffran, and perhaps Massadio Haidara is the worst. But I think we are all getting better.”
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