The 2015/16 Premier League season will go down as one of the most significant in the proud history of English football since the modern format was first introduced in 1992.
Leicester City achieved the impossible and secured their first ever league title a year after struggling against relegation, an achievement as important for breaking the previous top four monopoly as it was for any aesthetic value; a feat almost surely never to be replicated.
And at the other end of the table, two of English football’s finest clubs finally saw their battle against relegation ended, as Newcastle United and Aston Villa’s slow suffocation was mercifully ended by the sweet release of relegation.
But while Leicester’s title charge and Tottenham’s renaissance has seen all eyes on English duo Harry Kane and Jamie Vardy, and their supporting cast of compatriots Danny Drinkwater, Wes Morgan and PFA Young Player of the Year Dele Alli, the success of this season has been more than just a tale of a nation’s pride in an English core belatedly topping the table.
Indeed, with the extraordinary debuts of Dmitri Payet, N’Golo Kanté and Anthony Martial, this has more evidently been a season belonging to Les Bleus and their breakthrough stars.
Payet has been the virtuoso midfield instigator that has provided the stardust to West Ham’s hunt for European football, Kanté has been the surging midfield anchor-man that has propelled Leicester to their astonishing first league crown and with Anthony Martial continuing his meteoric rise in a stuttering Manchester United side, one could argue that Didier Deschamps’s men have equally excelled this campaign.
Here, in a five part series by Jeffrey Gamby Boulger GFFN lists our top 5 Frenchmen in the Premier League this season in the build-up to EURO 2016. First up, in 5th place, Newcastle’s Moussa Sissoko.
5: Moussa Sissoko
To begin, our first entry is arguably our most controversial. It goes to Moussa Sissoko, fresh from a respectable but ultimately unsuccessful battle against relegation with Newcastle United.
Whereas Yohan Cabaye started this season strongly, regaining the sort of prowess and pomp that made him so desirable in his Newcastle days, his form suffered alarmingly as Crystal Palace faltered badly in the second half of the season ensuring he missed out in our top 5.
And despite Mamadou Sakho also having a decent campaign in patches under Jürgen Klopp, finally looking more like the player Liverpool hoped they had signed, his campaign was ended prematurely and his reputation somewhat tarnished by a failed drugs test meaning he also misses out.
So 5th place goes to Sissoko, and while it is true he has himself not been particularly effective or indeed motivated for large chunks of the season, we have at least during Rafa Benitez’s short reign been able to witness more of the player we know he is capable of being.
Deployed on both the left flank and as a more influential number 10, the Frenchman was handed the captain’s armband at St James’ Park by Benitez shortly after his arrival, and this decision aligned with some subtle tactical tweaks from the Spaniard helped reinvigorate the Frenchman.
He responded to this added responsibility and new found importance to his team with a string of improved performances, culminating in a fantastic display in Newcastle’s final day 5-1 victory at home to Spurs, with the powerful Frenchman almost unplayable and performing with the kind if vigour that has been seen all too rarely this season.
Indeed, pushing any benevolent notions aside, one should concentrate on the cold hard facts in deciding whether Sissoko’s upturn in form was for the benefit of his team or for personal gain.
Whether the Frenchman was putting himself in the shop window for his long awaited departure from the Magpies, condemned to life in the Championship next season, or simply trying to convince those with doubts that his place in the national side for this summer’s EURO 2016 competition is fully warranted, the final 10 games of the season nevertheless saw Sissoko perform with just enough credibility and quality to edge into our top 5.
Another option was Arsenal’s much maligned Olivier Giroud, who despite heavy criticism still managed to score a highly respectable 16 goals this season.
But he often cut a frustrated and inconsistent figure, suffering some severe goal droughts before a final day hat trick against already relegated Aston Villa.
What tipped things in Sissoko’s favour was his instrumental displays under Rafa Benitez, where he was able to lift his performances to another level.
Had they survived, he would have been one of the key components in another miraculous escape for Newcastle and perhaps higher placed on our list.
A disappointing return of just one solitary goal and seven assists masks the importance of the French powerhouse, who ended the season with an average Whoscored.com rating of 7.04.
Certainly, considering his performances consistently over the course of the full season, it is Sissoko’s final 10 game renaissance that ensures he makes our top 5.
While others started the season strongly yet faded away, Sissoko was quite the opposite, ending with the kind of form we should expect from him every week.
The Frenchman certainly benefited under the tutelage of Benitez’s short reign, but had he managed to perform to such levels over the course of the entire campaign, he would find himself much higher in our list and perhaps even in the Premier League table.