Senegal: The Great Disconnect

Don’t let people trick you into thinking Senegal are a few hotshot forwards and little else. Admittedly, they are well stocked in offensive areas, but this is a side that has a vein of quality running through it.

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The defence is a surprisingly under-celebrated area of strength, but Senegal conceded only one goal during qualification. It’s a record that no African nation can better and only one (Cameroon) can equal.

Captain Bouna Coundoul is the undisputed Number One, despite coming in for criticism from some quarters recently.

Ahead of him, it remains to be seen whether Giresse will return to the three-at-the-back he used during the first half of the qualifying programme, or the back four that was employed for the latter matches.

This change was necessitated, largely, by a knee injury suffered by Bordeaux captain Lamine Sane. That kept him out for two months (the final four matches) and prompted a personnel switch.

Sane has now returned, meaning that Giresse’s first-choice back three of him, the powerful Papy Djilobodji of Nantes and Newcastle United target Kara Mbodji could be employed.

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Doing this would also avoid exposing another weakness, the Lions’ lack of a quality right-back.

On the left, they are well stocked, with Pape Souare of LOSC Lille and Cheick M’Bengue of Stade Rennais both capable of playing full-back or wing-back.

Lamine Gassama of Lorient, the obvious choice, has fallen out of favour, his reputation tarnished by a dismal display against the Cote d’Ivoire in 2013, meaning that Zargo Toure has switched between being an unconvincing centre-back to being an unconvincing right-back in three of the last four matches.

idrissa gueye
Gueye | An underrated operator

Gassama has been named in the provisional squad, however, so Giresse has given himself options here.

If Giresse does return to a back three, it will likely see Steve Badji of SK Brann take a role on the right-side. The 24-year-old fills this role manfully, but isn’t a natural wideman.

A surfeit of options for the right—Henri Saivet can’t truly be trusted here in this formation due to fitness concerns and a deficient sense of defensive duty—comes in contrast to a surplus of options in the middle.

Regardless of formation (3-5-2, 4-3-3, 4-5-1) Pape Diop, Cheikhou Kouyate, Idrissa Gueye, and Alfred N’Diaye will contest two or three spots in the middle of the park.

Critics will naturally argue that these players, while all competent, are merely different shades of the same colour. It’s a fair comment, particularly as Mohamed Diame, whose advanced performances at Hull City this season at least offered the suggestion of a threat, will miss the tournament due to fitness concerns.

Gueye recently contributed two assists as LOSC Lille beat Toulouse 3-0, encouraging news for Giresse, perhaps.

The recent ‘come-and-get-me plea’ of Guingamp’s box-to-box powerhouse Younousse Sankhare was an intriguing prospect, but ultimately not enough to tempt Giresse. He’s not the hero Senegal needs right now, but is a more accomplished option than N’Diaye, at least.

He might also look at the option of giving the versatile Sadio Mane a central role, confident that he will be well-supported by his compatriots. Mane, however, faces two weeks out with injury and will-at best-be lacking match fitness for the tournament proper. Giresse has taken the gamble and opted to include him, however, an indication of his importance.

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A return to a back four gives Senegal more offensive options

Offensively, it’s hard to identify any African nation who can boast of the depth of quality that Senegal can.

Should Giresse opt for two attackers, then the best that five of Mane, Diouf, Papiss Demba Cisse, Dame Ndoye, Moussa Sow and Pape Moussa Konate can hope for is a spot on the bench! Even that’s ignoring options such as Magaye Gueye, Saivet, Khouma Babacar, Demba Ba, Diafra Sakho or even Souleymane Doukara, all of whom failed to make the squad, for various reasons.

A feud with Ba has made Giresse’s job a little easier, but the ex-Chelsea man is in superb form in Besiktas. He’s 29 and in his prime…was it really wise to ignore him?

I predict that at least two from Mane, Diouf and Ndoye will start if the French boss, as expected, opts for 3-5-2.

by Ed Dove

Senegal Team Guide
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