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World Cup Preview: Senegal

Go on, Gana!

Nigeria v Senegal - International Friendly Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images

A full preview is a bit outside the Royal Blue Mersey scope, but everyone loves the World Cup. As such, we’re going to take a few days to preview each team that named an Everton player in their squad. Next up: Senegal.

Squad

Goalkeepers: Abdoulaye Diallo (Rennes), Alfred Gomis (SPAL), Khadim Ndiaye (Horoya).
Defenders: Lamine Gassama (Alanyaspor), Saliou Ciss (Valenciennes), Kalidou Koulibaly (Napoli), Kara Mbodii (Anderlecht), Youssouf Sabaly (Bordeaux), Salif Sane (Hannover), Moussa Wague (Eupen).
Midfielders: Idrissa Gueye (Everton), Cheikhou Kouyate (West Ham United), Alfred Ndiaye (Wolverhampton Wanderers), Badou Ndiaye (Stoke City), Cheikh Ndoye (Birmingham City), Ismaila Sarr (Rennes).
Forwards: Keita Balde (Monaco), Mame Biram Diouf (Stoke City), Moussa Konate (Amiens), Sadio Mane (Liverpool), Mbaye Niang (Torino), Diafra Sakho (Rennes), Moussa Sow (Bursaspor).

System

Aliou Cisse has been in the job since 2015, and has the Les Lions de la Téranga pretty set in a 4-2-3-1. The problem is that it doesn’t seem to be working very well. Senegal has registered a whopping zero wins in their last four matches, including a 0-0 draw to...Luxembourg, and a 1-1 against Uzbekistan. Not great!

The side is low on creative midfielder types to begin with (we’ll get to that later), and removing a body from that area - likely West Ham’s Cheikhou Kouyate - and adding another attacker seems like taking away from what the team does best. Furthermore, playing Sadio Mane as your #10 is gross malpractice. Other than that...

Strengths

Senegal’s best chance of wreaking havoc in Russia lies with their defensive midfield. Idrissa Gueye is the anchor, and will be in charge of busting opposition attacks to pieces. He’ll be partnered by either Badou N’Diaye or the aforementioned Kouyate. We know they’ll create turnovers, the question is whether or not they can get the ball forward.

Weaknesses

Creativity is going to be a major issue with this team. The forwards have loads of skill, speed, and technical ability, but Senegal’s midfield simply does not stand out for its passing capability. Perhaps they can mitigate the issue by playing long to Mane, Niang, or Balde Keita, but keep an eye on this problem in the weeks to come.

X-Factor

Kalidou Koulibaly is Senegal’s best defender by some distance, and leads a back line that is significantly worse than their colleagues in midfield and attack. Koulibaly has been linked to sides like Chelsea and Everton, and with good reason - he’s an absolute unit, as the kids say. In order for Senegal to be at their best, Koulibaly will need to be at his.

Everton Angle

Much like with Everton, Idrissa Gana Gueye is expected to be Senegal’s rock in midfield, and will also need to step up his distribution, too. Gueye may come up directly against James Rodriguez for a spot in the knockout rounds, and I wouldn’t put it past him getting it done.

Ivory Coast v Senegal - International Friendly Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images

Group Stage Schedule

Senegal vs. Poland | Moscow | June 19 | 11:00 AM EST / 4 PM BST
Senegal vs. Japan | Yekaterinburg | June 24 | 11:00 AM EST / 4 PM BST
Senegal vs. Colombia | Samara | June 28 | 10:00 AM EST / 3 PM BST

Prediction

Out in the round of 16. There’s enough quality here to nick Poland and Japan for second place in Group H, but that would likely pit the Senegalese against Belgium or England, with Brazil presumably after that. Sorry, guys.