England vs Senegal Tactical Preview

Sam McGuire | @SamMcGuire90

England vs Senegal Tactical Preview

In the end, it was easy for England. Gareth Southgate’s men cantered to a 3-0 win over Wales to secure top spot in Group B and set up a Sunday evening clash with Senegal. It wasn’t quite as straightforward for the Lions of Teranga as it was for the Three Lions. 

Senegal's Direct Play Could Cause England Problems

A 3-1 win over Qatar got them back on track and set up an epic final game against Ecuador. It was a match that Senegal had to win to qualify, so the burden was on them to make something happen. Ismailia Sarr’s penalty just before the half-time break was cancelled out by Moises Caicedo with 23 minutes remaining. The reigning AFCON champions responded immediately, however, with Kalidou Koulibaly scoring in the 70th minute. Senegal held on to reach the knockout stages of the World Cup for the first time since 2002. 

They will face England without Everton’s Idrissa Gueye with the midfielder suspended after picking up two yellow cards in his three group-stage outings. It won’t be each for Cisse’s side, but none of the games at this stage of the tournament are. 

England will have to be wary of their opponents heading into this game. They struggled with the directness and the speed of the USA team in the draw and Senegal possesses players who pose a similar threat. They may be without Mane but they can still call upon the likes of Iliman Ndiaye, Bamba Dieng, Nicolas Jackson, Krepin Diatta, Boulaye Dia and Watford winger Sarr. 

Senegal will likely adopt a mid-block press and look to lure the opposition onto them before springing a counter-attack. The only time Cisse’s men had more of the ball in any of their group-stage matches was against Qatar. Against the Dutch, they had 46% of the possession, against Ecuador it was 43%. Expect a similar figure, if not less, against England. 

If John Stones or Harry Maguire are left isolated against any of those forwards and have to compete in a foot race, it could be problematic, to say the least. Declan Rice will be vital in ensuring these transitional moments don’t result in a dangerous phase of play for the African champions. 

Can England Take Advantage Of Senegal's Weakness?

An interesting stat that Southgate and his coaching team will no doubt have picked up on is that three of the four goals conceded by Senegal in the group stage came from crosses into the box. This may come as a surprise given they have 6ft2 Abdou Diallo and 6ft1 Koulibaly as their centre-back pairing, but it does appear to be an area they can be got at. 

We know England are a threat from set pieces and will look to make the most of any of those opportunities but they will also want to create moments in open play. This is where Jude Bellingham could be key. He scored against Iran and was getting into the box against Wales. If he was to commit to the third-man run from midfield against Senegal, he could be the difference maker. With this in mind, Southgate might opt to reinstate Kieran Trippier into his starting XI after the Newcastle United full-back dropped to the bench against Wales with Kyle Walker getting a start. 

His ability in possession from wide areas could help unlock a stubborn Senegalese backline. You could even make a case for Trent Alexander-Arnold to start but that is unlikely. Don’t be surprised to see him come off the bench though if England are in need of a winner late on. His delivery is unnervingly accurate at times. 

The knack for being in the right place at the right time in the penalty area might be one of the reasons why Raheem Sterling gets the nod on Sunday, despite Phil Foden getting his goal against Wales. Especially if England do look to exploit Senegal’s weakness when it comes to defending crosses. A poacher like Sterling is more dangerous than a winger like Foden. 

Whatever happens, it will be a fascinating watch.