Senegal’s World Cup hopes shattered as injured star Sadio Mane pulls out – predicted line-up and stats

THIS year’s FIFA World Cup will be Senegal’s third-ever appearance in the competition, having made their first World Cup appearance in 2002 and then waited until 2018 to return to international football’s greatest stage.

In 2002, Senegal made it all the way to the quarter-finals, delivering an impressive showing.

They failed to make it out of the group stage in 2018 but will be hoping to achieve progression to at least the Round of 16 this year.

Senegal are in Group A at the tournament, alongside hosts Qatar, the Netherlands and Ecuador.

However, now we know that Mane will miss the World Cup after picking up a leg injury, Senegal will have their work cut out.

Let’s have a look at how Senegal play and what we can expect to see on the pitch in Qatar.

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Predicted starting XI

Youssouf Sabaly of La Liga’s Real Betis takes Sarr’s place at right-back, completing a back-four alongside Chelsea star Koulibaly, RB Leipzig’s Abdou Diallo and AS Monaco’s Ismail Jakobs in front of Koulibaly’s Chelsea teammate Mendy.

Nampalys Mendy is a favourite of Aliou Cissé’s and as a result, we imagine that he’ll retain his place in the Lions of Teranga’s starting XI in Qatar, though Kouyaté could well displace him.

We’ve put him in the deepest midfield position in our starting XI, just behind Marseille’s Pape Gueye and Everton’s Idrissa Gueye, which we believe to be a strong midfield trio that can deliver what Cissé wants from his central players.

In attack, they’ve got Ismaïla Sarr sitting on either side of Salernitana forward Boulaye Dia, who’s been in fine form in Serie A this season, scoring four goals and making two assists for his club at the time of writing.

How Senegal could line up

Mane’s place in Cisse’s team is up for grabs with Villarreal’s Nicolas Jackson, Marseille’s Bamba Dieng and Sheffield United’s Iliman Ndiaye all vying for a spot.

Senegal have some excellent attacking options, and we could see some different variations of this frontline at different stages of games in the tournament.

Attacking phase

Senegal possess plenty of goalscoring threats, either aerially or otherwise from their set-pieces, and this is an important area that teams should focus on heavily when preparing to face them.

Senegal’s dribblers like Sarr will look to take opposition players on in dangerous areas and get on the ball in congested spaces regularly, entrusting their ability with the ball to cause problems for the opposition and draw fouls from them.

This leads to set-piece opportunities for Senegal from what, for them, is a dangerous position.

Shot selection is an area in which Senegal are generally quite inefficient, in general.

They’re often quite wasteful with their shots and tend to shoot on sight a bit too much.

It may benefit them to focus a little bit more on patience, working the ball into high-value goalscoring positions for the likes of Dia, Habib Diallo or Bamba Dieng to capitalise on with a greater chance of converting.

Their shoot-on-sight tendencies are likely a big cause of their relatively low shot accuracy rate.

Senegal’s centre-backs split when they build from the back

When beginning their build-up, it’s common to see Senegal as we see above, with the centre-backs splitting slightly wide of their goalkeeper from goal-kicks and the full-backs pushing high.

As play progresses upfield, it’s common to see the wingers move inside to occupy the half-spaces but at this stage, it’s common to see them stay wider.

Full-backs position themselves high-up, while Senegal’s wingers move inwards

We see Senegal retain a similar shape as their possession play progresses into a slightly more advanced stage — the progression phase.

However, their full-backs will be positioned far higher by now, with the wingers moving inside to the half-spaces as mentioned.

We typically see Senegal utilising a 2-3-5 in-possession shape as seen above as a result of this, but it’s also very common to see their ball-far full-back drop back deeper once the ball progresses into the final third, offering some balance and extra defensive stability.

Long passes are not uncommon for Senegal to play

As mentioned earlier, Senegal tend to play plenty of long passes, and this is because Cissé’s centre-backs like to perform the deep-lying playmaker role in this side — especially Koulibaly.

We see an example of Koulibaly lining up a long pass over the top for the right-winger to chase down above.

He’s comfortable under pressure, and he possesses impeccable vision along with technical passing quality to perform this deep-lying playmaker role behind the midfield trio.

Koulibaly’s long passing down the flanks is essential to Senegal’s attacking play

After the pass was played, Senegal’s right-winger was set up in a great position to enter the final third and make something exciting happen for his side — all a direct result of Koulibaly’s fantastic pass which created the opportunity from a position in which Senegal didn’t look at all threatening.

This is the power of a quality deep-lying playmaker at centre-back, which Cissé has at his disposal.

Senegal look to their centre-backs to behave like playmakers

Senegal frequently look to their centre-backs — again, mostly Koulibaly — to dictate the tempo and really control the game.

Koulibaly is excellent at pulling the strings from centre-back and can perform this puppet master role masterfully, stroking the ball about and pulling off some really difficult passes in a way that makes it look easy.

He’s a great asset for his national team and a major problem for all opposition.

We see a couple of examples of Senegal’s tendency to switch the play from the centre-backs out to the opposite wing in figure 8.

We mostly see Koulibaly performing this role from right centre-back, switching it out to the left-back who’ll be required to perform darting runs forward to aggressively exploit the space Koulibaly targets via these switches of play (the first example seen in the top two quarters of this image and the second example seen in the bottom two quarters).

This link-up between Koulibaly and Jakobs via the long switch is one to look out for at Qatar.

So, this long switch out to the left can provide an opportunity for Senegal to quickly create an overload with the left winger and the full-back on one wing, as was the case in the bottom example above.

Midfielders drop deep to find space and turn and play

For our final point on Senegal’s in-possession play, their deep-lying players — particularly the centre-backs but also sometimes one of the midfielders should they drop deep and find space to turn and play forward, are good at breaking lines via their passing, getting the ball into the feet of their striker or wingers, with an example of this seen above.

Here, the left centre-back managed to fire the ball into the centre-forward’s feet by finding a good passing line through the centre of the pitch, demonstrating impressive vision, composure and bravery on the ball.

Note how the forward sets himself well to receive and hold the defender off, allowing his teammates time to get up in support of the move.

This is a great example of how Senegal’s deep-lying playmakers, the centre-backs, are crucial to their team’s progression into the final third.

They can find the wingers in dangerous pockets of space just in or on the edge of the final third via passes like this and that’s something important for Senegal’s opponents to watch out for in the World Cup.

Defensive phase

Senegal’s performance without the ball. are relatively low in recoveries per match, recoveries in the final third and defensive duels per match.

These low rankings are indicative of Senegal’s rather passive defensive style.

They don’t press with tonnes of intensity in the high-block phase, rather preferring to remain organised and compact a bit deeper, allowing the opposition to have more of the ball in deeper areas without lots of pressure being applied on them.

Senegal don’t press with intensity

We see an example of Senegal’s high-block shape here. We can see the Lions of Teranga striker pressing with a bit of intensity but rather just trying to block the pass across the backline and force the opposition to make a move forward where most easy passing options are covered by Senegal shirts, instead forcing the opposition into a risky pass that can lead to a turnover.

While their striker sits higher, the rest of Senegal’s forward line and midfield line sit a bit deeper, not following the striker as he presses higher and instead focusing on forming a pentagon shape around the opposition’s midfielders, essentially caging those players and making them unattractive passing options.

They don’t press very aggressively, instead focusing on retaining central compactness around the area just in front of the halfway line to control this part of the pitch and prevent the opposition from using it.

The players’ tactical intelligence, discipline, awareness and alertness are all key attributes to ensure this tactic works.

When pushed into a mid-block, Senegal defend deeper

For Senegal, the important thing here is preventing the opposition from building safely and securely through their shape via shorter passes, forcing them into longer, riskier balls by blocking off this middle part of the pitch.


In terms of transitions to attack, it’s common to see Senegal win the ball back in deeper areas with the opposition drawn out and committed to the attack, so traditional counterattacking play starting from a deeper position against a committed opposition with a high line is on the cards for this team.

When they manage to win the ball back in deeper areas, whether that’s from a well-timed interception/tackle (of which there aren’t tonnes — they tend to defend more passively) or a result of a successful aerial duel inside the penalty area as an opposition cross is dealt with by the centre-backs, it’s common to see Senegal quickly targeting the wings.

The likes of Sarr and Dieng can then be found positioned intelligently in space where they can run at the weakened defensive shape, using their pace and technical dribbling quality to create problems, either progressing to directly create a goalscoring chance themselves or drawing a foul and creating a set-piece opportunity, which Senegal generally enjoy.

So, expect to see Senegal targeting the wings quickly in transition to attack after regaining possession in deeper areas.

Transitions to defence see Senegal resting in a 3-3-4 offensive shape

With regard to their transitions to defence, this provides an example of Senegal’s rest defence shape.

As mentioned earlier, we often see both full-backs push forward in the build-up and progression phases initially but as play progresses, one full-back (typically the ball-far one) will drop back, leaving Senegal with a 3-3-4 offensive shape rather than a 2-3-5.

The key for their preparation to defend against a turnover and subsequent transition here is the tight, compact central midfield trio, who will generally be found where we see them in figure 13 in such situations.

Their goal will be to cut passing lanes, stifle the opposition’s counterattack and give the attackers and full-back(s) time to track back and support the team’s defensive efforts.


As mentioned earlier, Senegal’s attacking options are impressive despite Mane’s absence

Sarr is enjoying a good season this term and will likely nail down a starting spot up front.

Dia is probably their in-form centre-forward while Habib Diallo of Ligue 1 Strasbourg is another interesting centre-forward option who’s enjoyed a good season at club level so far.

He’s different from Dia in that he offers far more aerially — this is where you can expect him to thrive.

This could make him an attractive option for Cissé in certain games at the World Cup.

Bamba Dieng of Strasbourg’s Ligue 1 rivals Marseille can play centrally or on the wings, making him a solid versatile replacement for Mane.

He hasn’t enjoyed as much of a good time this season under new boss Igor Tudor as he did under Jorge Sampaoli, but his quality is undeniable, and his versatility up front will be useful in the tournament setting.

Dieng provides fine backup to Mané in our predicted starting XI.

Monaco’s right-winger Krépin Diatta and Sheffield United revelation Iliman Ndiaye make up the rest of our attacking options — Ndiaye is also capable of playing as an attacking midfielder so provides an extra option there as well as the wing or at centre-forward, so the in-form goalscorer’s versatility will be valuable again.


In midfield, backing up our starting trio of Gueye, Gueye and Mendy, we’ve got Cheikhou Kouyaté, Pape Matar Sarr, Mamadou Loum, Moustapha Name and Pathé Ciss.

Kouyaté is a solid holding midfield option who will provide great competition to the starting trio and we’d expect to see feature at some point in Qatar, perhaps even starting ahead of Mendy.

Sarr is an exciting talent who offers something different to our other midfield options. He’s a technically proficient player who’s probably most comfortable as an advanced ‘8’.

He may not be the ideal profile to start in this midfield but depending on game state, he could be a very useful option to have.

Unfortunately for Senegal, he hasn’t made a single appearance for Tottenham Hotspur at club level this term, which won’t help his match fitness or desire for a starting XI place.


In defence, Koulibaly and Diallo are a clear number-one duo in the centre for us, with Moussa Niakhaté and currently-injured Pape Abou Cissé providing good-quality backups should they be required.

However, the quality of our starting duo is a step above and this is important given the specific role that these players have to perform within Senegal’s in-possession tactics.

Formose Mendy is another centre-back option but can also provide cover at right-back, which is where we may be more likely to see the 21-year-old Amiens player in the World Cup if we see him feature at all.

However, we predict Real Betis’ Sabaly will start at right-back in place of the injured Sarr.

In goal, Mendy has the starting spot nailed down but has strong backup in the form of Alfred Gomis and Seny Dieng. The goalkeeper department, like the forwards, is a clear area of strength for this side.

Key player

Sadio Mané is one of the best attackers in world football at the moment, having finished second in the 2022 Ballon d’Or, so Senegal are missing their talisman.

There was hope he could play in the latter stages, but that was shattered on Thursday when he was pulled out injured.

It could be now that Edouard Mendy of Chelsea becomes their most key player.

His form for his club has been patchy, having lost his place to Spanish keeper Kepa Arrizabalaga.

However, there is no denying his quality as a shotstopper – and time away from the Blues might allow him to regain his confidence.

Mendy certainly has a point to prove – and in a group that could be tight his saves could be vital for his country.

Tournament Prediction

Senegal still stand a great chance of getting out of the group stage in the World Cup for just the second time in their history this summer, despite the loss of Mane. From there, it’s anybody’s guess what will happen.

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They certainly have the quality to make it into the knockout stage and perhaps even to equal their best-ever showing by progressing into the quarter-finals.

This may be a realistic and exciting goal for Cissé’s side in Qatar, given the strength of their squad.

For even more detailed analysis of all 32 teams in the FIFA World Cup 2022, download your copy of the November Total Football Analysis magazine here

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