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Key battles as England & Senegal eye quarter-final berth

ASP highlights the key battles that will determine whether the African champions advance to the last eight or return home

Senegal face England in a World Cup Round of 16 match on Sunday looking to make it to the quarter-final for the second time since managing the feat in 2002.

It will be a tough test for the Teranga Lions against one of the favourites to win the tournament but their quality and fearless nature should present a lot to worry about for the Three Lions.

Senegal have shown that they can adapt their style, sitting back and soaking up the pressure when they have to, while pressing high and bullying the opponents into submission when needed, and while it is not known which tactical approach Aliou Cisse will employ, his charges will have to win battles in key areas.

ASP highlights the key battles that will determine whether the African champions advance to the last eight or return home.

  • Kyle Walker, Ismaila Sarr.Ismaila Sarr vs Kyle Walker
  • The undisputed dangerman for Senegal, Sarr has filled into Sadio Mane’s shoes very well and will be the man they lean on against England.Sarr’s pace, trickery and eye for goal have been key to Senegal’s run to the knockout phase. His penalty against Ecuador demonstrated these qualities as it was after winning the ball on the wing that he sprinted into the box before being brought down.He will likely come up against Kyle Walker who has been preferred by Gareth Southgate when England play against speedy and tricky wingers and impressed in their 3-0 win over Wales. Walker has exceptional recovery pace and is good at tucking inside to help the centre-backs which will be key to keeping Sarr at bay.Sarr has come up against the Manchester City full-back in the Premier League before and he will hope to use that experience to his advantage given he will shoulder the responsibility of creating and finishing for Senegal.
  • Youssouf Sabaly, Marcus Rashford.Marcus Rashford vs Youssouf Sabaly
  • The Senegal right-back has the difficult job of containing the in-form Rashford who is among the leading scorers with three goals.However, Sabaly proved against Ecuador that he can hold his own, having put in key tackles while also heading away any danger, especially from set pieces. He was always happy to tuck inside and act as third centre-back whenever the Teranga Lions were on the back foot.The 29-year-old knows when to go forward or stay back and given England will likely have more of the ball, he will do more defending than attacking. Sabaly has to avoid making risky tackles that will lead to a penalty or freekick in dangerous areas given how quick and clever Rashford can be.His ability to keep Rashford quiet will be key to Senegal preventing England from getting behind their defence. The Real Betis man could also find himself dealing with twin threats as Rashford will likely be switching between the wings with Phil Foden.
  • Harry Kane, Kalidou Koulibaly.Kalidou Koulibaly vs Harry Kane
  • A battle between the captains, Koulibaly will have to stand tall again as he did against Ecuador to shrug off the challenge of the Tottenham Hotspur striker. Kane has not lit up the tournament goal-wise but he has already created three for his teammates which makes him dangerous for Senegal.Kane’s ability to play on the shoulders of the defenders while also dropping deep into space will make Koulibaly’s work more difficult given it can be a challenge tracking his runs.The Chelsea defender will have to be careful not to be dragged into uncomfortable areas by Kane while his pace and tackling has to improve if he has to win his battles against the England captain.Kane is also a good header of the ball and Koulibaly will have to check his movement especially on set pieces which England are likely to get in plenty.
  • Boulaye Dia and Harry Maguire.Boulaye Dia vs Harry Maguire
  • Dia will likely play upfront for Senegal where he will have the Manchester United captain to contend with. Much-maligned for his poor club form, Maguire has been impressive at the World Cup where he has won a number of key duels, especially in the air, while providing an assist.Dia had three good opportunities against Ecuador only for poor finishing to let him down but he can offer more to Senegal other than scoring while exploiting Maguire’s weaknesses.His imposing physical presence should cause Maguire problems, which will help create space for Senegal’s other attacking players, while he can use his pace to get in behind the England backline given the Three Lions defender is not among the quickestMaguire also likes to carry the ball out of defence and Dia, good at pressing, can instigate the first pressure which will win Senegal possession higher up the pitch to launch their attacks.
  • Nampalys Mendy and Jude Bellingham.Nampalys Mendy vs Jude Bellingham
  • With Idrissa Gueye suspended, Mendy will likely return to the starting XI alongside Pathe Ciss and Pape Gueye in Senegal’s midfield.Gueye was the most advanced midfielder in Senegal’s last match and this responsibility will fall on Mendy’s shoulders. The Leicester City man is yet to impress, having employed a conservative approach so far, but he will have to improve given he will be handed a free role against England.Winning the midfield battle will be key to Senegal keeping England at bay but with 19-year-old Bellingham continuing to impress, Mendy has his work cut out.The Borussia Dortmund midfielder has completed over 90 per cent of his passes while his tenacity, pace and vision make him dangerous, having already score one goal in the tournament.Senegal cannot allow him to roam freely since he will be key to England playing between the lines and while the rest of the supporting cast try to stop Bellingham, Mendy has to take more responsibility since he has only managed two shots and one key pass in three matches.

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Tawiah Martin

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