International Friendly: Luxembourg vs Senegal – Lineups, Preview and Prediction
Senegal will look to kick-start their World Cup campaign with an international friendly against Luxembourg on Thursday.
19:00 BST, Thursday 31st May, Stade Josy Barthel (Luxembourg City, Luxembourg)
With Senegal only managing draws against Uzbekistan and Bosnia-Herzegovina in their most recent international friendlies, coach Aliou Cisse will be hoping that a match-up with European minnows Luxembourg could kick-start his side in the run-up to the World Cup finals.
The Lions of Teranga, as they are affectionately known, qualified comfortably for the World Cup in the end, finishing five points clear of their closest rivals Burkina Faso.
Cisse will be hoping that his side can cause the same sort of upset in Russia as they did in the 2002 World Cup, making the quarter-finals of the competition after beating France in the their opening game.
16 years later, the Senegalese team boasts as much talent as it did back then with Sadio Mane, Keita Balde and Idrissa Gueye amongst those players who have become household names in recent years.
Luxembourg, despite their lowly status within the echelons of world football, will be positive about their chances of taking something from this game.
Despite finishing second from bottom in their UEFA World Cup qualification group, d’Roud Léiwen managed to take points off Belarus, Bulgaria and France during their campaign.
They even managed to pick up two wins in their recent international friendlies, beating Hungary and Malta before ending their streak against Austria.
Luxembourg coach Luc Holtz will hope to frustrate his counterpart Cisse and add to Senegal’s growing run of drawn games.
Although he recently experimented with a 3-4-3 against Austria, the 4-0 scoreline will probably be enough for Luc Holtz to return to the 3-5-2 that gave him a 1-0 win over Malta.
Holtz has a strong squad to choose from with Mario Mutsch coming back into the side after an injury lay-off.
Gerson Rodrigues, who usually plays as a wide forward will likely partner David Turpel up front. Although Luxembourg could go with either one of Daniel da Mota or Aurelian Joachim ahead of him.
Aliou Cisse has preferred a 4-5-1 in recent months, sitting his wide players a little deeper than they would do in a 4-3-3.
With Papy Djilobodji not making the World Cup squad, Kalidou Koulibaly will likely be partnered by Salif Sane in central defence.
Up front, the question is whether or not the veteran Moussa Sow will make it ahead of his young(er) pretenders Diafra Sakho or M’Baye Niang.
Key Player: Sadio Mane (Senegal)
When Sadio Mane arrived at Liverpool in 2016, no one expected him to help his new club to the Champions League final within two seasons.
Having plied his trade in France with Metz before spending time in Austria with FC Red Bull Salzburg, the Senegalese forward made it to the Premier League in 2014, being signed by Ronald Koeman for £11.8 million.
After two seasons, his transfer fee was nearly trebled to £34 million, as Jurgen Klopp brought the then-24-year-old Mane to Anfield.
His break-out season at the club was impressive: 13 goals and five assists coming in his 26 starts for the club.
Although his second season with Liverpool failed to live up to the same sort of hype he generated for himself in the first, Mane has still remained an important cog in the Liverpool machine: his 10 Champions League goals in 11 appearances most notably.
Mane is the main man for Senegal and their success in the World Cup will depend on how well his side can facilitate him and create scoring opportunities for him.
Can Luxembourg hold on for a draw?
The Senegalese have struggled to convert strong defensive performances into winning performances in their recent international friendlies.
With their visit to Luxembourg, then, there will be a level of apprehension, not least because Luxembourg have managed to hold on for draws against much bigger footballing nations than themselves, most impressively France in the World Cup qualifying stages.
Aliou Cisse likes to set his team up conservatively in a 4-5-1. Perhaps against Luxembourg he might favour something more akin to a 4-3-3 and try to take the game to them?
How much game time will Keita Balde get?
Cisse has shown a reticence to give Keita Balde, Monaco’s exciting young forward, any game time for the international team, preferring to use him off the bench.
To anyone with even a passing interest in French football, this seems like a questionable decision. The youngster has scored eight games in 23 league appearances an certainly looks to be one for the future.
Most likely, this reticence comes from Cisse’s concern to have wide players who are defensively solid. But a wide pairing of Mane and Balde could be the sort of winning combination that carries Senegal deep in the competition.
Prediction: Luxembourg 0-2 Senegal
As well-organised defensively as they are, it seems unlikely Luxembourg will manage to hold out against a Senegal side with a lot to prove going into the World Cup.
If Aliou Cisse goes for it, expect at least a couple of goals from the Lions with one of either Sadio Mane or Keita Balde getting on the scoresheet.