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Edouard Mendy’s Chelsea blues return to haunt Senegal keeper in Qatar

9:18 PM WAT 21/11/2022
Mendy Gakpo Qatar 2022
With Sadio Mane absent, Aliou Cisse and Senegal needs their experienced hands to perform more than ever

Sadio Mane’s pre-World Cup injury and subsequent absence from the tournament has, of course, overshadowed Senegal’s build-up to the competition and been the big head-scratcher for Aliou Cisse to solve in Group A.

Of course, no one—or even two players—could replace Mane, but there has been hope that—at least in the group stage—the Lions should have enough quality in the final third to fire them through to the knockout stages.

They certainly have experience.

One of the reasons for that optimism has been the squad’s solid spine and sturdy defence, with savvy heads like Kalidou Koulibaly, Edouard Mendy and Idrissa Gueye providing the secure base upon which Mane was able to inspire the West Africans to a maiden Africa Cup of Nations title in Cameroon earlier this year.

What Mane’s injury had also done, however, is take the attention away from some of the other concerns in the Senegal squad, although it was one such problem—Mendy’s recent form—that ultimately cost the Lions an admirable opening draw in Monday’s showdown with the Netherlands.

The Lions stopper—so imperious during the Afcon earlier this year—was arguably at fault for both of the Dutch goals, as his recent Chelsea woes came back to haunt him at the grandest stage.

For the first, he came to meet a punted ball into the box, but was beaten to it by Cody Gakpo and, by the time the stopper had landed, Senegal were 1-0 down.

For the second, admittedly with the Lions chasing the game at this point, he was only able to palm a Memphis Depay effort into Davy Klaassen’s path as the Ajax man took the game beyond the reigning African champs.

Less than a year ago, he was crowned Fifa’s ‘The Best’ Goalkeeper, yet both Dutch goals here were evidence of the rashness, the momentary lapses, the poor decision-making that characterised Mendy’s game during the latter part of last season and the first part of this.

These are the kinds of blunders that prompted Graham Potter to drop him as Chelsea’s No. 1 and only restore him to the starting XI when injury took Kepa Arrizabalaga out of contention.

Being dropped at Chelsea meant that there were concerns the 30-year-old would be short of match sharpness heading into the tournament, although he ended up featuring four times in November for the Blues after the Spaniard was ruled out.

It’s perhaps telling that Mendy hasn’t kept a clean sheet since Chelsea defeated Everton in early August, and while he contributed one valuable intervention on the hour mark—risking a foray from his goalline to punch away on a corner—his culpability for the Dutch goals risks further affecting his confidence.

Cisse has stuck with his experienced names—this Senegal side was the oldest Lions XI that have ever taken to the field in a World Cup, with an average age of 28 years and 284 days—and he certainly needs his senior players to step up now more than ever.

He and his backroom staff need to find the solutions fast to improve Mendy’s mojo—in a way Potter has been unable to—and remind the ex-Stade Rennais man that he is one of Africa’s greatest goalkeepers of all time, the first sub-Saharan African keeper, after all, to win the Champions League.

With the Lions now finding themselves with only two games to salvage their campaign, and with Mane not returning to save them, Senegal need the old Edouard Mendy back between the sticks.