How could Liverpool template help Senegal maximise Sadio Mane at the World Cup?

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In order to escape a daunting group, the Teranga Lions may look to replicate Jurgen Klopp's attacking approach in Russia


COMMENT    By Solace Chukwu     Follow on Twitter
 

As Argentina hastened, following the debacle that was the 2011 Copa America, to relieve Sergio Batista of his position as manager, it was hard not to feel sorry for him.

There is, after all, no shame in aspiring to something grand and failing. His stated objective - to build an Argentina side in the image of Pep Guardiola's Barcelona - may have been foolhardy and naive, but at the very least it was ambitious.

The error was, of course, obvious. A midfield of Mascherano, Banega and Cambiasso could never hope to be Busquets, Xavi and Iniesta. All fine players in their own right, but nothing like the real McCoy. Similarly, there was no rampaging right-back, in the mold of Daniel Alves, neither was there a defender capable of playing out from the back. Argentina in 2011 failed to play like Barcelona because they weren't Barcelona.

That is not to say, of course, that grafting concepts from club football onto the international stage is not prudent. In fact, taking into account the pared down training sessions, and minuscule hours spent building cohesion and coaching the right movements, it is probably the best approach.

Lionel Messi Argentina

It is not, however, one that is open to most African sides, for obvious reasons. However, as the World Cup comes around, it may be that Senegal have perhaps the most coherent collection of individuals to play a unique way, centred around a club philosophy.

In many ways, international football can be baldly simple: with the spread of talent more 'even' that at club level, it often comes down to which teams find the best system for their best player(s).

For the Teranga Lions, that player is undoubtedly Sadio Mane, and while it may seem reductive to say Senegal would be best served replicating the effervescent attacking of Liverpool, there are a couple of similarities that suggest it would not be the most far-fetched idea in the world.

Liverpool's high-intensity pressing in advanced zones, and directness when the ball is won, has powered then to an unlikely Uefa Champions League final place this term.

Mohamed Salah Liverpool golden boot Premier League

It may be tempting to put it down simply to the goalscoring prowess of Mohamed Salah, but that would be to miss the point of just how well that entire front three dovetails, and how hard the midfield works.

Klopp has stated that the counterpress is the best playmaker in the world, and has gone and proved it, losing his most creative midfielders - one to injury, the other to a transfer - but continuing to create by the fistful with a midfield composed entirely of grafters.

That last bit is particularly poignant, as Senegal find themselves in a similar position squad-wise: in Cheikou Kouyate and Idrissa Gueye, they have one of the most energetic midfields in the competition. However, in much the same way as Liverpool, neither is a natural holder; both preferring to apply their energy higher up the pitch.

Idrissa Gana Gueye & Andile Jali

Allied to that fact is the nature of the Senegal attack.

Mane, alongside Balde Keita and Mbaye Niang, brings a great deal of pace and one-on-one ability, and they can all play across the front three, in much the same way that Salah, Mane and Roberto Firmino do at Liverpool.

At their most dominant, Senegal have shown a similar ability to blow teams away quickly when playing on the front foot (see against Zimbabwe at last year's Africa Cup of Nations), while looking rather less sturdy once they retreat (see against South Africa in qualifying).

The most successful national teams of the past decade have drawn from a strong base of one or two clubs: Spain heavily on Barcelona, and Germany on Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund.

Sadio Mane Senegal

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It essentially makes the job easier, and makes the role of the manager easier: he picks the side, evaluates their physical and mental states, and can be flexible in terms of the team's approach, confident in the players' mutual understanding.

In this case, while only Mane plays at Liverpool, there is enough of a convergence in terms of player profiles and styles for Senegal to prosper by aping Klopp's side.

It could, in fact, be the only way for Aliou Cisse to upset the odds in what appears to be an onerous group.

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