Kenya and Senegal headed into their final group game level on points and looking to secure a place in the knockout stages of AFCON 2019. The Senegalese were coming off a disappointing defeat to fellow pre-tournament favourites in Algeria and were looking to make a statement in this clash. Kenya were looking to grab a result to aid their bid to progress as one of the best third-placed teams.

Senegal came away with a 3-0 win and this tactical analysis of their victory looks at some of the tactics seen during the game as well as the key moments that factored into the result. The analysis will focus on the efforts of the Senegalese in a game which they dominated.

Lineups

Africa Cup of Nations 2019: Kenya vs Senegal - tactical analysis tactics
The starting lineups.

Sebastien Migné opted for a change in shape from their previous game, with attacking midfielder Francis Kahata coming out for Dennis Odhiambo and the team lining up in a 4-1-4-1/4-5-1. The wingers Ayub Masika and Eric Ouma would drop to flank the midfield three and Michael Olunga would again operate as the lone striker.

The benefit of having a squad as strong as Senegal’s is that Aliou Cissé could cast one eye towards the knockout stages. He deployed a 4-3-3 formation and made six personnel changes to his lineup with little decrease in quality. Badou N’Diaye was in the deep midfield role and ahead of him was Henri Saivet partnered with Idrissa Gueye who returned to the lineup after recovering from an injury. In attack, the duo of Ismaïla Sarr and Sadio Mané flanked M’Baye Niang.

Senegal without the ball

Senegal would look to press whenever the ball came into the midfield area. Opting to drop back if the opportunity to press the midfielders didn’t present itself. This left Kenya with the difficult task of trying to commit enough bodies forward to try to break down the opposing side whilst keeping enough men back to deal with the threat of a counter-attack.

Africa Cup of Nations 2019: Kenya vs Senegal - tactical analysis tactics
Senegal in their 4-1-4-1 defensive shape.

When Senegal dropped back into this defensive shape, Kenya would try build-up with short passes but usually settled for ineffective direct balls to Olunga and the wingers. And with the Kenyans mostly sitting back and inviting Senegal to try to break them down, they would look to counter-attack but were let down by poor quality in these situations. As a result, they failed to find an offensive rhythm and only really threatened with strikes from distance as well as the odd set-piece attempt.

Senegal going forward

As previously mentioned, it was clear from the beginning what the general pattern of play would be. Kenya would concede the majority of possession and set up a 4-5-1 block when defending. They would attempt to stay compact in order to restrict passing lanes into the central areas. The plan to deal with threats in the wide areas was to use the wingers assisting the fullbacks.

Africa Cup of Nations 2019: Kenya vs Senegal - tactical analysis tactics
Kenya in their 4-5-1 defensive shape.

The central areas were often congested, and Kenya would press aggressively whenever their opponents found a player in between the lines. Senegal would have their wingers moving wide to stretch the Kenyan shape. They would then have Gueye and Saivet search for space between the lines of the Kenyan midfield four.

Kenya managed to hold off these central attacks early on. As a result, the Senegalese attempted many long balls in behind their opponent’s defence. The Kenyans dealt with any dangerous long balls they were faced with but as the game progressed, Senegal were able to attack centrally more easily. The Kenyans became more focused on defending the wide areas as a result of the Senegalese wide threat. This opened up gaps behind Kenya’s midfield.

The central defenders and N’Diaye in particularly found success in finding teammates drifting into space behind the Kenyan midfield since Kenya sat back and allowed them plenty of time. One of Gueye and Saivet would also drop next to N’Diaye when their side had possession. This either left them in plenty of space to play the ball or a marker was drawn out of position creating space elsewhere. Below are various examples of Senegal managing to find a free man behind the Kenyan midfield line.

Africa Cup of Nations 2019: Kenya vs Senegal - tactical analysis tactics
Koulibaly finding Gueye as Ciss draws the defender’s attention.
Africa Cup of Nations 2019: Kenya vs Senegal - tactical analysis tactics
N’Diaye finding Saivet behind the midfield as he senses the incoming press.
Africa Cup of Nations 2019: Kenya vs Senegal - tactical analysis tactics
Here N’Diaye finds Saivet again.
Africa Cup of Nations 2019: Kenya vs Senegal - tactical analysis tactics
Again, N’Diaye locates Gueye who then feeds the advancing Mané.
Africa Cup of Nations 2019: Kenya vs Senegal - tactical analysis tactics
Mané can then drive at the defence and send the ball out wide.

Senegal width

The most effective strategy for the Senegalese was their attack in the wide areas. This approach was most effective on the right side of Kenya’s defence.

Senegal may have targeted this side due to the weakness Kenya showed in this area during their previous outing. The Tanzanians had exploited it with their two goals coming from balls in behind Otieno. On both occasions, he struggled to keep track of his man.

The wingers would draw the full-backs away from these areas by moving more centrally to create space for the full-backs to overlap. This was especially effective whenever Gueye or Saivet also moved wide. It caused confusion in the Kenyan defence and they struggled to keep track of the Senegalese movement and allowed Ciss the space to overlap on many occasions.

Africa Cup of Nations 2019: Kenya vs Senegal - tactical analysis tactics
Saivet drops to collect the ball while Mané and Gueye draw the defenders, leaving space for Saivet to send a long ball to Ciss.
Africa Cup of Nations 2019: Kenya vs Senegal - tactical analysis tactics
Koulibaly sends a long ball for Ciss to run onto as defenders are distracted by Gueye.
Africa Cup of Nations 2019: Kenya vs Senegal - tactical analysis tactics
Saivet plays a long ball to Ciss who is in plenty of space.

Here is an example that illustrates that this issue wasn’t unique to Otieno’s side. In the image below, N’Diaye has plenty of time to pick out a pass. Sarr is unmarked despite all the Kenyan players being behind the ball.

Africa Cup of Nations 2019: Kenya vs Senegal - tactical analysis tactics
N’Diaye finding the unmarked Sarr.
Africa Cup of Nations 2019: Kenya vs Senegal - tactical analysis tactics
The ball from Gueye finding Ciss in space.

He isn’t able to capitalise one-on-one so he sends the ball back to midfield where it begins to circulate. Moments later, Gueye finds Ciss in space and he is able to draw a foul just outside the box.

Kenyan defensive errors undermine Matasi performance

The main narrative concerning the Kenyans in this game was their poor defending. But it wasn’t all a disaster as Matasi put in a good performance in goal. He was called into action throughout the game, saving 7/10 shots he faced including the first Mané penalty.

This was a penalty conceded due to poor individual defending. After Ciss collected the ball and charged forward, he easily went past Otieno and drove into the box to draw the foul for the penalty which Matasi saved. But even Matasi was complicit in a major blunder later on. A miscommunication between him and his defenders led to the opening goal.

Despite having many numbers back in defence, Kenya was dragged to one side of the field leaving Sarr unmarked in the box. A cross is sent in which Matasi and his defenders failed to deal with despite having only a single Senegal player in close proximity. Sarr can then control the ball and volley it home brilliantly past multiple Kenyan bodies.

Africa Cup of Nations 2019: Kenya vs Senegal - tactical analysis tactics
Sarr is free at the far side of the box as the cross comes in.

For the second goal, Mané finally gets on the scoresheet by capitalising on another defensive error. After a Kenyan corner, Senegal cleared the ball out their half. Mohammed then failed to deal with the bouncing ball, allowing Mané to steal possession and finish past Matasi one-on-one.

And for the final goal, Koulibaly drives forward past multiple opponents far too easily. While finally under some pressure, he manages to find Mané and Gueye moving towards a disorganised Kenyan defence. The two attackers combine well to get Gueye into the box where he lays it off for Sarr. He is then fouled by Otieno who was sent off and Mané scored the subsequent penalty for his brace.

Africa Cup of Nations 2019: Kenya vs Senegal - tactical analysis tactics
Koulibaly passing to Mane after carrying the ball from the edge of his own box.

The game was effectively over as a contest at this point. Senegal’s dominance was even more pronounced in the remaining minutes with Kenya a man light.

Conclusion

Despite being sloppy for parts of the game, Senegal managed to dominate and claim a comfortable victory. Their cause was greatly helped by a second-half capitulation that Kenya will quickly want to forget. It was littered with many defensive errors and was the period where they effectively threw away their qualification chances. Senegal will look to take this form into the next round with a tie against Uganda on the cards.


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Julian Chingoma

Aspiring tactical analyst/coach and Juventus fan
Julian Chingoma