Feature

World Cup Analysis: Jakobs emerges as a key driving force for Senegal

Making his second World Cup start for Senegal vs. Ecuador after starring against Qatar, Ismail Jakobs certainly justified Aliou Cisse’s decision to start him by putting in another performance littered with upside.

Fresh from gaining clearance to represent Senegal at the World Cup after an administrative error almost cost him his place, the former German youth international’s presence was integral towards his team’s crucial 2-1 victory that ensured their passage into the Round of 16.

Full of energy, intensity and dynamism, the jet-heeled AS Monaco talent produced the goods again with a polished display from his left back post.

Needing to be on top of his game defensively against the dangerous duo of Gonzalo Plata and Angelo Preciado down his flank, Jakobs rose to the task, managing the pair brilliantly to ensure they made little headway when facing off with him.

Showing fine concentration and awareness of his surroundings, Jakobs was awake to the movement of his foes, with his regular head checks proving important so he knew what was going on around him.

As a result, the gifted youngster knew when to track runners in behind, was quick to get touchtight when his man dropped deep with their back to goal and coherently monitored his blindside for crosses into the box.

Awake to tracking the runner in behind
Aggressive back to goal pressure when his man drops

The fact he’s so quick was a massive asset too, for this helped him not only keep tabs on runners but also race back to support his backline and handle 1v1s, where his ability to rapidly change direction from his powerful base posture and read his marker’s intentions held him good stead as well.

The combination of his shrewd timing of his interventions and long legs compounded issues for his adversaries, thus enabling him to break up play effectively so Senegal could then hit on the counter.

Boasting an exceptional leap and swift at picking up the ball’s flight, Jakobs’ aerial prowess shone brightly, with him rising masterfully to win all of his headers bar one. Dealing comfortably with crosses, goal kicks and rushed clearances, his aptitude here helped win second balls for his team and remove danger from inside the area.

Great header after dealing with the blindside run nicely

Meanwhile, when it came to his offensive exertions, there were many positives attached to his work here too.

Beginning with his set-pieces and crosses, and these provided a fantastic source of attacking impetus. Striking the ball superbly with his distinctive technique, his wand of a left foot created multiple chances from open play, corners and dead balls all over. Weighting his deliveries perfectly to get just the right amount of whip, curl and speed both when hitting inswingers and outswingers, Ecuador struggled to deal with his pinpoint silver service.

Neat cross into the area
Brilliant set-piece delivery to create a chance

Further upside from his distribution came in the form of some sweet line breaking passes into feet, from how he hit some measured through balls in behind and from his powerful, accurate long throws.

Measured through ball in behind
Crisp line breaking pass into feet

While he didn’t have his usual impact on the dribble, there were still a couple of occasions where the long striding speedster embarked on some trademark driving carries.

Tying everything together with his movement, Jakobs proved a real menace for Ecuador to deal with in this compartment. Working wonderfully with left winger, Ismaila Sarr, and picking his moments when to underlap or overlap depending on the positioning of his colleague, Jakobs provided a handy outlet. 

Able to stretch the opposition horizontally and vertically, plus be a nuisance with his neatly directed infield surges that targeted the gaps between defenders, these were undoubtedly crucial strings to his bow.

Astutely timed overlapping run in behind
Superbly timed underlapping run into the final third
Crafty underlap between defenders while forming a 3v2

It was important to note that when one of the central midfielders dropped deep behind him to form a back three, this served as the trigger for him to push into advanced zones, which gave him the freedom to get high knowing structural security was present behind him.

Jakobs pushing ahead as Gueye drops in behind to form a back three

Offering a terrific avenue to progress through and intelligently choosing when to maraud ahead, Jakobs certainly held his own going forward to nicely accompany his polished stopping output. 

By the numbers, his 11 overall duels won, 11 ball recoveries, five won aerial duels, five interceptions, four shot assists and two clearances aptly illustrated his quality body of work.

Jakobs’ Heat Map vs. Ecuador

Clearly loving playing for the Lions of Teranga under the tactically knowledgeable Cisse, Jakobs will certainly feel satisfied with his decision to switch international allegiances.

“It is a decision from the heart when you choose to represent Senegal. It’s not a decision against Germany. Senegal is my father’s country and I felt a lot of love from the country and from the people. It’s very special to represent Senegal. It’s not like perhaps in Germany where when you leave the national team, you’re just a club player. In Senegal, everyone just supports the national team. It doesn’t matter where you play your club football. It’s really nice. I’m excited, and I’m proud. I’m just excited to go there and see what awaits us,” he explained.

With Senegal set for a colossal showdown with Gareth Southgate’s highly fancied England side up next in the Round of 16, it’ll be captivating to see how he fares on this grand stage.

But seeing as he’s playing with tremendous confidence and in red hot form, the ambitious Jakobs will back himself to excel once more as this exciting Senegal appear primed to cause a major upset if Jakobs and co. can continue executing Cisse’s game plan successfully.