The Tshwane giants had experienced a nightmarish run of results of late crashing out of the Caf Champions League as well as the Telkom Knockout Cup and have struggled for consistency this season. But despite Sundowns’ recent slump, the outgoing African Champions showed just why they are still regarded as a powerhouse of South African football.
Sundowns victory’ against the Buccaneers was no fluke, although some Hlompho Kekana’s absolute stunner is open for debate, the game itself was a tactical masterclass by Sundowns’ coach Pitso Mosimane, who showed exactly why he is regarded as one of the best in the business.
Nonetheless, in the aftermath of Masandawana’s resounding victory, Goal looked at what the Tshwane giants did right on the night. On first reflection, what stood out for Sundowns was their high-pressing game plan. While Mosimane has utilised this tactic before, many would have been forgiven for thinking that he would take a more pragmatic approach.
However, Mosimane chose to go against the grain, and his side’s bravery during the first half an hour of the game needs to be commended. Pirates are generally a compact and organised outfit who enjoy playing from the back under Milutin ‘Micho’ Sredojevic. That is why Mosimane’s high-pressing plan proved a masterstroke, especially with Hlompho Kekana allowed to play further up the field due to Tiyani Mabunda’s return. Kekana’s work rate and energy was one of the key factors on the night and it showed with the first goal as he closed down Abbubaker Mobara’s clearance and his perseverance was rewarded as the ball bizarrely deflected into the back of the net.
It should also be mentioned that when Sundowns are on song, they are an absolute marvel to watch. Once again it was Tiyani Mabunda, who was the unsung hero of the night. ‘Sugar’ as he is affectionately known, certainly sweetened the deal as his deep-lying role in the heart of the midfield role allowed the likes of Manyisa and Kekana to advance forward while he broke down play. In many ways Mabunda could be seen as the missing puzzle in Sundowns’ plans of recent times as he has missed a considerable portion of the season through suspension and injury.
But if there was any criticism that could be levelled against Sundowns on the night, was that following Kekana’s screamer, the team once again set back and wasted their opportunities, something which many Sundowns fans have become accustomed to seeing this season. Sundowns falling deeper into their own half could have also been down to the changes that Micho made. The Serbian’s changes early on contributed to Pirates’ rejuvenated approach, and Thamsanqa Gabuza’s physical prowess as well as Musa Nyatama’s calmness on the ball gave Sundowns’ defence much to ponder. But this is where Mosimane’s tactics again paid dividence.
Although, Sundowns had Mabunda playing the role of lone sweeper when the pressure became too much, the 53-year-old had the option shifting either Kekana or Manyisa to drop back, partnering Mabunda in the defensive midfield role. This proved just how versatile Mosimane’s squad is and after soaking in the pressure, the introduction of Themba Zwane and Anthony Laffor was just the cherry on top of the cake. Sundowns were able to shift gear in an instant and use the counter attack to their advantage as the pace and skill of Laffor sealed the three points.
Nevertheless, while Mosimane and his technical team will be satisfied with the result, the team’s lack of killer instinct in front of goal could be a cause for concern especially when they were two goals up. Sundowns have a tendency to take their foot off the pedal, and this has backfired in the past. But on this occasion, they were victorious and Mosimane deserves all the credit.