Mamelodi Sundowns have put themselves in pole position in the Premier Soccer League (PSL) title race as they head into the Christmas break, and Goal looks at how the Brazilians have returned to their rightful place, among South Africa football’s elite.
While Sundowns have been in dominant form of late, overcoming every challenge placed in front of them, it has not always been this way this season. Just a few months ago this same Sundowns team were sitting in a precarious situation in midtable with many questioning whether Sundowns were still the dominant force they once were.
The Brazilians looked devoid of creativity and bereft of ideas earlier in the season as they crashed out of the MTN 8, Caf Champions League, Telkom Knockout Cup and struggled in the league. More importantly it seemed that being eliminated from the Champions League by Wydad Casablanca sent them on a downward slope.
The effects of travelling on the continent as well as undergoing yet another domestic campaign without a proper pre-season certainly took its toll on the players mentally and physically. Influential players such as Khama Billiat were sidelined with injuries and the likes of Percy Tau and Themba Zwane were not able to fill the void in his absence.
However, there appears to have been a change of mindset at the club, and that has shown in the results. Prior to the last game before the break against Cape Town City, Sundowns amassed a healthy lead at the top of the league table. They dispatched of the likes of Orlando Pirates, Bidvest Wits and at the time the high-flying Baroka with some ease, and it should be noted that the Tshwane giants resurgence has coincided with the impressive form of Percy Tau and most recently Zwane.
Perhaps the uncertainty surrounding many of the star names at Sundowns including Zwane had contributed to the slump, but after Billiat and Leonardo Castro’s departure were confirmed by Pitso Mosimane and with the coach's utterances that many others would remain at the club come the end of the season, there seemed to be a change in direction for the club. Even Billiat’s performances, when he was fit had improved considerably.
Nonetheless, another important aspect that has been at the forefront of Sundowns’ revival has been their lethal finishing. During Sundowns’ barren patch it was never a case of them not creating enough chances but rather squandering plenty, and it was assumed that once the floodgates do eventually open it will be hard to contain, and that is exactly what has happened in recent times.
Sundowns coach Mosimane should also be commended for showing faith in his players when it would have been easier to throw them under the bus, the 53-year-old constantly backed his players in the media, and this has worked as they have now returned to their best and even have a chance of running away with the league if results continue to go Sundowns' way.
Lastly, it should be noted that with the rest of the PSL teams also guilty of inconsistency, it meant that Sundowns were always in with a chance and that hope played a role in getting them to where they are currently. The quality that Sundowns possess was undeniable and it was only a matter of time before it eventually shone through and now all that is left for Sundowns is to see just how far they can go.
What is important is that with Sundowns resounding victory over Bloemfontein Celtic, it showed that Sundowns are not a one-man team and have depth within their ranks, and with a long and arduous campaign ahead, Sundowns will again need to pick through their depth as they look to build on their recent success.