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Cape Town City v Kaizer Chiefs

IN DEPTH: How Kaizer Chiefs won a game of two halves thanks to Middendorp’s modification

1:50 PM GMT 28/08/2019
Samir Nurkovic of Kaizer Chiefs, August 2019
Amakhosi continued their unbeaten run as they came from behind to win 2-1 against the Citizens. Goal analyses the tactical battle that unfolded

Kaizer Chiefs came into this PSL game on the back of two wins and a draw to start their league campaign, whilst Benni McCarthy’s charges had two draws and one victory from their start.

This shaped up pre-game to be a battle of the midfield engine rooms, and that’s exactly how it panned out.


From the start of the game, it was clear that Benni McCarthy had devised a good tactical plan to dominate Chiefs. Like in the Sundowns game last week, he went with Abbubaker Mobara alongside Thato Mokeke in central midfield for extra defensive nous.

However, the surprising change was to start Siphelele Mthembu for the first time this season and move Kermit Erasmus out to a wider, left-sided forward role. On the opposite flank, Riyaad Norodien started for the first time since March.

Those changes had the effect of largely pinning Chiefs’ adventurous full-backs into defensive positions. With Kaizer Chiefs surprisingly using a 4-3-3 formation – a deviation from their midfield diamond used in large so far this season – it put a lot of defensive onus on the Amakhosi wide players.

Ernst Middendorp had likely seen how impressive City’s midfield trio, featuring Mpho Makola as number ten, was against Sundowns last week. He, therefore, looked to match up to those three by using Bernard Parker and Lebogang Manyama either side of George Maluleka.

This meant that Khama Billiat and Lazarous Kambole were playing as wingers. Faced with constant attacking forays from City’s full-backs, they were spending much of the game tracking back, whilst Samir Nurkovic faced two central defenders.


It took less than four minutes for City to go in front. Mokeke switched play out to Ebrahim Seedat, who had broken forward unchallenged. He picked out Erasmus, who chopped inside the isolated Erick Mathoho and fired past Daniel Akpeyi at the near post. Kambole had tucked to assist his midfield, but that had the effect of allowing Seedat’s untracked run.

McCarthy’s side could quite easily have scored three more times in the first half too. Mthembu finished a chance after Seedat’s shot had deflected to him, but the offside flag was incorrectly raised. Then, Mokeke hit another perfect switch of play to Norodien on the right-hand side, Makola made an excellent crossover run to get to the byline, and his delivery found Erasmus. The forward’s header was cleared off the line by Mathoho.

For the other big chance for the home side, Mokeke brilliantly switched play out to Erasmus on the left-hand side. He took the ball on his chest and tested Akpeyi from a narrow-angle before Mathoho blocked his follow-up.

Chiefs created two really good chances. In the 13th minute, Parker pressed well, then Chiefs as a team counter pressed after losing the ball. It reached Frosler on the right and his cross was headed wide by Kambole, who continues to get into excellent positions since joining Chiefs but fail to convert. Billiat also had the ball in the net, but the goal was ruled out after the ball had seemingly brushed his arm.

The other opening for Chiefs saw Seedat clip Frosler in the box, but no penalty was awarded. If the Amakhosi right-back could take the risk of getting forward and leaving Erasmus free, then he himself was often able to be a free man.


After a first half in which City was significantly better in midfield and had Mokeke playing a blinder in bypassing pressing and switching play, Chiefs’ German tactician had to act.

This half-time change was to remove the ineffective Kambole for Kearyn Baccus and switch to a midfield diamond. That change completely turned the game. The latter played to Maluleka’s right and could do a multi-faced role of tracking Seedat, helping Chiefs build through midfield, and help to close down Mokeke.

That change also crucially pushed Manyama to the apex of the diamond and into the ideal position to overload Mokeke both with closing down and defensively when Chiefs attacked. The move also pushed Billiat to a striker position where he didn’t have to defend and where his presence alongside Nurkovic forced City to keep their full-backs at home to support the central defenders.


After 20 very solid second half minutes, but without creating many chances, Middendorp again tinkered to add greater attacking threat. Siphosakhe Ntiya-Ntiya was taken off at left-back and Bernard Parker dropped into that role. Dumisani Zuma came on and played at the top of the diamond where his pace and energy made a big difference.

At the same time as that change, City withdrew Erasmus, who had made little impact in the second period and had begun to tire. Craig Martin came on with the idea to test the out-of-position Parker.

It took 15 minutes for Chiefs to score twice after their adjustments, having had Billiat clip the post prior to that. The opener came from a set-play as Daniel Cardoso converted Manyama’s delivery. The chance had come as a result of Frosler bombing forward to win a free-kick. With no Erasmus to worry about, he could attack unhindered. Baccus sat back to cover any transitions behind him.

The winner arrived as Parker delivered a deep cross, Nurkovic won a knock-down, Billiat’s attempt was blocked, and Baccus arrived – running off the back of Mokeke – to finish the loose ball. There was time for Nurkovic to go close on a couple of occasions after that, whilst City created almost nothing. Mthembu had also been taken off. So, the frontline looked short of quality or physicality.

Middendorp threw on Willard Katsande for Manyama to see out the game in another good alteration, and Chiefs comfortably saw out the final stages.


This was a game of two halves. City’s intensity and width were hard for Chiefs to live with in the first half, particularly with a three-man midfield dominating that area to switch play and create overloads on the flanks.

However, once City failed to score a second goal, they opened themselves up to some outstanding alterations by Ernst Middendorp.

No coach in the PSL is as good at making in-game changes to redress tactical imbalances. His switch to a midfield diamond gave his side the control of proceedings and silenced Mokeke, covered the wide areas and freed Billiat.

His change to move Parker – a first-choice selection for the coach as a striker last season – to left-back was very bold and risky but it paid dividends as his delivery from deep led to the winner.

Benni McCarthy had no answers to what was unfolding in the second half, and whilst he has constructed some good pre-match tactical plans this season already, his in-game management is still an area he needs to improve. Taking off both Erasmus and Mthembu took away his side’s threat and invited the pressure from Chiefs.

There was no real excuse for City’s frontmen and midfield to tire as badly as they did considering the full week they had to prepare, whilst Chiefs got stronger physically as the game went on despite playing 70 hours earlier against SuperSport United.

This was a massive away win for Chiefs and one that is completely down to Middendorp’s tactical decisions. For all his perceived faults, he has the edge over every other PSL coach at reading a game and maneuvering to change the momentum.