Just when many were beginning to fear that Mamelodi Sundowns were about to run away with the Premier Soccer League (PSL) title, the Tshwane giants were stopped in their tracks as Cape Town City once again proved to have their number.
Since the inception of the ambitious Cape Town club, Sundowns have never been able to overcome them and Tuesday evening’s result signalled Masandawana’s third successive defeat against City. But while the loss would have hurt Sundowns coach Pitso Mosimane, it was not a train smash in terms of the title race as they are still in pole position going into the Christmas break with a four-point lead over second placed Citizens.
Nonetheless, what is evident though from Sundowns’ loss was their vulnerabilities. Fatigue in particular seems to be Sundowns’ Achilles heel of late as Mosimane’s side looked uninspired and a far cry from the side which so impressively defeated Bloemfontein Celtic only three days before. With continental football returning to Chloorkop early in 2018 , Mosimane would be understandably concerned and surely needs to bolster his squad if Sundowns are to remain in contention for the league as well as continental honours.
Meanwhile, the burden of not being able to beat City yet again surely doesn’t sit well with the former African Champions. While at Loftus Versfeld Stadium, Benni McCarthy’s men put on a defensive masterclass, hardly putting a foot wrong, Sundowns showed that they still have a lot to do in the title race as they looked flat and devoid of ideas, hardly threatening the opposition goalkeeper.
Most notably, it was Sundowns’ lack of pace which certainly impacted on the result. The likes of Aubrey Ngoma and Lyle Lakay were profiting immensely down the wing especially on the counter attack and the ageing legs of defenders such as Tebogo Langerman and Wayne Arendse were found wanting. Percy Tau was also far too isolated upfront and lacked the physicality to compete with City defenders, a factor which has been apparent in many of Sundowns’ defeats this season. Sundowns have far too often this season not been able to grab the ascendency when clubs have set back and isolated their attackers.
City also took the game to Sundowns, and at times played without fear and it was just that bravery which has always given them the advantage in this fixture. Many a time, clubs fear Sundowns, but McCarthy has definitely been paying close attention to Sundowns’ defeats this season as he insisted that his side go toe-to-toe with Sundowns from the onset, and the tactic worked wonders, exposing Sundowns defensive frailties which the likes of AmaZulu, Polokwane City, and Kaizer Chiefs have successfully done in the past.
Nevertheless, while the result does damper the team spirit a little going into the break, it does not signal a decline, and in many ways the defeat perhaps came at the ideal time as Sundowns have until the new year to make certain changes and come back even stronger.