COMMENT: Have Orlando Pirates improved from last season or not?

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Goal assesses Pirates' dismal start to the new term with the team having recorded a single one win from their first five games

Many expected Orlando Pirates to hit the ground running this season following a successful pre-season campaign.

The Soweto giants held three different camps in Nelspruit, Zambia and Cape Town as part of their preparations for the new campaign.

Exciting new acquisitions such as Brilliant Khuzwayo, Vincent Pule, Kudakwashe Mahachi, Ben Motshwari and Paseka Mako among others were brought in as the Buccaneers reinforced their squad.

Furthermore, great additions to the technical staff also raised Bucs supporters' hopes as finishing expert Stephane Adam and former Swansea City AFC goalkeeper Andrew Sparkes were also roped in.

However, the Buccaneers have endured a poor start to the new season having recorded three successive defeats in all competitions, including their 4-3 penalty shootout loss to SuoerSport United in the MTN8 Cup quarter-finals.

As a result, Bucs bowed out of the first cup competition of the season and they also find themselves outside the top eight in the PSL having registered two defeats, a single draw and one victory.

This time last season, the Sea Robbers had already played five league games following their failure to qualify for the MTN8.

During that period, they had registered three victories and two draws without losing a match; this means Bucs have regressed and they should look to improve if they are to better their last season's top two finish. 

With two defeats, one draw and one victory in their first four league matches, Bucs matched their record set during the 2015/16 season when they ended up finishing seventh on the PSL log. 

At this rate, it doesn't look like Pirates are strong contenders for the PSL title, especially looking back at their scintillating performances last season.

But what could have contributed to this regress? 


TOO MANY CHANGES


Orlando Pirates PS
The Buccaneers had a relatively successful 2017/18 season which saw them compete for the PSL title and ultimately, they finished second behind eventual champions Mamelodi Sundowns

They were expected to build on that performance by avoiding making too many changes at the club in terms of keeping the core of the team and adding a few new faces to strengthen the squad in the offseason.

However, Pirates delved into the transfer market and they signed nine new players which led to the club having around 45 players during their pre-season camps and the technical team was forced to trim the squad.

Goalkeeper coach Andrew Sparkes, head of performance Darian Wilken and football analyst Franck Plaine were all added to the technical team, while assistant coach Benson Mhlongo and keeper coach Ivica Vukusic left the Houghton-based club.

Such changes seem to have disrupted the team as the new players will definitely need time to adjust to life at the Soweto giants. Sparkes may also need more time to improve the goalkeeping department which was a cause for concern last season.


DEFENSIVE PROBLEMS 


The defence is becoming an Achilles heel for the Buccaneers with the club having failed to sign a quality central defender despite being linked with Brazilian defender Caio Marcelo and Bidvest Wits captain Thulani Hlatshwayo.

Micho's side has scored two own-goals (both by central defender Gladwin Shitolo) and they kept one clean sheet in their first five matches in the new term.

The backline which is led by club captain Happy Jele, who was one of the team's key players as Bucs pushed for the PSL title in the second round of last season, has been found wanting at times. 

Sredojevic and his technical team should fix the team's leaking defence which has conceded five goals in five matches or urge the club management to bring in a quality central defender before the transfer closes next week.

For now Justice Chabalala, Ntsikelelo Nyauza and Marshall Munetsi are an option for the Serbian coach if he decides to drop Shitolo, who has struggled thus far. 


SCORING WOES 


Augustine Mulenga, Orlando Pirates & Ryan Rae, Highlands Park, August 2018

Pirates' biggest problem has been converting the chances that they create with Micho have rued poor finishing since the new campaign began with his charges missing easy goal-scoring opportunities.

Despite boasting talented forwards such as Augustine Mulenga and Justin Shonga, the Buccaneers have netted a mere four goals, while failing to score from open play in the process despite dominating games and creating many chances.

The absence of last season's top scorer, Luvuyo Memela, (five goals), has also contributed to the team's struggles in front of goal. The left-footed attacker is currently out nursing an injury, but he is now nearing full fitness.

Last season, Micho managed to find a solution for the team's scoring woes midway through the campaign with Memela having formed a deadly partnership with Shonga and Lorch, while Mulenga also contributed a few goals.

The former Rwanda coach should consider returning to attacking tactics which can help end the Buccaneers' scoring problem, while the work being done by the finishing coach Adam behind the scenes could soon pay dividends.  


CHANGING LINE-UPS 


Milutin Sredojevic of Orlando Pirates

The Soweto giants boast one of the biggest squads in the PSL in terms of number players and Micho has been rotating his players as he looks to find the right starting line-up for his side.

A whopping 24 players have already featured for Pirates this season including six new signings and teenage sensation Augustine Mahlonoko, who was promoted to the club's first team from the academy.

Chopping and changing the starting-up has hurt the team with the decision to rest Musa Nyatama against SuperSport backfired as the Bucs defence was exposed without cover in front of the backline when they conceded twice in the game.

Th 48-year-old then dropped Shonga, who was arguably Bucs' best striker last season, for inconsistent marksman Thamsanqa Gabuza against Celtic

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However, Gabuza was unable to capitalise on the starting berth handed to him upfront by the coach as the player missed several chances as Bucs succumbed to their third successive defeat.

It is back to the drawing board for Bucs after a disappointing start to the new term and one thing that is clear for Micho is that he needs to stick to his tried and tested players. 

Furthermore, new faces should be gradually introduced into the starting line-up as changing personnel week in week out is proving detrimental to the Buccaneers.

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