Mamelodi Sundowns made four changes from the side that lost 1-0 to Al-Ahly on Saturday.
Kennedy Mweene replaced Denis Onyango in goal, whilst there were three changes in attacking areas.
Lebohang Maboe was left out having started 21 PSL matches in a row, which saw Phakamani Mahlambi lead the line.
With Gaston Sirino suspended, it was Emiliano Tade as the number ten and Lyle Lakay was selected on the right flank in place of Thapelo Morena.
For SuperSport United, there were two changes from the weekend’s 0-0 draw with Polokwane City.
Clayton Daniels returned to partner Grant Kekana in central defence as Bongani Khumalo dropped out.
In attack, Mxolisi Macuphu was back after suspension and replaced Evans Rusike up front.
The man on loan from Bidvest Wits had scored five goals in his first six games at Matsatsantsa.
On the left flank, another loanee in George Lebese started against his parent club.
Disciplined, narrow SuperSport
From the reverse fixture in December, Kaitano Tembo’s team played an aggressive midfield pressing game.
However, this was often dismantled by Sundowns’ passing and led to vast spaces between-the-lines for the likes of Maboe and Themba Zwane to exploit.
For this clash, SuperSport dropped off Sundowns when their central defenders had the ball and the front two of Macuphu and Bradley Grobler instead looked to close passing angles into the home side’s deeper midfield duo.
That was not the only surprise by the away side.
Instead of defending in a 4-4-2, with Modiba and Lebese tracking Sundowns’ full-backs, they played in a very narrow midfield shape.
Whenever Tebogo Langerman got forward in the first half, it was right-back Siyabonga Nhlapo who looked to move out to engage him.
This left Modiba to tuck inside and to play higher up than usual. Whenever play broke down for Sundowns, he was free to lead counter-attacks into big spaces.
On the opposite flank, Lebese also tucked inside to free Onismor Bhasera to overlap.
The narrow position of the two wide midfielders meant that any direct passes into Macuphu or Grobler would have two men in support to collect the second balls.
For Sundowns, it was the usual 4-2-3-1 shape with Lakay as a defensive winger on the right flank. This was a curious selection.
Whilst Morena has been doing that job in recent weeks, it has been against sides with a significant left-sided threat (Orlando Pirates and Al-Ahly).
For this game, it looked unnecessary and simply gave Pitso Mosimane’s side less fluidity and attacking threat.
Downs Lack Spark
Having flown for eight hours on Sunday from Cairo, Sundowns lacked the usual intensity in their play.
As SuperSport looked to play out from the back through the excellent Clayton Daniels, there was minimal pressure from Sundowns either on the first phase or when the ball progressed up the pitch.
The only time they forced a mistake out of the away side was when Dean Furman played a rushed ball thinking Hlompho Kekana was about to challenge him, and Mahlambi ran onto the errant pass and had a shot blocked.
However, a few minutes later, Masandawana trailed from a set-play.
Modiba’s corner was headed in by Grant Kekana at the back post and this gave SuperSport something to hold onto – they dropped even deeper to minimize any threat against Sundowns’ favoured long passes over the top from deep areas.
After Modiba’s fifth unchallenged counter-attack up the right side (being booked for simulation as Ricardo Nascimento eventually engaged him in the box), Mosimane finally moved Lakay over to that flank to give some cover when Langerman was caught up-field.
The left-back was Downs’ one real consistent threat, with only Tade’s shoot-on-sight policy causing SuperSport consistent problems. Zwane’s influence was not as great as usual.
Right before half-time, Sundowns did look a little more lively as first Tade ran onto Mabunda’s dinked pass and he hit the side netting, and then Hlompho Kekana found space around Teboho Mokoena in the final third and linked well with Zwane to give Mahlambi a crossing chance.
SuperSport blocked well as they continued to defend their box with commitment.
Downs Go Direct
For the second half, Sundowns made some adjustments to their shape.
Tade pushed higher up to play as a genuine partner for Mahlambi, who looked to work the channels more, especially on the left. This meant Langerman played even higher up.
In midfield, Kekana pushed up into a very advanced role and was even seen pressing the SuperSport central defenders or attacking crosses in the box. He rarely dropped back to start attacks.
In possession, Sundowns were now playing with three men back to defend and a lopsided shape with little balance.
The first 20 minutes of the second half lacked a real incident.
The few hair-raising moments for Tembo’s side came when Mahlambi was running at speed in the channels.
On one occasion, he left Daniels for dead but Ronwen Williams swept up well.
The rest of the time, SuperSport dealt with him well and his final ball was often lacking in quality.
After 65 minutes, both sides made changes.
SuperSport withdrew Lebese, who had shown some nice touches but very little defensive effort.
On came Ghampani Lunga. He dropped into right wingback as SuperSport switched to a back five. This meant Modiba moved over to a left central midfield role.
For Sundowns, Tade and Mahlambi were both withdrawn and on came Jeremy Brockie and Sibusiso Vilakazi.
The latter is back from six months out injured but has had just 17 minutes on the pitch since returning.
Brockie was making his first appearance in 18 games after being left out the matchday squad for every one of Downs’ last 17 matches.
The introduction of that duo meant Sundowns now had no pace in attack and two very visibly rusty players.
SuperSport looked comfortable in dealing with the hopeful crosses aimed at Brockie, whilst Vilakazi dropped deep in search of the ball, pushing Kekana even higher, into a role as basically a second striker.
SuperSport eventually killed the game when Lungu finished from Grobler’s assist.
Modiba had broken into the box untracked for the umpteenth time in the build-up to that goal.
The rest of the game drifted away for Sundowns with Jamie Webber consolidating the midfield in place of Mokoena and Bongani Khumalo coming on later too.
This was a deserved win for SuperSport against a very poor Sundowns performance.
Both coaches summed up the game in their post-match interviews.
Tembo spoke about giving Downs no space in-behind their backline to exploit whilst also carrying a counter-attacking threat against the advanced positioning of Langerman.
They did this very well through Modiba.
Mosimane admitted, “we didn’t have the legs” after the game and although that may sound like an excuse, it is a very valid comment.
Sundowns only arrived back in South Africa on Monday and looked exhausted for this game, not attacking at speed, not pressing SuperSport and not building up with urgency.
Downs’ changes to try to turn the game did not work at all, as Kekana playing very high up the pitch did not cause SuperSport many problems.
The substitutions also played into the away side’s hands as Brockie and Vilakazi gave little movements or pace against Tembo’s switch to a 5-3-2 formation.