These two giants of South African football met for the second time in four weeks, this time with a place in the Telkom Knockout final up for grabs.
Would Giovanni Solinas be able to tactically out-manoeuvre his counterpart Micho Sredojevic and win over the sceptical Amakhosi faithful, or would Pirates continue to heal the souls of their fans?
Coming into this game, both sides had injury concerns and some crucial selection decisions to make. Kaizer Chiefs decided to continue with their usual 4-4-2 formation with Khama Billiat as a genuine forward, and George Maluleka in central midfield as one of two defensive midfielders.
Amakhosi’s coach Solinas, mentioned after his team’s last game that he needs two “pitbulls” in front of his back four and could not start Siphelele Ntshangase in that role right now because of his lack of defensive discipline.
At right back, Ramahlwe Mphahlele was fit after a knock on Bafana Bafana duty, whilst in the middle of the backline, it was Mario Booysen instead of Daniel Cardoso. Lebogang Manyama returned from an injury sustained in a car accident to start on the left flank.
Orlando Pirates decided to rotate in goal, where Jackson Mabokgwane was a surprise selection for this big game in preference to Siyabonga Mpontshane.
In midfield, Ben Motshwari was injured so Musa Nyatama came back into central midfield to partner Xola Mlambo, and in attack, Augustine Mulenga was left on the bench as he was carrying a knock, so Thabiso Kutumela started as a number ten behind Justin Shonga.
Chiefs sit off Pirates
In the meeting between these sides four weeks ago, Chiefs started the game by looking to push five men onto Pirates when Sredojevic’s men were attempting to play out from the back. Ntshangase pushed high onto Mlambo, as Chiefs hoped to force Pirates long.
In this match, Chiefs dropped off Pirates completely, allowing their central defenders to have the ball. The front two of Castro and Billiat both retreated just short of the halfway line, looking to block passing angles to Mlambo and Nyatama, and make the shape more of a 4-4-2-0 when defending.
Katsande appeared to have been tasked with closing Mlambo down but only around the halfway line, or even deeper into his half.
When Amakhosi won the ball, they looked to quickly transition to attack by using early forward passes to Castro, or Zuma’s pace on the right flank.
The Colombian forward looked completely different in this game to the one four weeks ago, appearing hungry, fit and certainly in the mood. His hard work without the ball was important too in the early stages.
Pirates’ central defenders both struggled to play penetrating passes forward and often looked impatient when attempting to penetrate.
With a flurry of fouls in the first 20 minutes, Pirates had no real rhythm although they did take the lead.
Mabokgwane’s quick kick launched a counter attack, Booysen made a poor mistake in missing his interception, and Pule’s superb low cross with the outside of his left foot was turned in by Lorch.
Chiefs levelled just four minutes later, which allowed them to continue with the strategy of sitting off, then aggressively closing down any passes into the front players, before launching quick counters. Chiefs’ equaliser came after Billiat and Manyama had switched positions.
The former’s chipped pass forward pass from deep on the left flank held up on the heavy surface, and Castro got the ball before Jele or Mabokgwane to level matters.
Nyatama Frees Maela
With Chiefs doing well to block Mlambo from having a big influence, and the middle of the pitch being well blocked off, Pirates decided to instead look to overload Chiefs’ right side.
Nyatama dropped very wide into the left halfspace and this pushed Maela high and wide in the buildup, asking questions of Zuma’s defending.
With Lorch over on that left wing, and Shonga also running that channel, Pirates were able to constantly use combination play on the left flank to enter the final third and bypass central midfield. One such attack saw Lorch almost finding Pule on the back post with a lovely cross.
When Bucs did switch play over to the right, they could isolate Pule against Walusimbi and the former caused nightmares for the Ugandan left back with his skill and trickery. This was very much from Pep Guardiola’s playbook: overload one flank, then quickly switch play to the other side for a one versus one action.
Second half – Billiat Nullified
In the second period, Pirates’ patience in their buildup was much more evident, as they looked to keep the ball for longer stretches with the intention of “defending with the ball” as coach Sredojevic likes to call it.
With Bucs dominating possession, there were significantly less touches for Billiat than usual and often in unthreatening positions. When Chiefs did have spells of possession, the Zimbabwean missed Ntshangase’s penetrative passing from deep. The latter has set up 11 of Billiat’s shots this season, and since he was dropped, Billiat has not scored in four games and has struggled to influence matches like before.
However, for all of their possession, Pirates struggled to fashion clear chances. Throughout this season, the side have looked somewhat sterile trying to break down teams who drop into their own half and are not drawn out by the Buccaneers’ buildup play.
After all, the main reason any team looks to play out from the back is to suck opponents out of their own half and their defensive shape, and then bypass them with well-timed forward passes. When teams refuse to engage Pirates until 40 yards from goal, they tend to lack ideas.
However, Chiefs began to tire and with a limited bench to call upon, Pirates began to turn the screw, especially after Mulenga came on to add extra pace and quality.
The pressure eventually told, as the substitute’s cross found his countryman Shonga, who jumped to his feet after a failed bicycle kick, beat Mphahlele and fired past Khune with his left foot – a lovely goal.
Late chances – Mabokgwane At Sea
With Shonga’s goal coming after 84 minutes, Chiefs had to throw men forward and their tactical change was to drop Katsande into defence and put Booysen up front for a long-ball assault.
Chiefs had two big chances late in the game, first as Castro headed over when he should have levelled, and then when Booysen missed a back-post sitter.
Both chances had come from extremely unconvincing goalkeeping by Mabokgwane, who had looked all-at-sea on high balls throughout the game. Had Chiefs attacked more, they may have further exposed Pirates’ weakness in goal.
This was a highly entertaining game, albeit short of many clear chances besides a late flurry of Chiefs opportunities to equalise.
Pirates did create a good amount of half-chances throughout the game, and after more than 80 minutes of dominant possession football, Chiefs began to tire badly and Pirates eventually got their reward for sticking to their clear game-plan.
Chiefs’ strategy had been clear from the onset too, but they looked ill-suited for the task, often failing to make counter attacking openings count. Chiefs struggled to defend in wide areas as Pirates exposed Mphahlele for the third derby in a row, using Maela to overload him.
Pirates deserved this win without a doubt, and their innovation to use Nyatama in almost a left back position when building up, provided a way around Chiefs deep defensive block.
Amakhosi look to have no identity right now. When Solinas first took over, he played a very attacking and open style of play which was good to watch, but could be easily exploited on the break.
In the last four games since the first derby defeat, Chiefs have played two deeper midfielders and a more conservative game.
At times, Amakhosi did not play like a big team in this Derby, and their top players like Manyama and Billiat spent most of the game a long distance from the opposition’s goal and unable to impose themselves on proceedings.
On this evidence, Chiefs will be nowhere near a title challenge, whilst Mamelodi Sundowns should be very worried about how well-oiled and well-coached Orlando Pirates are looking when they return to league action.
Nonetheless, the Sea Robbers have not won a trophy since 2014 and now have a real chance to do so on the 8th of December in the Telkom Knockout final.