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SuperSport United v Orlando Pirates

IN DEPTH: How SuperSport United beat ponderous Orlando Pirates

09:05 EAT 21/02/2019
Aubrey Modiba of Supersport United challenged by Musa Nyatama of Orlando Pirates, February 2019
Matsatsantsa moved up to fourth with the win over Bucs, and Goal reflects on the tactical battle that unfolded at Mbombela Stadium


Team News

 SuperSport coach, Kaitano Tembo was without Teboho Mokoena (suspended) and Thabo Mnyamane (groin injury) for this game.

He made three big calls in his team selection, not least retaining the 4-4-2 formation that brought victory in their last game.

This saw Mxolisi Macuphu partner Bradley Grobler up front.

His other big calls were to leave our veterans Reneilwe Letsholonyane and Bongani Khumalo in favour of younger, quicker options in Jamie Webber and Grant Kekana. The latter started in central defence.

For Pirates, coach Milutin Sredojevic recalled Musa Nyatama and Xola Mlambo after the duo were dropped for the side’s 2-0 defeat in Tunisia against Esperance.

In goal, Wayne Sandilands kept his place whilst Abbubakar Mobara was back in the XI at right back.

Ben Motshwari started as an attacking midfielder with Augustine Mulenga out injured. 

Sluggish Sea Robbers

For these big games, SuperSport usually play 4-3-3 with two of their central midfielders pressing the opposition’s midfield aggressively.

For this game, they used the same man-orientated pressing strategy but left out a third midfielder and played an extra striker.

Macuphu was regularly picked out with longer passes and he put himself about, competing strongly in the duels with Happy Jele and Alfred Ndengane. Grobler did the same as the strike duo proved a handful.

This pressing in midfield saw Dean Furman and Webber close down Nyatama and Mlambo at every opportunity, making it difficult for Pirates to play out from the back.

SuperSport’s front two didn’t push up to force Sandilands long, but instead encouraged him to play short to Jele and Ndengane.

As SuperSport’s midfield pairing pressed aggressively, a big gap was opened in front of their defence.

With Ben Motshwari not a natural in the number ten role and Mlambo having his worst game in recent memory, Pirates just could not exploit that space.

In the fourth minute, Jele showed the way to break the marking by carrying the ball forward positively, which pulled Furman towards him and allowed the Pirates captain to find Pule between-the-lines.

The move ended with Mobara having a shot blocked on the edge of the box after Evans Rusike had lost his man and Onismor Bhasera had been dragged inside by Lorch’s run.

That was sadly the only time either centre back showed that sort of positivity.

Pirates tried to find ways to get their central midfielders on the ball and facing forward with time and space, but only managed it a few times, most notably when Mlambo over-hit a pass in the 18th minute with runners to pick out.

Another occasion was when Nyatama (25th minute) ran with the ball past Furman and played a pass for Motshwari, but the latter wasted the chance as Ronwen Williams foiled him.

Pirates tried other solutions as Nyatama dropped between the centre backs or Mlambo shifted into the right-back area as Mobara pushed higher, but the passing was too slow, and Furman was making some super-human recovery runs and tackles to break up attacks. His 36th-minute challenge when Lorch had got wrong-side summed up his half. 

SuperSport Threaten Most

Despite the high Pirates possession statistics, SuperSport were the bigger threat.

On transitions, Aubrey Modiba and Rusike, both playing as inverted wide midfielders, could cut inside and run at a slow and ageing defence and central midfield.

The home side also forced Sandilands into a couple of sharp saves as they won a series of corners.

Daniels came closest and Pirates could not say they were not warned about Matsatsantsa’s set-piece threat.

They also wasted a four versus two counter-attack from a Pirates corner routine that went wrong.

Pirates had lacked width, threat between the lines, progressive passing from the back and involvement from Justin Shonga in the first half.

SuperSport had threatened with width, used transitions and set-plays well, and could always use Williams’ long kicks to Macuphu to get up the pitch. 

Pirates Wait Too Long

After another ponderous 20 minutes to start the second period for Pirates, they readied Luvuyo Memela and Asavela Mbekile to come on.

Their second half had seen Shonga slightly more involved and Innocent Maela trying to play higher on the left, but their lack of penetration or purpose in their build-up continued.

Before the changes could be made, SuperSport went in front as Daniels scored a fine header from a corner.

Mobara had been caught under the ball and lost the SuperSport defender. Pirates had waited too long to take decisive action.

Pirates instead decided to replace Mobara with Memela and then Mlambo with Gabuza with 21 minutes to salvage the game.

This saw the side move to a 3-2 scheme for their build-up with Maela tucked in, and Motshwari deeper. Pule and Memela hugged the touchlines to finally give some width.

These changes certainly worked in that SuperSport now had five attacking players to deal with and had effectively been forced to drop Modiba and Rusike into very deep roles to make a back six.

Clear opportunities hardly presented themselves for Pirates after this, but there were more dangerous deliveries from wide and greater danger around the centre backs as Gabuza occupied them.

Lorch tested Williams and a generous penalty was squandered as Jele stepped forward.

SuperSport responded by throwing on Phumlani Ntshangase for Macuphu to shore up midfield and later added Khumalo to defend their box as an extra central defender. They saw out the game with great focus and commitment. 


SuperSport deserved this win.

They fought tooth and nail for the cause and kept Pirates’ danger men quiet by cutting off their supply.

Pirates had their now age-old problems of slow, sterile possession in the build-up with too many men behind the ball and not enough width.

This was the fifth time this season that the midfield trio of Mlambo, Nyatama and Motshwari have started together and the side have scored just two goals in those games.

The balance of the engine room is all wrong with Motshwari in an advanced role and Lorch having to play wider.

When that trio is losing the midfield battle to Furman and a 21-year-old rookie anyway, then there seems little benefit in handicapping their attack.