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Orlando Pirates v Black Leopards

IN DEPTH: How Orlando Pirates used set plays to see off Black Leopards

5:09 AM EDT 4/11/19
Lehlogonolo Masalesa, Black Leopards & Ben Motshwari, Orlando Pirates, April 2019
Bucs took their chance to move three points clear at the summit of the PSL by beating Lidoda Duvha, and Goal analyses the tactical battle that was


Team News

Orlando Pirates were missing Alfred Ndengane and Augustine Mulenga through suspension for this game, but welcomed Thembinkosi Lorch back from his own one-game ban.

Thabo Qalinge got a rare start on the right wing as Mulenga’s replacement, with Vincent Pule only fit enough for a place on the bench after an ankle injury.

Marshall Munetsi replaced Ndengane in central defence.

Black Leopards made several changes to the side that lost 3-1 to Polokwane City on Sunday, recalling Rotshidzwa Muleka in goal in place of King Ndlvou, whilst Chris Katjiukua started in central defence.

Tshwarelo Bereng, Karabo Tshepe and Thokozani Sekotlong all came into the side, as did Khuliso Mudau who was red carded on each of his last two appearances for Lidoda Duvha.

In all, coach Dylan Kerr made six changes from the previous game’s lineup. 

Pirates Build with Ease

Right from kickoff, Bucs looked to play out from the back.

With Leopards initially defending with a front two – Tshepe and PSL top scorer Musonda – Pirates straight away had their central midfielders, Musa Nyatama and Ben Motshwari, moving into deeper, wider roles to receive the ball.

With the Leopards front two not pressing high, but rather trying to screen passes into the Pirates midfield, this plan to move into the “half-spaces” meant Motshwari and Nyatama were free to receive outside their screening.

On Leopards' left, Mudau was playing narrow to try to aid his midfield whilst Sekotlong was being asked to track Innocent Maela, an unnatural role for the Mamelodi Sundowns loanee who is primarily a centre forward.

After several early raids by Maela, Leopards switched Mudua over to that flank to offer greater defensive cover.

Although the opening 20 minutes didn’t bring any clear chances, Pirates were easily playing through Leopards’ pressure, often moving the ball just as an opponent arrived late to close down.

The organisation of the away side was questionable as Jele stepped forward to play a slide-rule pass for Lorch to run onto, whilst on another occasion, Bereng made a forward run before possession was secured and left his side five vs. five against the Bucs attack.

The first close chance came as Leopards sent only one defender out to engage Lorch and Memela for a short-corner, and Memela’s delivery caused havoc in the box, but the ball went just wide of goal.

On the ball, Leopards’ attempts to play out from the back looked clumsy and one loose pass saw Lorch picked out in space but he could not find Memela in the box as Katjiukua blocked the pass.

When the away side did get the ball into the final third, Tshepe was heavily involved as he dropped off the front, but the side could not involve Musonda in the play at all, nor get Sekotlong on the ball in forward areas as he spent most of his energy in the early stages playing as an auxiliary full-back. 

Pirates Score Set Play

In the 23rd minute, Pirates took the lead as Luvuyo Memela fired in a direct freekick from the edge of the box. This was the home side’s 11th goal of the PSL campaign from a set-play and the fifth direct freekick scored by a Bucs player this season across all competitions.

Justin Shonga missed a clear chance soon after Lorch’s dangerous play on the left, but Pirates became complacent after that and allowed Leopards a good spell.

Two good dead-ball deliveries from Bereng caused trouble in the Bucs box, whilst Tshepe was becoming increasing effective and his shot was deflected just wide.

Before the half was out though, Pirates should have killed the game. First, Nyatama headed over the bar from Shonga’s corner as Leopards continued to look vulnerable when facing set-plays.

Then, when Leopards tried to push their front four onto Pirates to press from a goalkick, Sandilands simply bypassed all of them with a chipped pass to Maela on the left flank.

He found Lorch running in-behind and the Pirates playmaker squared for Shonga to sidefoot another good opening wide.

It was turning into one of those profligate nights for the Zambian striker.

Leopards’ sudden designs on high pressing were bypassed again shortly afterwards.

With the immobile Masalesa and high-up Bereng trying to close down, Sekotlong had to move into a defensive midfield area to mark Memela. This allowed Nyatama to play a big switch to Mthokozisi Dube but the attack broke down.

Pirates were deserved leaders at the break, but it had all been too easy for them against a Leopards team not at the races defensively, from set-plays, transitions or any attempts to press high.  

Second Half – Pirates Sit Deep

After a complacent first half, Pirates did not respond in the early part of the second half.

As Leopards pushed Bereng higher up to join Tshepe as a second number ten, Leopards got behind Pirates midfield on several occasions between minutes 46 and 70.

Tshepe tested Sandilands from range after finding space and Leopards were threatening to steal an equaliser.

Pirates were a threat when they attacked – often on fast transitions or counters – and Maela was again getting joy as he bombed forward against Sekotlong, now back on right flank strangely after Mudau had done a solid defensive job on that side for much of the first half.

Both sides made changes after the hour as Lefa Hlongwane replaced the now tiring Sekotlong for Leopards, whilst Pule made his injury return for Pirates in place of Qalinge, who had toiled hard but not taken his chance to stake his claim for regular minutes.

By the 70th minute mark, Milutin Sredojevic was visibly urging his team to push higher up.

By this stage, Pirates’ back six were camped deep in their half, with the front four staying high for counter attacks.

This lack of defensive duties was both giving Leopards a chance to attack a “broken” team (meaning certain players purely defend and certain players purely attack, instead of everyone contributing to all phases) but also giving Pirates numbers in attack when Kerr’s side gave the ball away high up.

Sredojevic’s move to steady his side was to withdraw Memela and introduce Mpho Makola to make it seven outfield players behind the ball.

The latter joined the central midfield and nearly made an immediate impact, pressing well to win the ball and setting up Lorch to test Muleka with a low left-footed shot.

Pirates’ wastefulness continued as Shonga took a very heavy first touch when his side had a two-versus-one counter, and his side nearly paid the price when Musonda headed a cross from Pentjie Zulu against the bar and over for Leopards.

The league’s top scorer had been kept very quiet all game and barely been involved in the play, but always needed just one moment and he could level matters.

Eventually, Pirates ended the game as Lorch headed past the onrushing Muleka from Nyatama’s quick freekick and the side had finally put Leopards away.

There was still time for Shonga to miss another chance from more enterprising creative play by Lorch, who looked fresh from his weekend off and undoubtedly the game’s star player.


This was a straightforward game for Pirates which they turned into a nervier affair than was necessary by not defending as a team or killing the game effectively.

It took a full 57-minutes with the game precariously poised at 1-0 for Leopards to finally be put to bed.

Dylan Kerr’s side looked disorganised defensively and unbalanced in wide areas and in midfield, which gifted space for Lorch to threaten constantly by staying high up and focusing purely on attacking.

Pirates have had at least half a dozen league games this season where they struggled to break down opposition who played ultra-defensively and compactly, but Leopards did no such thing and this played into Bucs’ hands.

At times, the game felt so comfortable that they nearly got caught napping by Leopards.

Instead, Pirates took all three points and moved clear at the top of the log.