Sundowns made six changes from the side that drew 1-1 with Bidvest Wits. Five of those were to freshen up the side, whilst one injury-enforced as Kennedy Mweene replaced hamstring-victim Denis Onyango in goal.
In defence, Rivaldo Coetzee got his first league start since early January, whilst Tebogo Langerman's six-game exile since his own goal against AmaZulu came to an end.
In midfield, Andile Jali was back in the side after months of injury problems, and in the attack, Anthony Laffor and Gaston Sirino were recalled.
For Cape Town City, Edmilson Dove was back in the side at left-back with Keanu Cupido retaining his place in central defence.
In midfield, Teko Modise was in a deeper role against his former club with Riyaad Norodien set out as a number ten.
Gift Links got the nod on the left ahead of Bradley Ralani and Siphelele Mthembu was selected ahead of Kermit Erasmus.
Teko & Mokeke KO’d
Immediately, it was clear that Sundowns’ analysis team had highlighted the threat of Teko Modise and Thato Mokeke in City’s midfield.
The duo are excellent deep-lying playmakers, both able to make line-breaking passes and dictate affairs.
Sundowns’ solution was to push Hlompho Kekana into a more advanced, more proactive pressing role than usual.
Jali instead sat deepest to give this license to his captain.
Every time Modise looked to get on the ball in the early stages, Kekana was on him in a flash.
City had seemingly picked Norodien to do a similar job on Kekana for his side, but with the latter more advanced than usual, it was impossible for him to be tracked as easily.
When Sundowns’ central defenders had the ball, City did not press high.
Instead, Mthembu dropped onto the same line as Norodien and looked to block easy passes into the path of Jali or Kekana.
This had the effect of giving Ricardo Nascimento and Coetzee, two of the best passing central defenders in the PSL, time and space to bypass midfield and find attackers.
Downs Go Direct
With City putting no pressure on the ball, and using a high defensive line, Sundowns constantly looked to play direct, penetrative passes into the space behind the defence.
Pitso Mosimane’s side did the same on transitions – immediately looking for a forward pass.
In the fourth minute, Sirino was incorrectly flagged as he ran onto a long ball.
Kekana twice won the ball off City’s midfield, then later found Sirino on the edge of the box but the Uruguayan blasted the shot over the bar.
Langerman then hit a long pass from which Zwane was narrowly offside. City were living dangerously against these direct deliveries.
Laffor was also proving a threat on the right. After Kekana robbed Modise and picked out the Liberian winger, his delivery was disappointing with four Sundowns players in the box.
A clear chance did arrive from that flank later as Kekana found himself on the edge of the box to play a one-two with Laffor. The cross landed at Sirino’s feet at the back post but he shot wide.
City were on the ropes and not making adjustments to stop the flow.
The goal finally arrived after 23 minutes. Langerman looked up and hit a long pass onto Maboe’s run and the latter volleyed the opener past Peter Leeuwenburgh. A simple goal as the defensive line stayed high despite a lack of pressure on the ball.
Sundowns really should have scored again after that as another direct Kekana pass for Maboe drew a freekick from which Sirino nearly netted, and Langerman had a back-post volley saved from Laffor’s deep delivery.
With Coetzee having a field day with all the time he was being allowed, he could find Zwane or Sirino between-the-lines to the side of Modise, who was struggling with his defensive work.
City had a late opening as Taariq Fielies shot wide after a corner, but going in at 1-0 flattered them and Downs would have been frustrated not to have led 2-0 or 3-0.
Benni Double Change
At half-time, Benni McCarthy made a double change, taking off Modise and Dove. The duo had struggled in the first half. On came Zukile Kewuti and Ebrahim Seedat.
It took just 76 seconds for City to win a penalty and go level.
Kewuti found Norodien in 30-yards of space behind Sundowns’ midfield as Jali sold himself by pressing high.
The handball call against Langerman looked harsh but Norodien tucked the chance away.
Despite the questionable award, the penalty had come from Sundowns’ midfield being bypassed and the defensive line not squeezing up to compress the space.
Sundowns were sitting very deep to allow no space for Craig Martin and Gift Links to run into, and that ploy had rendered the duo to peripheral first half roles.
City had a strong first 15 minutes of the second half, dropping deeper to stop space in-behind.
They also looked to hit longer passes for Mthembu and then play off his hold-up work.
The two wingers played slightly narrower to aid their midfield. Kewuti and Mokeke were playing further from their defence in the build-up to give more space to their centre backs.
Sundowns Back in Front
All of City’s good work went out the window as Kekana found Zwane’s third-man run, and when the ball broke to Laffor, he lashed home a superb strike.
City surprisingly used their final change to take off Mthembu for Kermit Erasmus after 67 minutes.
Sundowns continued to threaten and should have scored a third earlier than they did.
Sirino’s third-man run and unselfish pass for Zwane saw the latter miss a clear opening.
Sirino nearly raced through on a couple of occasions, but just wasn’t at his very best.
City were struggling to create any real openings despite Norodien finding space to run with the ball as Andile Jali tired badly.
Sundowns finally did score the third when substitute Phakamani Mahlambi tapped into an open net.
Maboe had put Zwane through on goal and the latter squared the ball for his teammate.
With the game seemingly over, Erasmus had his first real impact – hitting a sublime 35-yard shot into the top corner with his left foot.
This gave City a glimmer of hope, especially when Jali fouled Norodien on the edge of the box. The set-piece came to nothing and Sundowns took the victory.
This was a completely deserved win for Sundowns, who exposed City’s high defensive over and over again. They should have gone in at half-time a couple of goals in front, from these situations and from right-wing crosses too.
City had little way to impose themselves with Kekana dominating Modise in midfield and none of the front players having any impact.
Their half-time changes brought a good 15-minute spell and an equaliser but it was short-lived.
Sundowns were the better team from the hour-mark onwards and should have scored on several occasions, particularly from their interplay in tight spaces.
McCarthy’s charges carried little threat with Norodien not maximising the space afforded to him in front of Downs’ defence, and although they had a late freekick to level, it would have been much more than they deserved.
Sundowns moved top of the league while City’s title challenge now looks dead before it even really started.