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Sundowns are right where they want to be

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The Brazilians are right where they want to be, close to the log leaders just before the final stretch of the season where they are usually very strong

WITH South African football indefinitely suspended due to the coronavirus outbreak, Independent Media looks at how PSL teams have fared in the league before the break. We start with the defending champions

Mamelodi Sundowns

The reigning league champions are searching for a record-extending 10th championship in the PSL-era. It’s one of the things that coach Pitso Mosimane promised to do when he took over from Johan Neeskens in 2012 with the club languishing in the relegation zone and with only five league titles to their name. Mosimane dramatically turned things around, producing a team that will go down in PSL history as one of the most dominant sides in South Africa – evident in their record 71-point haul in 2015/16 (the most in the 16-team PSL-era) and winning the Caf Champions League in 2016. Sundowns are now the benchmark when it comes to dominance.

Their season in a nutshell:

The Brazilians are right where they want to be, close to the log leaders just before the final stretch of the season where they are usually very strong. The four-point gap between them and league-leaders Kaizer Chiefs, with Sundowns having a game in hand, means it could turn into one point and the two teams still need to face each other.

Sundowns have all the aces in their pack. They have shown time and time again that they are one of the strongest teams in the final stretch of the season. Mosimane is confident that they can win their last five games, and they have the hunger to finish in style not only to retain their title but to return to the Champions League where they have unfinished business. The scary part about Sundowns for their rivals is that they are yet to hit fifth gear. They are slowly getting there and with no Champions League football and the rest due to the Covid-19 outbreak, they will come back fresh and eager to retain their league crown. Their season has been average, but because of their quality they lie in second place with a strong belief that come the end of the season it will be their name and not Chiefs’ etched on the league trophy.

Coach’s tactics:

Mosimane is a master of mind games. He has continuously ruffled Chiefs’ feathers because they are the biggest threat to Sundowns’ ambitions of winning the title. Mosimane did the same thing to Orlando Pirates and Wits when they were fighting with Sundowns for the championship.

His ability to make Sundowns’ players believe that they are up against the system pushes his team to fight stronger in the final stretch of a campaign. His work rate and methodological planning just adds to that. “Jingles” has also been bringing in young players who will take over from the seasoned campaigners who have served the club well.

What they have done right – strengths:

The Brazilians have done well to keep up with Amakhosi despite their hectic schedule that saw them reach the quarter-finals of the Champions League, while also remaining competitive in the domestic arena. Their experience of managing games, to be able to grind out results when necessary, means that they are a big threat in this part of the season where every club is fighting for something.

Sundowns boast a quality team that has humbled even continental giants. They have an explosive attack that hasn’t been unleashed just as yet. The club also has a relatively stable side with a technical team that has been there for years, and a team that hasn’t been changed much with just a few additions made from the group that won the league last season. They know what it takes to chase and defend a league title as they are looking to bag a third successive championship.

What they have done wrong – weaknesses:

Sundowns have been able to hide their lack of a genuine No 9 by having talented attackers who can fill almost every position in their attack. Players like Sibusiso Vilakazi, Lebogang Maboe, Thapelo Morena and even right-back Nicholus Lukhubeni have been used as a centre-forward by Mosimane by manipulating space and stretching the opponents’ defenders. But these players aren’t out-and-out strikers and they are exposed against resolute defences.

Sundowns’ lack of a genuine striker, with Mauricio Affonso injured, means that their return of goals is quite poor compared to the chances they create. It’s a weakness that can be punished in tough contest or when goal difference ends up being the defining factor of who wins the title. It’s an area that Mosimane has tried to solve for a number of seasons, with no striker, except Leonardo Castro, making the position his own and giving the club a different dimension in their attack.

Key player: Gaston Sirino

There are a number of players who can claim to be Sundowns’ key player. There is Denis Onyango, a resolute figure in goal, Motjeka Madisha who has been a rock, and captain fantastic Hlompho Kekana. But when the Brazilians need magic, their Uruguayan sorcerer, Gaston Sirino (pictured) is the one who opens his bag of tricks and makes things happen. He might be small in stature, but he has the heart and fighting spirit of a giant. That sometimes works against him as it puts him in trouble with referees and the PSL’s prosecutor.

Remaining matches:

Orlando Pirates (H)

Highlands Park (A)

Maritzburg United (A)

Cape Town City (A)

Golden Arrows (H)

Kaizer Chiefs (A)

Baroka FC (H)

Polokwane City (A)

Black Leopards (H)

Form:

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