On Saturday, Kaizer Chiefs’ winning start to the new PSL season will be given a thorough examination by a SuperSport United side with back-to-back 3-0 wins to their name against Orlando Pirates and Bidvest Wits. How could the game pan out tactically and where will it be won and lost?
PSL tactical preview
In Chiefs’ narrow 1-0 win against Black Leopards, Ernst Middendorp selected a 4-4-2 diamond formation. This featured a strangely-balanced mix of unsuited players. Up front were two target man in Samir Nurkovic and Leonardo Castro, but both were tasked with playing as wide forwards to attempt to stretch Lidoda Duvha. Neither player looked at home in a wider role, whilst Lazarous Kambole struggled at the top of the diamond, asked to arrive late in the box after the front duo vacated the middle.
Most surprising was the selection of Bernard Parker and Lebogang Manyama as midfield shuttlers. Neither player has the athleticism for an extremely demanding role on the sides of a diamond. Had Leopards’ fullback been more adventurous, there was joy to be had.
In the opening game, SuperSport went with a flat 4-4-2 featuring two wingers and two strikers. However, they changed their side against Orlando Pirates, bringing in Sipho Mbule in central midfield and playing a 4-3-3 with Bradley Grobler as the frontline striker. This surprised their opponents who had expected to face their former player in Thamsanqa Gabuza. A high-pressing performance followed and a 3-0 win.
For the 3-0 MTN8 cup victory against Bidvest Wits, Kaitano Tembo recalled Gabuza and moved Grobler over to a left-sided forward role in a 4-3-3. His side scored three second half goals, but there were undoubted weaknesses in defending against the opposition’s fullbacks with Grobler and Evans Rusike staying high, whilst their adventurous fullbacks left a lot of space for Wits to counter – Gavin Hunt’s side simply failed to convert some clear chances.
Central midfield is undoubtedly going to be a key area. Kaizer Chiefs’ pressing in this area has been excellent under Ernst Middendorp, but two of his most mobile midfielders from last season are no longer options. Hendrick Ekstein was released and Adriamirado “Dax” is ineligible with the club’s foreign quota now exhausted.
That means that should Middendorp bring in an extra specialist midfielder, it would either have to be one of the unproven new duo, Kearyn Baccus and James Kotei, or veteran Willard Katsande. SuperSport meanwhile have Dean Furman, who almost always excels against the big sides, and the very energetic young duo of Teboho Mokoena and Mbule. Matsatsantsa have the advantage in terms of personnel, but if Middendorp gets his diamond functioning well, then Chiefs could make up the quality shortfall.
Another key aspect in this PSL could be at fullback. Chiefs’ coach will have seen Gabuza attach himself to Wits’ fullbacks for deep crosses, and could call on new signing Yagan Sasman to add height at left back to counter this. SuperSport’s fullbacks in Siyabonga Nhlapo and Onismor Bhasera are tasked with providing width, and the pace of Kambole or fit-again Khama Billiat, if selected, could be a big danger on transitions in the space vacated up the sides of Grant Kekana and Clayton Daniels.
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Kaizer Chiefs (4-4-2 diamond): Khune; Frosler, Mathoho, Cardoso, Sasman; Maluleka; Baccus, Manyama, Parker; Nurkovic, Billiat.
SuperSport United (4-3-3): Williams; Nhlapo, Kekana, Daniels, Bhasera; Mbule, Furman, Mokoena; Rusike, Gabuza, Grobler.
This should be a fascinating tactical match-up. Ernst Middendorp is almost certain to tailor his strategy and team selection to what he expects SuperSport to do, based on his analysis of their games this season. Tembo has in-form attacking players and may have to select all of them and play a direct, aggressive game. The first goal will be key, as both sides have shown an ability to get in front, then protect their lead with conservative tactics and direct play to their aerially strong and pacey attacking options.