Player Analysis: Sibusiso Vilakazi
Sibusiso Vilakazi is not the typical striker who moves up-front and is dangerous in the box. Moreover, he is the player type who moves between the lines and connects with the midfield regularly. Mamelodi Sundowns usually plays without a real striker up-front. In their 4-4-2, both strikers (Percy Tau & Vilakazi) play between the lines and are very skilled under pressure.
As I mentioned above, Vilakazi connects regularly with the midfield. Therefore, he moves a lot between the lines and adjusts his position to the location of the ball or to the position of his teammates in order to connect them.
In such situations, when Tiyani Mabunda & Hlompho Kekana have no passing option to break through opposition’s midfield line and the shape of the opposition is not compact in that situation because the lines get stretched. Vilakazi usually recognises the open space and moves into the open space in order to give his midfield partners a forward-passing option.
One of Vilakazi’s strength is the vision and observation of the position of his teammates and opponents. At times, he stops the ball and creates further pressing which opens space for his teammates. Besides his awareness of open space, he also is capable of supporting his teammates through movements, which create space.
His passing ability
The biggest strength of Vilakazi is clearly his passing ability. He has a variety of different passes, which lead to breakthroughs for his team. In particular, he likes to play direct passes behind the lines of the opponent. Because of the fact that he is comfortable enough to control the ball under pressure and play difficult passes while he receives pressure, he fits perfectly into the philosophy of Sundowns. Because of his skill-set, he often is the wall-player in third-man combinations or one-two combinations.
Sometimes Vilakazi tries to play passes through the smallest gapes, which make those actions inconsistent because when those passes are not played accurately enough a defender will intercept the pass. However, when he plays the ball in the right moment which by the way happens quite often the defence will have no chance to defend those passes because they usually land with the right speed in the running path of the attacker.
His great technique when it comes to accurate passes, which split opponent´s defenders, gets obvious in this scene when he simply plays the pass with the perfect timing, in a way that his teammate receives the ball before the defenders.
Obviously, Vilakazi is one of the best offensive players in the PSL; especially his passing ability and his awareness for the distribution of players on the pitch is outstanding.
Tactical Profile Of Pitso Mosimane
Since Pitso Mosimane was appointed as head coach of Mamelodi Sundowns, he has overseen the transformation of a quite slow and laboured side into the most entertaining team to watch in Africa.
Pitso sets his team up in a 4-2-3-1 with two holding midfielders, three more attacking who play narrow to open up space for the fullbacks, the right-back Thapelo Morena in particular, to attack and one forward.
Pitso strictly uses a positional defending side where the players adjust their positions based on the position of the ball and their teammates. There is minimal space between the respective lines of the team and opponents are forced wide with Sundowns shutting down passing lanes centrally.
When one player goes to press, the others cover. The formation when defending deeper becomes 4-4-1-1 with the wingers dropping into the same line as the central midfielders.
Pressing in a 4-4-2
Sundowns have been very efficient with their high-pressing this season, and when they press high up the pitch they change their shape as either an attacking midfielder or a winger leaves the midfield line to press alongside the centre forward.
Sundowns are superb in defensive transition and due to the immaculately positioned attacking shape; they can quickly regain possession when they lose it with a rapid counter press. They keep the ball for a long sequence, but when possession is lost, they quickly sprint into pressing to win the ball back and start circulating it again. The closest players provide pressure and shut off the ball-carriers passing options.
Pitso is a strong advocate of positional play, and his way of implementing this style on his team has been fantastic to watch. Sundowns constantly looks for the third man when in possession and are the best in the PSL when it comes to playing out of pressure. The players are so comfortable in Pitso’s playing-style that they never panic when pressed and use their quick passing combinations to find a free man to get out of the press.
They start from the goalkeeper Dennis Onyango who automatically becomes a free man in their build up. The centre-backs split and the fullbacks pick up high positions in the build-up. The defensive midfielder, Tiyani Mabunda or Hlompho Kekana, drops in between the centre-backs when needed but otherwise tend to position themselves behind the opponents first line of pressure to split the pressing players. If Sundowns are shut down centrally, Onyango can play a high lofted pass to either of the fullbacks to get out of pressure.
Short passing combinations to open up spaces
Pitso wants his team to use quick, short passing combinations to escape pressure in order to open up spaces to attack. A series of rapid, short, passing combinations sees Sundowns escape the press and open up space for them to progress the attack by stabilising possession in another area of the pitch.
They are always looking for the third man to escape pressure and progress the play, and they do this superbly. The purpose of third man runs and trying to find the third man is to create a situation where the opposition focuses on the ball-carrier and his closest teammate but forget about the third player making a run they can’t see. When this is concept is applied properly it is extremely difficult to defend.
Find the free man between the lines – positional superiority
This is the ultimate goal of Sundowns positional play and attacking style; get players behind the opposition’s midfield facing the defence and attacking that defence quickly. We have seen the short passing combinations they use when trying to create this space and when they get there, they are devastating. When they get players facing the defence they automatically create positional superiority, meaning the attacking players are in control over the defenders, as they must react to the position of the ball and the attacker. This is the reason Sundowns mostly build up down their right side where right-back Morena always keeps a high attacking position to maintain width and Themba Zwane or Gaston Sirino moves into the right half-space.
While Sundowns are one of the most possession-based teams in the PSL, they are also extremely dangerous on the counter-attack. The physical profile of their three attackers Sirino/Zwane, Billiat and Vilakazi with their pace, their understanding of when to run in behind the defence and their telepathic combination play are the main reasons behind their effectiveness on the counter. When defending deeper, huge spaces to attack appear, Sundowns unleash their front three with a quick vertical pass and from there the counter moves like a high-speed train.
Pitso Mosimane has created the most entertaining team in the PSL with a clear identity and a style that is appreciated across Africa. His team play a quick, vertical style of positional play, which is very difficult to defend against.
Milutin ‘Micho’ Sredojevic’s Need For A Complete Centre-Back
Across all footballing cultures, continents and eras, virtually every football manager or coach will have a favoured system that he’d like to utilise as regularly as possible. These favoured systems are usually based on a manager’s footballing education, principles and preferred style of play, and will consequently differ from person to person depending on each manager’s footballing background and subjective beliefs.
Each tactical system employed will have general strengths, weaknesses and benefits that ultimately have to suit the players at the manager’s disposal. However, sometimes a manager will take charge of a squad that doesn’t particularly suit his tactical needs, and in such a scenario, the manager can either adapt his system, or bring in players to accommodate his desired tactical needs.
Milutin Sredojevic has very specific footballing principles and beliefs, and therefore requires a very well-tailored squad to fulfil his tactical requirements. Sredojevic plays real attacking football – the kind of football the public wants to see, what he does right now in football in this country is so refreshing. His approach is really what the Premier Soccer League needs, he does not wait. He wants his team to be the boss on the pitch and go for it.”
He naturally demands more from his centre-backs at Orlando Pirates than the average manager does as consequence of his favoured attacking style; they’re exposed with less cover than normal, and are also expected to get involved with the team’s attack. Thus his preferred style of play exhibits a tactical need for complete centre-backs that we will demonstrate below.
Sredojevic’s style of play is reminiscent of the notorious ‘Total Football’, which was pioneered in Holland, and involves any outfield player being able to take over the role of any other player in the team. In basic terms, the concept involves everyone defending as a team, and everyone attacking as a team in a fluid manner. However, when this is applied in Sredojevic’s attacking system, it naturally demands more from the centre-backs. Pirates adopt a high defensive line to keep the play in the opponent’s half, so his centre-backs are always somewhat exposed when in possession due to the vast amount of space able for the opposition to exploit in behind. In order to manage that space as well as contributing to the team’s attack, Sredojevic’s centre-backs have to be technically superior to the average defender, with confidence, composure and an ease with the ball at their feet.
Sredojevic’s system incorporates a compact shape and shuffling as a team to one area of the pitch to press and play intricately depending on where the ball is situated. However, Sredojevic’s centre backs will largely stay around the centre circle in order to circulate possession and due to the compact play in tight areas, there’s often the opportunity for a hurried switch of play through a diagonal long ball to whoever is free on the opposite flank, likely to be Luvuyo Memela, Thabo Qalinge or Thembinkosi Lorch.
Sredojevic effectively chooses to attack with 7-8 players most of the time, leaving his two centre-backs, the goalkeeper and occasionally the player playing in the no.6 role to deal with any abrupt defensive situations.
In order to cope with this exposure, Sredojevic’s centre-backs have to be all-around complete players. The expected traits for a typical centre-back include strength, heading ability, positioning, awareness, tactical knowledge and tackling. Conversely, a Sredojevic centre-back needs all of those in addition to pace and acceleration due to the high defensive line and space in behind; composure, first touch and passing ability to contribute technically, and stamina due to the pressing, intensity, and training levels.
In order to cope with such reliance, isolation and burden, alongside attacking contribution and technical football, Sredojevic has a tactical need for complete centre-backs in order for his favoured style of play to work wholly. Gift Shitolo performs the responsibility to a decent standard, and possibly benefits from his time playing as a midfielder at Golden Arrows, but there’s room for another. Any centre-back in Micho’s system is going to be exposed and vulnerable, so it’s vital that he has complete players that are as equipped as possible at dealing with such scenarios. Three words: “A Complete Centre-Back”.
Manager Analysis: Luc Eymael
The life of a head coach within football can be a difficult one, there are a number of variables that can affect whether you are seen as a success or a failure at various clubs you coach and for the most part, these can be out of your control. It almost seems as though timing can be a key factor in the success and perceived status as a coach. Sometimes the success of a coach is more about timing and environment as it is about the natural talent and aptitude for the role of the coach.
To say that Luc Eymael has impressed since his first stint in the PSL with Polokwane City would be an understatement. .
It is arguably more important however that he has managed to improve each player at the club on an individual basis and is currently doing the same at Free State Stars.
In tactical terms, however, Eymael is somewhat unique in terms with an emphasis on a strong defensive block as the starting point for everything that Free State Stars do. Indeed for this tactical profile of the course, the defensive block is the logical starting point.
Eymael is very much a coach who likes to build from the back with an emphasis on a strong defensive structure. His preferred base system is 4-2-3-1 although he has been known to utilise two-striker systems in order to break down stubborn deep blocks that the opposition like to use.
The key to the 4-2-3-1 of Eymael, however, lies in the defensive or rather the controlling midfield two who sit centrally ahead of the defensive line. The reason that I changed my description of these players from defensive to controlling is simple, they are so much more than purely defensive players with each having the capacity to operate in the attacking phase as well as to destroy in the defensive phase. Indeed one of the regular controlling players for Free State Stars is Nhlanhla Vilakazi.
The key to Eymael’s defensive structure is just that, it is structured. Positions within the system are relatively fixed with the four-man defensive line staying deep and compact whilst the line of three more attacking midfielders press the ball and look to close down passing lanes.
Therefore the link between the two controlling midfielders is essential to deny the opposition access to the space in front of the defensive line in the final third. Nhlanhla Vilakazi and Makhehleni Makhuala are players that rarely stray far from one another and offer cover should one of the two have to move out of position to press the ball in certain situations.
In terms of pressing we tend to see this Free State Stars under Eymael look to press more in the central areas trying to force their opponents to focus their attacks out in the wide areas where the fullbacks are a strength of the side and where crossed balls into the box can be comfortably dealt with.
The controlling midfielders however also provide an attacking outlet in transition with both Vilakazi and the likes of Makhuala being comfortable in possession of the ball. As such we tend to see Free State Stars look to build through these midfielders before the ball is progressed through either the fullbacks as they advance or the attacking midfielders who find pockets of space in the final third.
In more established periods of possession, we also see them take up positions at the base of the attacking structure as they look to offer options to allow their teammates to recycle and keep possession to change the angle of the attack.
Structure in the attack
Whilst Free State Stars are excellent in their defensive phase they are more accustomed playing the majority of the match in the opposition half. While some coaches, notably Pitso Mosimane, encourage an element of chaos and creativity in the final third the tendency for Eymael is to prefer an element of structure in these areas.
Interplay in the final third
Free State Stars rely on quick periods of interplay in and around the final third in order to play through or around the opposition defensive block. Here the quick, technical attacking players come in to play. The likes of Jantjie in particular, are superb at playing in tight spaces and have the creativity to find passing angles and lanes through even the most stubborn defensive block.
It is no surprise to see Luc Eymael being linked to Kaizer Chiefs given how impressive he has been. His coaching methods and tactical style should translate well to a bigger club.
He should plan his next move carefully as another impressive showing at Free State Stars club could see doors open towards the very top tier of PSL club sides.
Player Analysis: Musa Nyatama
Pass, Pass, Pass. Watching Orlando Pirates is pure beauty in motion. In a time, which is dominated by teams focused on defensive stability and quick counter-attacks, Pirates is the exception. Milutin Sredojević evolved Pirates not only into a title contender but also into a team which plays beautiful football. With players like Luvuyo Memela, Thembinkosi Lorch and Bernard Morrison, Pirates clearly have players who are technically perfect in tight spaces. However, one that many fans maybe oversee is the player right in front of the defence.
Musa Nyatama, is one of the most important players in Micho’s system. He is the player who connects the team and makes those quick passing combinations possible. With his great passing abilities, he is usually the first crucial part of Pirates’ system.
The One-touch Passer
Usually, Nyatama plays in front of the back four of Pirates, most of the time he is positioned between the opponent’s strikers and midfielders. In this environment he often faces pressure, but like the whole Pirates squad, he is great under pressure. Most of the time he knows exactly where every player on the pitch is located and therefore is capable of passing with the first touch.
He rarely leaves his position, only when he supports the left wing because that’s the side which Pirates usually tries to overload. However, he tries to hold the connection with the other side in order to be able to switch the play to the far side.
Nyatama is the guy who connects the whole team and therefore he makes everyone better. His ability to quickly relocate his position and give his teammate a passing option and Pirates the possibility to break through the opponent’s midfield line is a tool that has benefited Pirates.
To create connections between teammates in order to continue the flow of the combinations a midfielder should always be aware of the position of all the other players on the pitch, especially the players around him. Nyatama regularly turns his head to scan the pitch, especially before he receives a pass like in this situation.
He looks in the direction in which he wants to pass. This scanning of the pitch makes it possible for Nyatama to play a lot of his passes with the first touch. If you observe Nyatama over the full time of a game, it looks like his passes are just short ones to the next teammate. In fact, a lot of his passes are just short-passes to the next player. However, with those quick short-passes Pirates makes the opponent move and press, therefore, the opponent will make mistakes and open space which Pirates can use. Nyatama’s constant positioning in the structure of Pirates is very important to enable the combination play of Pirates.
The Creative Guy
Compared to other central midfielders who usually play in front of the own defence, Nyatama also possesses the ability to play through balls behind the opponents last defensive line.
Nyatama has a variety of different pass-types to break down a defensive line. Quite often he benefits from the passing game of Pirates and their approach to advancing in the opponent’s half. Most of the time Pirates move the ball a lot before actually try to force the breakthrough. Therefore, Nyatama can push higher up the pitch because Pirates is well positioned for the counter-pressing due to their structure in possession.
Furthermore, Pirates usually attack with six players in the last line, that’s why the opponent has to move deeper and as a result Nyatama receives space in zones from which he can play dangerous passes without being pressured by the opponent.
First of all, he has the classic flat through ball in his repertoire, which he can play accurately even through the tiniest spaces because of his great vision and feel for the dynamic of a situation.
Quite often Pirates use Nyatama’s ability to play long passes to break a deep defensive block. Normally they circulate the ball in deeper zones. With this circulation, they try to manipulate the opponent who moves forward and tries to pressure. Consequently, open space appears behind the last line. Due to the constant movement of Pirates offence, Nyatama receives space and then can play the passes behind the line.
His Defensive Performance
Pirates’ players rarely have to defend. Because of their well-structured offence they can immediately counter press and either win the ball back or force the opponent to a long ball. Nyatama helps his team in those situations with his solid understanding of the game and his good defensive positioning. Quite often he is able to intercept by simply closing passing lines for the opponent.
However, during the defensive phase, Nyatama is in trouble when he has to defend bigger spaces. Because of the fact that his athletic abilities are not the best. Furthermore, his lack of speed makes Napoli’s defence vulnerable in transition when they do not win the ball back quickly.
In a team which focuses so much on the beautiful passing game, Nyatama is the perfect central midfielder because he is able to find solutions under pressure and helps his teammates by constantly offering a passing option.
Player Analysis: Supersport United teenage sensation Sipho Mbule
Sipho Mbule is very much a midfielder in the modern mould. He plays the box to box role for which makes great use of his physical attributes as he covers the ground from his own defensive third to the final third.
He is often the player for Supersport United that drives the team forward and it is common to see Mbule win the ball then look to play a quick vertical pass in to the final third of the pitch before following his own pass both to support the attacking movement and to help create overloads against the opposition defensive structure.
As well as possessing physical and technical abilities Mbule is also well schooled in the traditional Supersport United way of football with a grounding in the tactical side of football allowing Mbule to understand how to position himself to break up opposition attacks and how to time his runs forward to ensure that he causes maximum damage to the opposition defence.
When Mbule accesses advanced areas, he is rarely flustered possessing the quality and composure to choose the correct option. He has a unique ability to play the pass through the defensive structure diagonally to a team mate before then bending his run and attacking the space at the side of the penalty area.
This type of run has the dual effect of giving the man on the ball an option to play the ball in to and dragging opposition defenders out of position and giving the man with the ball more space to play with.
Mbule also has the abilities to overpower the opposition midfielders and come away in possession of the ball. For a young player to be so physically dominating in a tough league is telling but what is more impressive is that once again he assesses his options going forwards and chooses the correct one.
Solid in the defensive phase
Mbule is extremely disciplined tactically and he contributes well in the defensive phase of play.
He has the capacity to play as a more defensive midfielder should his club require although that would of course negate some of the added value that he provides going forwards. He is often the first midfielder to contribute in the defensive press and he looks to win the ball from the opposition instead of simply looking to provide a barrier to the opposition.
When Mbule overpowers the man in possession of the ball he immediately creates an opportunity for his side to attack from an extremely advantageous position. He also has the composure and in game intelligence to simply slip the ball through immediately to an attacking player who is in space.
Creative and productive in the final third
As well as being strong in the defensive and middle thirds of the pitch Mbule is also extremely impressive in the final third rounding off his ID as the perfect modern midfield player.
He is creative on the ball with the ability to create opportunities for teammates although if anything Mbule still needs to improve on his own ability to score goals from clear opportunities as well.
For a player to be only twenty years of age and already established as a key player for Supersport United says a lot.
Sipho Mbule already has the full package in terms of playing in the midfield and the frightening part is that he is only going to get better as he gains more experience and eventually moves to a bigger side where expectations are raised and he is pushed to greater heights.
The young player is well placed to dominate the landscape of PSL football for years to come.
Orlando Pirates And The Theory Of Playing Between The Lines
It is not the manner of their victory that impresses but rather the way that they stick to a particular tactical concept under which is a key part of the way that Milutin Sredojević teaches Orlando Pirates to play, the insistence of playing between the lines of the opposition.
To simplify this Micho sees the space on the field as the primary reference point for his side in the attacking phase as opposed to the position of the ball at any given time or even the position of the opposition. This is the key for Pirates in simplifying their attacking strategy and ensuring that regardless of the positioning or tactical setup of the opposition that they have the flexibility in the attacking phase to identify space or weaknesses in the oppositions defensive structure and perhaps more crucially to take advantage of these whether through a sudden overload or a ball played through a passing lane.
In using space as a primary reference when attacking, Micho essentially negates the variables that his team will face when playing against different opposing sides. Tactical system or preferences in terms of depth of defensive block or pressing triggers are not as important since Pirates attack in a fairly organic manner with a specific emphasis on playing between the lines of the opposition’s midfield and attack. Pirates also alter their attacking structure depending on whether the ball is on the left or the right. On the left, the presence of Luvuyo Memela and Innocent Maela sees more interchanging of positions and quick interplay. Whilst on the right Thembinkosi Lorch plays tight to the touchline looking to make timed diagonal runs behind the opposition defensive line whilst Thomas Mlambo prefers to play in front of the line of opposition midfield instead of behind it. These specific differences make it difficult for an opponent to create a cohesive defensive structure against Pirates. The variation in attacking style from left to right gives Pirates the ability to choose different solutions in order to penetrate defensive blocks.
Musa Nyatama is typically at the centre of every action for Pirates in match after match. When teams sit deep and try to frustrate Pirates then the attacking combinations and triangles that Pirates under Micho are so famous for really come in to play.
The key when looking to create space between the lines against a deep defensive block lies in forcing the opposition to break their own positioning in order to create the space that you want to. There are a couple of different ways that you can do this but Pirates favour the use of rapid combinations of passes in front of the defensive block in order to provoke the opponents to press the ball and leave space in behind.
The creation of these spaces in the heart of a defensive block is an extremely effective method of eventually breaking down a stubborn opponent, the key is patience as not every first line pass will lead to an opponent pressing, Pirates, however, excel in playing with patience in front of the oppositions defensive block shifting the angle and depth of the ball in order to eventually gain the outcome that they want.
When they are able to find a space to exploit as above then Pirates are effective at building from this advanced platform. Playing from a platform in the final third between the midfield and defensive lines of the opposition allows you to manipulate spaces in the defensive line and create overloads in order to break through into the penalty area. Pirates are excellent at this, especially when attacking on the left-hand side.
The interplay from the left-hand side can be important for Pirates in continually finding these spaces in which to play. With Memela comfortable coming into the centre of the field it can be difficult for the opposition to effectively track the movements from Pirates players across the width of the final third, this, in turn, stretches the defensive block and opens space in which Micho’s side can play.
The importance of Nyatama to this team cannot be overstated, his ability to recognise and exploit space in deeper areas and to choose the ‘right’ pass time and time again are essential to the way that Pirates play. Some people accuse him of playing too many easy passes but more often than not these passes are designed to provoke the opponent and when the opportunity arises he plays forward incisively.
Pirates are an excellent example of a team that attacks through the thirds of the field opening spaces between the lines and exploiting spaces. Any match involving them at the moment will provide you with countless examples of the creation of space through movement and combination play.