After Mamelodi Sundowns relinquished the Absa Premiership title to Bidvest Wits last season, we analyse what went wrong and what needs to happen for them to claim their third title in five years.
Sundowns have been a dominant force in Mzansi as well as on the African continent in recent times, having amassed an impressive six trophies since 2014. However, the 2016/17 season ended in relative disappointment after Gavin Hunt’s Bidvest Wits won the MTN8 and the league title, while SuperSport United and Cape Town City took home the Nedbank Cup and Telkom Knockout trophies, respectively.
Sundowns took home the CAF Champions League and Super Cup over the course of the season, which is an incredible feat, having been only the second club to do so in South African football history. Nonetheless, following up the domestic double (Telkom Knockout and league titles) in 2015/16, the Brazilians will be keen to re-establish their dominance against South African teams. This is what could have gone wrong:
Perhaps the most obvious struggle for Pitso Mosimane in the 2016/17 Absa Premiership was squad management. Sundowns won just one of their last six games, including a crucial loss to Bidvest Wits and draws against Platinum Stars, Baroka FC, Maritzburg United and Highlands Park, showing that rescheduled fixtures due to continental commitments disrupted their momentum. The loss of Keagan Dolly in the January transfer window also cost them a key member of 2015/16’s famous trio (the CBD), while Leonardo Castro and Khama Billiat also spent times on the sidelines, with the former unable to recover his best form when he managed to play.
Despite falling three points short of the league winners, Sundowns had the highest goal return and conceded the least, which is regularly a strong indicator of quality. However, it was in crucial moments that they conceded, with the team having conceded twice in four of the last five games of the season, costing them crucial points. They actually conceded fewer goals than in the 2015/16 season, but their opponents’ conversion rate was the highest in the league (6%) and they conceded the highest percentage of goals in the box (94.7%) throughout the league, with 18 coming from within the penalty are and just one from outside of the box (plus an own goal). This could be a result of their regular centre backs being over the age of 30 and could indicate a decline in form.
Furthermore, when it came to their entries into the opponents’ box, Sundowns had only the seventh most shots inside the box and were ninth in terms of goals inside the box. This is not due to a lack of opportunities, with the team boasting the highest average possession and the best passing accuracy in the league. Their problem was that they were ninth in the league in terms of final third passes. Scoring just five headed goals, coming seventh in the league in that regard is perhaps the clearest indication that they lacked a consistent centre forward, with the majority of successful attacks coming from less dangerous parts of the pitch. Another factor to consider is that, when the pressure was on and the club trailed 1-0, two-thirds of those games resulted in defeats
Struggling away from home
Four of Sundowns’ five losses throughout the campaign came away from home and they averaged just 1.8 points per match, compared to two per match at home. They scored more than double goals per game at home (2.4) compared to their away record (1.07). However, their 10 goals conceded at home and away, which ranks third and first in the league shows that their defensive performances remained on par.
Therefore, Pitso Mosimane will have a lot to consider in his plans for the season, especially considering that he could have another lengthy continental run ahead of him. Managing his squad and making key signings will be vital for their ability to stamp their authority on the domestic front.