Blame the 4-3-3 - It's taking Downs down
AMONG the many problems affecting the sinking ship that is Mamelodi Sundowns is coach Johan Neeskens's insistence on imposing the Dutch 4-3-3 system on players who are battling to execute it.
Sundowns sank to the bottom of the log in midweek after losing 3-1 to Orlando Pirates.
While their ills are so chronic you can point to any number of factors for a miserable league run, which has seen them win just once in nine games, the main culprit is the coach's playing formation.
Neeskens' system relies on a solid flat back four, three industrious midfielders - one of whom sits on the halfway line to break up opposition plays to "baby sit" the defence - and two pacey wingers with the ability to attack the defence and cross to the lone striker, who must have a magnetic first touch.
On paper Sundowns is a pricey ensemble, but there are doubts whether the players - decent as they are - are skilled enough to consistently implement such a sophisticated system.
The most obvious problem is a defence that won't tackle opposition attackers and makes minimal attempts to stop crosses from getting into their box.
Wingers Elias Pelembe and Anthony Laffor play too wide to cause anyone any headaches and their crossing is wobbly, so they're not taking advantage of target man Eleazar Rodgers' height.
Besides Rodgers, another player who is often too isolated to make an impact is creative maestro Teko Modise.
He's the transit vehicle that delivers the ball from the congested midfield to the attacking third. Sundowns would be poorer without him. However, Modise's finishing often lets him down (though no Sundowns player has set the scorers charts alight this season).
There were a handful of games last year when the players executed Neeskens' instructions meticulously, such as when they thrashed Black Leopards 5-1, but they've generally battled to express the Dutchman's vision.
Traditionally, Sundowns thrived on a possession-hogging, surgical passing 4-4-2 formation that dizzied their opponents until the then aptly named Brazilians struck the killer blow.
To succeed with this system Neeskens has two options: send his players back to the School of Excellence to learn how to press opponents from the front to defence when not in possession or buy Chelsea's Juan Mata, Eden Hazard and Oscar.
The ideal is to play the renowned Dutch Total Football but the reality is that failure to implement has sent Sundowns to the bottom of the log for the first time in the PSL era.
Neeskens told reporters after the loss to Pirates that he'd never pair Rodgers with Nyasha Mushekwi or Edward Manqele, ruling out reverting to the traditional 4-4-2 - a formation that apparently bores him.
But how about bringing in holding midfielder Thamsanqa Sangweni to protect the porous defence in place of Esrom Nyandoro, who loses possession more often than he wins it?