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LOOKING INTO THE 2021/22 SEASON WITH MASANDAWANA Author: John AliuMain Photo: BackpagePixWHAT A TIME TO BE A PART OF THE YELLOW NATION FAMILY!Mamelodi Sundowns ended the 2020/21 season as champions once again and clinched an unprecedented fourth League title in a row. Mamelodi Sundowns FC extended its position as the most successful club in Premier League history with their eleventh PSL title. The team can proudly look back on last season as a definitive title defence. Masandawana displayed their electrifying footballing capabilities whilst keeping things tight at the back. The team scored the most number of goals (in the 2020/21 season) with forty nine strikes reaching the back of the net.
The Namibian Striker, Peter Shalulile, clinched the Player’s Player of the season and the coveted PSL Footballer of the Season award in what was his stellar debut season at Chloorkop. In the middle of the park, the fleet-footed Themba Zwane claimed the PSL Midfielder of the Season accolade for the second year running. At the rear, the team showed robustness and defensive organization throughout the campaign as they conceded the fewest number of goals -14- with goalkeeper, Denis Onyango, keeping a cool 15 clean sheets from 25 appearances. Those staggering numbers earned the Ugandan the DSTV Premiership Goalkeeper of the Season award.
Impressively, the team tasted league defeat just once and went unbeaten on the road for the entire season. With such a dominant league performance in the 2020/21 season, one can expect that every team in the league is targeting the men from Mamelodi. There is no greater motivation than to beat the best − and Bafana Ba Style will have to be even better than before to conquer and take home the most sought-after trophies. As the team gears up for their next matches of the 2021/22 season, all eyes will be on the ‘tactical triumvirate’ of Rulani Mokwena, Manqoba Mngqithi and Steve Komphela as they look to smash more records and maintain their quest to build a long-lasting winning dynasty. Although they narrowly missed out on the PSL Coach of the Season award, the ‘tactical triad’ have proven that ‘if one is good, two is better and three can roll the dice’.
Many expected the club to surrender its league dominance after the exit of the club’s previous manager Pitso Mosimane, but the ‘three wise men’ have thrived. Big sides often struggle after their successful managers move on, as in the case of Sir Alex Ferguson (Manchester United) and Arsene Wenger (Arsenal). This hasn’t been the case for Sundowns! Under the ‘three tacticians’, the team was renowned for being tactically flexible as they demonstrated considerable positional fluidity in dominating games last season.
More so, the ability of the team to employ a backline to play high up the pitch and simultaneously retain a solid defence block capable of interfering with opponents' intricate passing, has made the Brazilians a joy to behold.
As the team prepares to compete on both domestic and continental fronts for the current season, Sundowns has moved quickly to reinforce the roster with some brilliant acquisitions.NEW ARRIVALSPavol Šafranko The Slovakian international completed the switch to the Brazilians from Romanian Liga I outfit Sepsi OSK SF. Šafranko’s arrival will provide a different tactical approach to an already-vibrant attack line and will add a dynamic dimension to the team in the final third, thanks to his excellent hold-up play. His awareness of others around him means he isn’t just an out-an-out goal-scorer, but also has the ability to play across the attacking trident. Safranko ticks a lot of boxes and loves to keep opposing defenders guessing with his ability to use both feet. The only thing missing from his arsenal? An Mzansi inspired nickname! Divine Lunga The Zimbabwean international was acquired from Golden Arrows. While at Abafana Bes’thende, the left back formed a reputation as a fearsome and fast opponent on the pitch. With the stamina of an ox, he became a vital cog of the KwaZulu-Natal based club during his stay, which made him a regular starter. With his bubbling energy, strength and skill to boot, Mamelodi Sundowns have captured yet another huge talent as they embark on a bumper local and continental schedule. Neo Maema The diminutive left footer linked up with the Brazilians from Bloemfontein Celtic. Sundowns will be hoping to play to the strengths of the highly talented left-footed wunderkind, who can play on both right and left wings of midfield as well as behind the striker. His work ethic and pace will come in handy as the team reignites their hopes of conquering the continent. Lightning fast, technically astute and defensively disciplined without the ball, the capture of Maema can be rightly referenced as a statement of intent. With a canny ability to leave defenders unsettled with his overall ball skills, Sundowns have landed a multitalented attacker who is always willing to cut in from different positions. Grant Kekana Grant Kekana joins from SuperSport United. The versatile defender who primarily plays as a right full-back has gained wide attention in recent times for his ability to play at centre back as well as the left full-back position with relative ease. His tactical flexibility across the backline has earmarked him as one of the key signings as Bafana Ba Style looks set to mount another title push on both the domestic and continental front. Thabiso Kutumela The Bafana Bafana international made the move to the Yellow Nation from Maritzburg United after impressing for the Team of Choice last season. Kutumela will be looking to hit the ground running for the DSTV Premiership heavyweights. Aside from his ability to score quality goals, his work rate off the ball will come in handy during the course of the hectic schedule. Sifiso Ngobeni Sifiso Ngobeni is the Mamelodi born fullback that returns home from Bloemfontein Celtic. Ngobeni’s ability on the left-hand side of defence has been lauded in recent times. The left-back excels at finding both horizontal and vertical channels either by positioning himself or finding someone occupying those channels. With a great football brain paired with an incredible instinct for the game, Ngobeni is a strong personality, not only physically, but mentally. Although primarily a left full-back, the 24-year-old has been deployed on the left-hand side of midfield as well as in central defence. The recruitment process and acquisitions have left Coach Rulani Mokwena upbeat about the team’s chances this season.
“It’s very important for the team to possess strength in depth. We have to be at the level where we are punching above our weight with regard to on-pitch success and greatness. The only way to do that is to constantly reinforce and strengthen the team - to be better than last season. It is our responsibility to excel across all competitions we feature in. We are looking to have a much better season. Winning the CAF Champions League is a process that began on the first day of the preseason. The main aim is to win every game on the continent and we will not rest until we achieve that. That is our focus – we are planning to stay true to the process and staying true to the work we do daily”.
In the same vein, goalkeeping coach Wendell Robinson believes the team is braced up for the challenge.
“We are hoping to improve on our fortunes from last season, where we won just one trophy (DSTV Premiership) – which is an important title. But for a team like Sundowns, we are always gunning for all trophies on offer. This season, with the signings we have made, I am confident we have enough ammunition in our arsenal to challenge for more trophies.”
Mamelodi Sundowns is often lauded for recruiting and developing players that fit into the team’s structure and style of play. With these new signings, coupled with the existing team, the Brazilians currently boasts a rich mix between youth and experience. With a dynamic blend of art, craft and graft, Bafana Ba Style are a formidable force to be reckoned with this season.