The battle of two in-form teams: Pirates reckon they have Chiefs figured out

Assistant coach Rulani Mokwena of Orlando Pirates during the Soweto derby media open day at Rand Stadium on October 22. Picture: Sydney Seshibedi/Gallo Images
Assistant coach Rulani Mokwena of Orlando Pirates during the Soweto derby media open day at Rand Stadium on October 22. Picture: Sydney Seshibedi/Gallo Images

Orlando Pirates maintain they have Kaizer Chiefs’ playing structure all figured out ahead of the first Soweto derby of the new campaign on Saturday.

The game takes place at FNB Stadium in a 3.30pm kick-off, and the Buccaneers are the hosts of the epic Absa Premiership fixture.

Pirates assistant coach Rulani Mokwena said there was a “clear change in the playing structure and the playing way” since his old friend Steve Komphela vacated the Amakhosi hot seat in April.

“We have already started our work on Chiefs,” said Mokwena, adding that they’ll continue to “dig deeper to make sure our players have all the information that they need to perform in the match”.

“We try to work two or three games in advance. The Fifa international break gave us a bit of the opportunity to make sure that we started with our analysis and profiling of our opposition a couple of weeks ago.”

In breaking down the expectations in Saturday’s game, Mokwena highlighted the following aspects:

“The two teams come in very good form; playing very similar playing styles; and heavily reliant on possession-orientated approach. I think that is what is possibly galvanising the energy at this moment in time is because everybody is looking forward to an open game from two of the biggest teams in the country,” said Mokwena.

Chiefs coach Giovanni Solinas is “extremely smart in how he uses his squad”.

“We have seen certain moments he used [Siphesihle] Ntiya-Ntiya and in certain moments he used [Godfrey] Walusimbi [at left-back]; the two centre halves are not always the same – at times it’s [Siyabonga] Ngezana and [then] you find Mario Booysens … [Daniel] Cardoso, and at times you find [Mulomowandau] Mathoho playing.”

Mokwena, however, pointed out that there hadn’t been a lot of rotation in the Amakhosi midfield where Willard Katsande “is always the focal point and an important part of the axis and the foundation of the team”.

“Steve relied more on the 1-3-5-2 or the 1-3-4-3 formation with the huge influence on the left centre halves occupying the half spaces, and then having a central defender trying to carry the ball into the midfield,” observed Mokwena, who was ranked one of the best young mentors in the country.

“This time you find more of 4-4-3 or even at times a 4-5-1 with Khama [Billiat] leading the line and then you have it switch and there is a little bit more fluid in that sense because it switches from two centre halves to three in a way where you have Katsande dropping slightly deeper.

“You always find the goalkeepers initiating the build-up phase; you’ll find the centre halves splitting; the full-backs trying to be as high as possible. They want to build from the back and that’s when they are actually the most dangerous.”

When they started from the back, said Mokwena, Chiefs wanted their opponents to come and initiate the high press so that they could get the ball behind for pacey players like Billiat.

“The person to do that is Katsande. He is very mature and very important for the phases of the game because even though they change the line-up and the personnel, the game model and the way they behave on the pitch remains the same.

“He [Katsande] needs more than one touch to be able to deliver the ball to Khama. They look good when they do that. We expect him to continue to do that and that’s something we’ve got to work on in training to see how we manage such important people and such important phases for them.”

Mokwena said Amakhosi’s second phase of their attack involved the likes of Siphelele Ntshangase and Hendrick Ekstein, and even Dumisani Zuma.

“We also saw how important Bernard Parker is with his experience and his ability to make the right decision at the right time,” said the former Mamelodi Sundowns assistant coach in reference to Parker’s man of the match performance against Black Leopards in the Telkom Knockout last 16 on Saturday.

Chiefs won the game 4-2 on penalties after the game ended 1-1 in regulation time.

Pirates also advanced to the Telkom Knockout quarterfinals with a 1-0 win over Chippa United on Saturday, courtesy of a second-half strike from the Vincent Pule.

Orlando Pirates’ Diamond Thopola, Abel Mabaso and Lyle Fosteri train at Rand Stadium for the derby on Saturday. Picture: Themba Makofane

The dangers of the Billiat-Castro combination

Chiefs rested Billiat on the weekend owing to a back strain the attacking midfielder picked up while on duty for Zimbabwe in the Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers last week. However, he was expected to feature in the derby.

Leonardo Castro was also taking steps closer to recovery from an ankle injury.

But Billiat was on top of everyone’s list of fears. Mokwena said that the speedy forward matured on his own because he was self-driven. Mokwena recalled when, during their time at Sundowns, Billiat changed his squad number to jersey 33 to reflect the number of goals he wanted to score during that particular campaign.

“Already that profiles the character. It is a person that is self-driven and works hard towards improving his game and setting, you could even say, setting unrealistic targets for himself.

“But Khama finds comfort in the discomfort. When players are self-driven, it takes less coaching.”

Mokwena warned Chiefs that it would be a bit risky to throw in Castro who has been out for a month since he sustained an ankle injury in Chiefs’ 4-1 defeat if Cape Town City last month.

“To face a Castro that has been out for the last couple of months is a bit risky for Chiefs. Castro is injured – unless it’s a miraculous recovery. And Knowing Castro from the time I spent with him at Sundowns, when Castro says he’s injured – believe me, he’s injured,” Mokwena said much to the laughter of the journalists attending the pre-Derby conference at Rand Stadium on Monday.

“If they have him, good luck to them because he brings in a different dimension. He’s got a synergy with Billiat, it makes the attack a bit stronger.”

Mokwena, meanwhile, said he still enjoyed a good relationship with Billiat and even revealed how Pirates nearly signed his former charge.

“We speak. I know that you guys know that we tried to sign Khama but we decided in the last minute not to sign him. We had lots of talks – myself and Khama. We were so close to bringing him to the Black and White [Pirates],” revealed Mokwena.

“But we decided on protecting the change room more than anything else because the ratio between the expense and the profit that we’d get, we thought it would not make sense.

“And when I say the expense I am not only talking about the salary – because I have had a lot of talks about that – but the expense with regards to injuries and even certain other factors. So it’s not that Pirates lost out on the race to sign Khama. Pirates decided not to sign Khama.”

Pirates players must play the match and not the occasion

“If you speak of the derby being sold out, you can relate that possibly to it having more of commercial and marketing significance. Then in relation to the change room, I think the players understand the importance of playing in the game itself and focusing on the match.

“And the match being what happens over 90 minutes and not necessarily focusing on the occasion. Because If you start focusing on the occasion, you play the event – the derby – and forget at the end of the day it’s 11 against 11, and then you focus on other things that possibly do not relate to the outcome at the end of the day,” concluded Mokwena.

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