JOHANNESBURG - A Mamelodi Sundowns side that was sweeping all before them en route to a continental title in October last year is now stuttering.
Their winless run was stretched to five matches at the weekend when they were dumped out of the Nedbank Cup by Golden Arrows, leaving Downs coach Pitso Mosimane to again lament fixture congestion. But are the Brazilians, the Premiership and CAF Champions League title holders in crisis?
Here we look at the good and the bad of an unwanted streak that has even Mosimane a little puzzled.
Is it a crisis?
For a team with such depth and quality, to have failed to register a victory in their past five matches definitely raises concerns.
Mosimane suggested that there was hope for a revival as long as Downs were creating chances, but also admitted that the slump could continue if his men struggle in the final third as much as they have done since their 2-1 win over Kampala City Council in the first leg of their Champions League play-off in early March. If this isn’t a crisis yet, as the coach argued over the weekend, then the Brazilians are certainly flirting with being plunged into one. The reason, at least one of them, Orlando Pirates only just sneaked into the top eight bracket at the end of last season’s Premier League campaign was largely because of contrasting performances in the continent and on the domestic front.
There are shades of that tired-looking Pirates side in the body language of this talented Downs outfit, although they still have three League matches in hand to fight their way back into the title chase.
When asked whether Downs would cope with the demands of chasing a league and continental trophy several months ago, Mosimane pointed out that the Brazilians “have the numbers” and that the club had made it its mission to recruit top players to be able to compete on all fronts without having to pick and choose competitions.
He has tweaked the team here and there in his efforts to deal with fatigue and injuries in a tight fixture-list he could never manipulate to work in Downs’ favour.
The problem, though, is that the former Bafana Bafana coach still wants to win everything, which isn’t entirely a bad thing, but perhaps he should look at the Nedbank Cup exit at the weekend as a blessing in disguise?
With the Champions League group stages scheduled for the beginning of next month, right around the time the domestic title chase reaches a climax, there is no question Mosimane will want to use his best players to try and take the championship race right down to the wire.
So, which one is it? Mosimane has to somehow accept he can’t win them all.
It’s important to note that Downs aren’t the same without winger Dolly who joined French club Montpellier in January.
Sure, Themba Zwane has stepped up, but he isn’t necessarily a like-for-like replacement and neither is Thapelo Morena, who has played more as a rightback than in an offensive role like he did at his previous club Bloemfontein Celtic.
Dolly was part of the ‘CBD’, which included striker Leonardo Castro and reigning Footballer of the Year Khama Billiat.
The trio together terrorised the opposition until they were separated in August last year when Castro got injured and missed nearly three months of football. When he’d finally recovered, there was no place for him in the team, with Percy Tau temporarily the man of the moment.
Billiat was in and out of the team with injuries, too, and Dolly packed his bags and headed for France. Mosimane admitted recently that Tau’s obvious inexperience, Dolly’s departure and injuries to both Castro and Billiat meant their front line lacked potency.