News from South Africa Mamelodi Sundowns: The mentality is on to the next one, and that is what we focus on – Coach Rulani Mokwena

Mamelodi Sundowns tightened their grip on the DStv Premier League title race by extending their lead to forty three points after outclassing neighbors SuperSport United in a tense Tshwane derby at Loftus Versfeld Stadium. Bafana Ba Style maintained their perfect start to their title defense against crosstown rivals that handed them one of their only two defeats in the 2022-23 season. Downs head coach Rulani Mokwena outlined the game plan that his opponents brought to the derby, he said:

“A typical match against a team that has an asset, they knew that they had to push us and push us. They didn’t come here to sit back, and when you play against a coach that has also won four league titles, he hasn’t won those four titles by chance or given out to him, you would expect [to see] some form of organization, some form of tactical surprises like we saw with the inverted wingers.”

“We saw [Gamphani] Lungu playing on the side of the left and coming inside to his right foot. We saw [Thapelo] Maseko on the opposite side coming inside on to his left foot in the first half and then he changed in the second half immediately at half time. And then he changed again, he matched us with a diamond – he went diamond vs diamond but then he takes the strikers wide, and then it’s a bit difficult because we play with inverted full backs so we had to restructure. Congratulations to the boys, I think it was a gallant effort and a great shift. I am very proud of them.”

The Tshwane derby presented an encounter full of attack minded football from both sides, along with tactical challenges that saw the defending Champions put on a fight to walk away with three points in a frantic encounter. Apart from Neo Maema’s fantastic strike that secured three vital points to keep Bafana Ba Style at the top of the table, Mothobi Mvala was amongst the top performers in the heated clash and Coach Rulani took a moment to appreciate the newly transformed center back in the presence of the media in a press briefing. 

“When he has been very, very good, let’s write too and how good has he been? He’s been colossal, so let’s write too. One column dedicated to Mothobi Mvala about the transition that he has made from central midfield to mainstay at Mamelodi Sundowns at center back with the quality of competition. For him to keep Grant Kekana out of the team it must tell you something, because Grant has been magnificent.”

Coach Rulani continued to assess his players that play in the middle of the park, he said: “[Rivaldo Coetzee] Riva has played and we have been very good when he’s played. [Andile Jali] AJ has played and we’ve been magnificent when he’s played and these are our top class players. There’s also Sipho Mbule and Bongani Zungu. Sipho Mbule in my opinion is a six and an eight at the most, but in how we want to construct things and the schemes, Mbule has this press resistance to be able to beat the press with a turn.[He’s] an incredible footballer.”

Masandawana have three more fixtures to battle in the month of January before they head into the new month that will see them turn their attention to the CAF Champions League battlefield. With a possible 52 points up for grabs, Coach Rulani emphasized on the team’s goal to approach each game as it comes.

“Apart from this game, it’s SuperSport who beat us in the first round. You’ve got Sekhukhune that drew with us 1-1. There’s TS Galaxy who beat us 1-0 and in between those two matches you’ve got two big rivals in that space, and so what right do we have of thinking that this thing is done? The mentality is on to the next one, and that is what we focus on.”

What is so ironic is that the amount of appreciation and respect from coaches and from Europe,

And we were almost ahead inside 40 seconds when Nathan Ake’s fine pass set Erling Haaland free, but Illan Meslier denied the striker’s attempted lob with an excellent one-handed save.

Kevin De Bruyne curled an effort wide of the post from just outside the area after being found by Rico Lewis, and the Belgian’s cross was inches away from Ilkay Gundogan’s head who surely would have scored if the ball had been more accurate.

Meslier denied Haaland again on the half-hour mark, rushing from his line to smother the striker who had been out clean through by De Bruyne’s pass, and seconds later Jack Grealish somehow turned the ball over from six yards out after Riyad Mahrez’s superb ball to the back post.

City were missing clear chances – and two more went begging in quick succession before the half-time break.

Grealish’s clever chip into the area found Mahrez, but he couldn’t connect from a few yards out, and De Bruyne’s outrageous no-look pass set Lewis free to burst into the box, but the move ended with Grealish somehow putting the ball over the bar from a good position.

Leeds committed men forward for one of the first times in the half as they went in search of what would have been the ultimate sucker punch, but City won the ball back and produced a slick move that ended with Mahrez’s shot being well saved by the excellent Meslier, only for Rodri to tap home into the empty net.

created several promising openings and were dangerous on the break, but we controlled the majority of the match and had the better opportunities. A strong Blues line-up played at an impressive tempo and looked increasingly sharp as the match wore on.