Change of tactics leaves Students bemused
KAIZER Chiefs not only made it past the first round in a knockout competition for the first time this season with their 3-0 Nedbank Cup last-32 triumph against Wits, they also discovered a 3-5-2 formation that can be used as a weapon going forward.
Chiefs have mostly used a 4-4-2 system this season, and went 11 league matches unbeaten with it until a 2-0 defeat away against Platinum Stars in November. Since that loss there has been an increasing sense that teams in the PSL have been able to plan for Amakhosi's slickly executed game plan under Stuart Baxter.
Against Wits at Mbombela Stadium on Saturday night, Baxter rested some key players and threw in all three of his classy central defenders - Morgan Gould, Tefu Mashamaite and Mulomowandau Mathoho - allowing Siboniso Gaxa and Tsepo Masilela to attack aggressively as wing-backs.
Baxter said the success of the system has given Chiefs a potential plan B they can use going forward this season.
"Getting past the first round was a bit of a motivational source as well. And it was a bit of a teaser for me because I weakened the team on paper, and changed the system, which could have led to us losing this game against a competent opponent," Baxter said.
"And I think this formation will be a weapon going forward. We definitely have two ways of playing now - two that are different but both of them can suit us."
The 3-5-2 formation appeared to surprise coach Clive Barker and his Wits side.
"That was the thinking - to surprise them," Baxter said. "Morgan Gould is still very early in his rehab, but we thought if he got a game under his belt against Black Leopards [a 3-1 league away win to Chiefs] then maybe he could start here.
"The thought of the three centre-backs is really just getting all your good players on the field at the same time. I was taking a chance because we worked about two-and-a-half sessions with the three. And we worked on it again last night [Friday] and it looked really ropey. So it was something for me to sleep on.
"But I thought we'd go with it because I needed to rotate players. I couldn't just keep battering at the players expecting them to get results."
Baxter said he was impressed with some of the fringe players he used, including Matthew Rusike, Willard Katsande, Lucky Baloyi and Mandla Masango.
"I was really pleased with the fringe players - Mandla did well when he came on, Matthew did well. In terms of movement, they all did well. It's important if you play with the formation we did that you have aggressive movement."
Siphiwe Tshabalala, criticised for his form for the national team, continues to be a huge creative influence for club with his roaming role from left midfield.
"If I just look through Chiefs' eyes, Shabba is a very important player for us," Baxter said. "I think we get him into positions that he's best in.
"And when we meet teams with a solid defence very often if we can get Shabba into the right areas on the ball, he can pick the locks. We work him into the positions where he can do the most damage."
Chiefs' goals were scored by Gaxa (35th minute), Gould (49th) and Masango (79th).