Mamelodi Sundowns secured a place in the CAF Champions League quarter-finals on Saturday with a 2-1 victory against USM Alger, thanks in no small part to dominating midfield.
This season, after a slow start to the campaign where Andile Jali was being left out in favour of Sammy Seabi or Rivaldo Coetzee, the 29-year-old has recaptured his best form and fitness. Hlompho Kekana, meanwhile, has had a slightly less demanding schedule this term with seven games missed. He has been rested three times in the PSL and missed four matches in the CAF Champions League due to suspension.
In April and May last season, he had a run of eight games in 25 days but Pitso Mosimane has looked to manage him more carefully this time around.
Against USM Alger, the pair absolutely ran the show:
Jali made 116 passes in the game with 88% of those reaching a teammate, whilst Kekana made 104 passes, also at an accuracy of 88%. The most passes for any player from the opposition was just 53. Between them, they exchanged 52 passes as each player found their midfield partner on 26 occasions.
The duo also looked to play penetrative passes wherever possible. Jali made 46 forward passes with 76% of those successful, whilst Kekana 44 forward passes with 80% of those finding a Sundowns player. Between them, they played 30 passes into the final third, and Kekana set up two chances for teammates.
Once again, Jali was superb at breaking up play. He won five of his seven attempted tackles, by far the most on the pitch, whilst Kekana attempted two tackles on opponents. The duo also won six of their 10 aerial and ground duels. Jali’s seven tackles all came in the wide channels as he moved out to cover his adventurous fullbacks when they bombed forward.
Mabunda Loses Spot
The player to find himself out of the line-up due to the form of Jali and Kekana is Tiyani Mabunda. The defensive midfielder has played just 31 minutes in the four CAF Champions League Group Stage matches so far and only 414 minutes in domestic competitions this season.
In all, he has played 445 minutes out of 2370 minutes in all competitions – excluding CAF preliminary rounds – meaning he has been on the field for just 18.7% of the available minutes this season in those games.
How much have Kekana and Jali impressed you this season? Let us know by commenting below!