On Tuesday night, Orlando Pirates kept their first clean sheet of the new season having conceded in each of their first four games. Could Innocent Maela, who played as a central defender against AmaZulu, be the answer to Bucs' issues in the middle of defence?
Prior to this season starting, Pirates offloaded several centre back options as Marshall Munetsi was sold, Gladwin Shitolo joined Golden Arrows on loan and Caio Marcelo was released. Sandile Mthethwa and Tercious Malepe both joined Chippa United on loan too.
No new options were signed in that area, with only Brian Hlongwa added to the squad after his loan spells at Real Kings. He is yet to make his debut for Orlando Pirates and has not been in a matchday squad yet either. Despite his recall, it appears unlikely that he will be a genuine part of the plans this season.
New head coach, Rulani Mokwena, decided to change his backline after both Justice Chabalala and Alfred Ndengane had tough outings in recent weeks. The coach decided to move Innocent Maela into the middle of his back four alongside Happy Jele and use Paseka Mako at left back. Maela has played significant minutes on the left of a back three over the last two seasons, but has never started centrally in a back four before for Pirates.
In the Telkom Knockout Final against Baroka last season, he moved to centre back when Munetsi was red-carded, with Vincent Pule dropping to left back. However, besides that experience, this is a new role for the 27-year-old Bafana Bafana man.
Maela completed 45 of his 52 passes against AmaZulu as he brought calm to the backline when building up, whilst also giving left-footed balance to the central partnership. He won one tackle and made seven clearances in the game too, whilst winning two of his four aerial duels and committing two fouls.
Perhaps the biggest question over this positional change is whether Bucs’ other left back options are ready to play regularly. Mako had a tough time against man of the match, Andre De Jong who won three out of three one-versus-one dribbles on the right flank in the match. Other options at left back include Bongani Sam and Tebogo Tlolane, both of whom have only one season of PSL experience under their belt.
Should Maela remain at centre back? Who should take his place at left back? Let us know by commenting below!