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Solinas' Midfield Conundrum – Ntshangase Or Maluleka Or Both?

Ahead of the Soweto derby, Kaizer Chiefs coach, Giovanni Solinas will have a big call to make in central midfield as his side looks for greater balance than in their 2-1 defeat against Chiefs four weeks ago.

In the last three matches, Siphelele Ntshangase has found himself on the bench with George Maluleka starting twice and Andriamirado 'Dax' Andrianarimanana starting the other encounter.

After Chiefs’ 0-0 draw with Chippa United, coach Solinas said in his post-match press conferences that the side currently needs to use two defensive midfield 'pit bulls' to shield the back four.  

Read: Khan Why It's Hard To Predict Soweto Derby Winner 

Pros for Ntshangase:

Ntshangase has been one of Amakhosi’s best performers this season, averaging 61.9 passes per 90 minutes in the Absa Premiership this campaign (third most in the league).
 
'Stash' is also completing 80.5% of his passes in the final third, the 8th best in the PSL.
 
He has created 24 chances for Chiefs this campaign, including 11 for star man Khama Billiat.
 
Billiat has failed to score or assist in his last three outings. When Ntshangase plays, Chiefs tend to have more penetration and as shown above, he often sets up Billiat’s chances.  
 
 
Pros for Maluleka:
 
Since Solinas dropped Ntshangase, Chiefs have kept clean sheets against Supersport United, Black Leopards and Chippa United and have generally looked more solid defensively in open play.
 
Maluleka is a genuine central midfielder (whereas Ntshangase has been converted into one this season from being a number ten). 
 
Pirates using Thembinkosi Lorch, Vincent Pule and either Augustine Mulenga or Thabiso Kutumela in narrow attacking roles off Justin Shonga, the area in front of the big four is crucial for Chiefs. Maluleka is more defensively disciplined to deal with this.
 
Maluleka had a very strong game defensively against Chippa, winning two tackles, two aerial duels and two ground duels, but the side managed just two shots on target as Maluleka made 98 passes. 
 
 
The case for starting both:
 
Against a very strong Pirates midfield featuring Xola Mlambo and Ben Motshwari in deeper roles, and the above-mentioned trio in attacking midfield areas, perhaps it would make sense for Chiefs to use three central midfielders, with Ntshangase and Maluleka both joining Willard Katsande in the engine room. 
 
How Billiat would be affected:
 
A big issue is where Billiat will play if a 4-3-3 formation is used. In all probability, he would need to move out into a wide role where he is much less effective and would much more defending to do against Pirates’ attacking fullbacks.
 
Billiat’s conversion to a central role by Pitso Mosimane is what saw him fulfil his potential and win the PSL Football of the Season award in 2015-16.
 
When playing as a forward, he can focus all of his energy of attacking and position himself to maximise counter attack opportunities. He can’t do that to the same extent as a winger. 
 
What Solinas could decide
 
Most likely is Solinas will start Maluleka and leave Ntshangase on the bench. This should mean that Chiefs are harder to break down, but then they may lack the ability to get Billiat involved as much as usual and have to play a more direct game to Castro, then look to feed off second balls. This is due to Pirates’ likely aggressive pressing when Amakhosi buildup, forcing the defenders to bypass midfield.
 
Who would you start in the engine room? Let us know your starting line-up in the comments section below! 
 
 

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