PSL Team of the Season – 2020/21
As another DSTV Premiership season draws to a close, below is the Bet Central PSL team of the season. This XI takes into account form and performances in the PSL only and not any displays in domestic cups or CAF competitions.
This position had two outstanding candidates in Veli Mothwa and Denis Onyango. The former’s arrival at AmaZulu from Chippa United made a massive difference in terms of presence and reliability for Usuthu. However, the outstanding goalkeeper has been Denis Onyango, even if that is a somewhat predictable selection.
The Ugandan started 25 of the 30 league matches as his durability at his advanced years was very impressive (he averaged just over 16 league appearances per campaign over the last five years). He kept 15 clean sheets in those matches and conceded more than once in just a single match.
Perhaps the deciding factor for including him was how improved his calmness in build-up play was this term. In previous seasons, he was good with the ball but also inclined to hit it long when under pressure. Now, he is very happy to stand on the ball and draw an opponent. The head coaching duo deserve praise for improving the league’s best goalkeeper even in the twilight of his career.
Without a doubt, this is the most difficult selection due to a dearth of quality candidates. Thami Mkhize has had a drop-off in form and fitness this season and Reeve Frosler defensive frailties were exposed on several occasions. There are three candidates for this role in Mthokozisi Dube (Golden Arrows), Thapelo Morena (Mamelodi Sundowns) and Vuyo Mere (Swallows).
The latter was a model of consistency despite being 37 years old and gets the nod. He had a unique role in that he inverted from right back to a central midfield role in Swallows’ build-up play and wasn’t often required to bomb forward on the overlap. Few wingers got the better of him and Swallows were extremely difficult to beat because of the defensive nous and positioning of their backline.
A word is deserved for Morena, who overcame a serious injury to have a strong season (following up his outstanding 2019-20 season largely playing as a winger or even a striker at times). There were a handful of matches where he was asked to swap flanks with Aubrey Modiba and play as attacking left-back and he did that with aplomb too. Dube was on loan at Arrows from Pirates and showed his parent club were wrong to offload him with a fine season.
This is one area with several outstanding candidates. Nkosinathi Sibisi was brilliant for Golden Arrows with his front foot defending and speed across the ground, the archetypal modern defender. Ricardo Nascimento was a picture of calm and class for Sundowns, captaining the side on numerous occasions and building play from deep in an unrivalled fashion. Njabulo Ngcobo won the official PSL award and was outstanding in a low block but arguably had the most protection of the candidates in Swallows’ solid system.
The two players who get the nod are Tapelo Xoki and Mosa Lebusa. The latter could barely get a kick in the early weeks but fought his way back in the Sundowns XI. He didn’t start any of the first 10 PSL matches, very nearly ruling him out of contention for the TOTS, but his displays were unbelievable. No defender in this country can defend his box and wide-open spaces like Lebusa. When he played, Downs could be far more adventurous knowing that he could defend two-versus-two on the halfway line. To have performed as he did in such a demanding role make it’s impossible to leave him out nor to ignore his impact: 19 starts and only eight goals conceded.
The other player selected is Xoki. A regular part of very leaky AmaZulu backlines in recent seasons, many may have expected him to lose his place to new signing Limbikani Mzava. Under Benni McCarthy, the side conceded just 10 goals in his 19 starts with 11 clean sheets. He also netted five goals albeit four from the penalty spot. His other strike was a superb injury-time freekick to seal a 4-3 victory against Bloemfontein Celtic. He deserves his spot ahead of Ngcobo seeing as Swallows won just one of their last 19 league matches. They led 1-0 on numerous occasions during that time but could not keep the clean sheets needed to take victories.
A 100% pick. The closest competitor was Lyle Lakay, who may have made the best XI at the halfway mark of the season, but Lunga’s relentless consistency gives him the spot. A superb attacking player on the overlap with brilliant delivery from both high crosses and cut-backs, he was fundamental to how Golden Arrows played. Whilst many attacking fullbacks leave big holes behind them, Lunga also had great ability to recover whilst being a fine passer of the ball too.
The scary thing is that he is joining Mamelodi Sundowns next season and he will take the champions to an even higher level on that left flank. He missed just four PSL matches all season with three of those coming due to suspension.
Few players are capable of replacing Hlompho Kekana and arguably proving an upgrade too. Coetzee was outstanding this season in front of the Sundowns back four. His build-up play under pressure was faultless and he felt impossible to press at times. He could bypass pressure by using one-touch play but he also had Kekana’s ability to switch attacks to the opposite flank accurately. He was perhaps even better than his veteran captain at finding passes between the lines too. Having been a centre back, he was adept at dropping into the backline to defend crosses or cover teammates who were out of position.
He should be a certain Bafana Bafana starter in that defensive midfielder role for years to come. A regular feature of this season was Steve Komphela shouting for Coetzee to cover teammates on rest defence: being in possession to regain the ball or stop counter-attacks before Sundowns had even lost the ball. The tactical intelligence and maturity shown by Coetzee means you simply can’t leave him out.
The AmaZulu man had a truly unbelievable season. At Highlands Park, he had been a relentless man marker and occasional enforcer or hatchet man. After joining Usuthu, he was very strong in his positioning to protect the defence and outstanding at regaining the ball to facilitate counter-attacks. There are few players capable of covering as much ground as him, allowing positional freedom for the likes of Luvuyo Memela and Augustine Mulenga to thrive or doing the running for Xola Mlambo.
Defensive midfielders rarely get the praise they deserve as their role is all about self-sacrifice and giving a platform for others to thrive. Makhaula isn’t just a certain selection for this XI but was arguably worthy of being a Player of the Season nominee too.
Having been written off by Orlando Pirates, AmaZulu moved to snap up the Zambian on a free transfer. A player always capable of magic, consistency had never been something in his locker. He delivered a league-high 11 assists and also scored five times in the PSL as he finally performed on a weekly basis. With so many AmaZulu results coming by the odd goal, Mulenga’s contributions usually led to a winner or a goal to take a point – there was no stats padding for him. Benni McCarthy usually used him in a 4-3-2-1, coming inside from the left to support the main striker. For the purpose of this XI, he is selected on the right flank.
This was another very difficult position to select as Lebohang Maboe had a brilliant season for Sundowns as the shuttler in a midfield diamond, or to Coetzee’s right in a three. Possibly the best counter-presser in the PSL, he was crucial to the transition phases for Downs. It’s a pain to leave him out as he never truly gets the credit he deserves. He pays the price for netting just one goal in the first 26 rounds of action – harsh criteria for essentially a central midfielder – but arriving to score is something that he is more capable of doing than he showed.
This is another one of those 100% selections. Showing no signs of slowing down, Zwane was particularly brilliant at the start of the season, playing in a free role at the top of a diamond behind two mobile strikers. He could drift out to the left to receive in the half-space or arrive late to finish off attacks.
He netted 10 goals from midfield and whilst seven of those came in the first seven matches (just three goals in his next 18 outings), his performance levels even when not scoring were very high. He started 23 of the first 24 PSL matches despite being nearly 32 years of age and having had a hamstring problem that kept him out for six weeks in the 2019-20 season. That’s testament to his durability and also how he helps to control matches for Downs and therefore conserves energy.
Without a doubt, the best signing of the transfer window prior to this season. Not only did he score 15 non-penalty league goals, but he also contributed several assists. The quality of some of his finishes with both his feet and his head was really impressive – see the two headers in round 29 against Bloemfontein Celtic – but it’s really about so much more than his scoring.
Shalulile played both as a focal point number nine this season with numbers tens in close support and also in a slightly wider role, either as a split striker in front of a diamond or even as a right-sided forward in a 4-3-3. Capable of working the channels, pressing, tracking back, stretching teams, threatening against a low block, Shalulile could do it all. He is not only a certain pick for the team of the season but also the clear player of the campaign too. What a signing and what a top professional.
The league’s top scorer is assumed to be a default selection but that isn’t the case here. Whilst Shalulile was a 100% pick, Grobler was not. He scored 12 times in the first 13 PSL matches as SuperSport looked like outside bets at a genuine title challenge. His next nine appearances brought just one goal though, a penalty against Kaizer Chiefs, whilst he missed four matches due to injury – meaning one goal scored between the end of January and mid-May.
However, his strong finish to the season got him the nod. Once fully fit after injury, he stopped the SuperSport rot of 10 league matches without victory by netting the winner against TTM. He then scored a brace in the penultimate league match to secure a 2-0 win against Maritzburg United. In the four matches he missed, SuperSport only scored once. He netted 43% of this side’s goals, the second-highest proportion in the PSL. The only player to beat him? Thabiso Kutumela at 44%. It was a close run thing between those two but it felt like the Maritzburg man had one incredible hot scoring streak (9 goals in 10 matches) without his overall performance levels being that consistent.
Had an XI been selected at the midway point, then players like Ruzaigh Gamildien and Mduduzi Mdantsane would have been shoe-ins. Both players’ form took a major dip in the second half of the season though. The same could also be said of Luvuyo Memela, who was rotated a lot more by Benni McCarthy after an explosive start to the campaign.
Aside from those players above, the ones mentioned in each position and therefore unfortunate to miss out are Veli Mothwa, Mthokozisi Dube, Thapelo Morena, Nkosinathi Sibisi, Njabulo Ngcobo, Ricardo Nascimento, Lyle Lakay, Lebohang Maboe and Thabiso Kutumela