Amazulu are not supposed to be a club in crisis. They are into the next round of the CAF Champions League, thanks to memorable results against Big Bullets of Malawi and TP Mazembe. They have lost just two games all season in the league (only unbeaten Sundowns have fewer), and are sitting comfortably in the Top 8 on the DSTV Premiership log.
As it stands, AmaZulu (grey line) are well on course for a Top 8 finish (yellow line). But their Expected points trajectory is a bit worse than that – according to their Expected Points, AmaZulu could only just survive relegation.
That’s a major drop in expectations for a team that were the closest challengers to Sundowns last season. They looked like the real deal for large parts of the first half of the year, and the Coach of The Year award echoes that. AmaZulu were again expected to be challenging for the title this campaign, but seem to have stalled. Question is – why are AmaZulu not better?
Benni McCarthy has been in charge of 36 league games at the club, and the general numbers point to a marked change in fortune between his first 18 games and his second. Oddly, the halfway point of his reign so far is that resounding 5-1 win over Cape Town City at the end of April. Things have been different since then.
The basic underlying numbers also point to a similar contrast at the same time. A drop from 1.6xG per game in the first half of his reign to just over 1.1 in the second half seems significant.
One would expect the incredible run from last season to be characterized by overperformance. While the Expected Points numbers for that period 28 xP vs 41 actual points help to make that case that maybe we were looking at an overperforming side, who have since regressed to the mean of their true capabilities. However, their xG numbers were par for the course in that run, with 28 goals scored from 28.38xG. However, there is a slight underperformance in xG this term, where they’ve scored 11 goals this season from 14.8 worth of xG. That’s normal and usually evens out over the course of some time.
However, the big issue for AmaZulu seems to be that they’re allowing their opponents to have a go at them. A lot. Usuthu have kept a solitary clean sheet away from home this season, and you’d think that would be concerning. At home, one would think Usuthu have been solid given they are unbeaten at home (a record they share with Sundowns). In addition, they have conceded only one goal at home this season – the fewest of all sides. But, a look under the bonnet tells a different story – there is no home match this season where AmaZulu have outshot their opposition.
The 0-0 against Marumo Gallants is an example of this timidity for Usuthu, who never really got out of the blocks. Even beyond the shot quantity, the shot quality also confirms the same suspicion. AmaZulu have been outxG-ed in five of their six home games this season. Indeed, the last time Usuthu had more shots than their visitors was in April against Sundowns. It’s only the last home game against Cape Town City where it can be said they created more than the opposition.
Results wise, the issue is AmaZulu are just having too many draws. Last season, Usuthu had nine draws throughout the campaign – they’re already on eight before we reach the halfway stage. There is definitely more to investigate about this team, and time will tell where they end up. But for now, tightening up at the back has to be a priority for Benni, if he wants to avoid the second season syndrome tag.