Four Game-Changing Tactical Alterations in the PSL 2020/21

DSTV Prem Tactics

17 March 2021

As we head towards the run-in of the current DSTV Premiership season, we look at the best examples of teams managing to turn results with game-changing substitutions or tactical changes by their coaches.

Orlando Pirates 1-0 Chippa United

In this match, with the score at 0-0 after 44 minutes, Chippa United had Sandile Mthethwa red carded. Pirates had struggled to break down a side playing with a curious 3-5-2 shape with Thabiso Lebitso as a left wingback and natural central defender Mthethwa sometimes in front of three other centre backs. At other times, he was dropping in to make it a narrow back four. Once he was sent off, Bucs made a good alternation at the break.

Off went right back, Thabiso Monyane with Tshegofatso Mabasa coming on up front. This saw Bucs use Vincent Pule as a high-and-wide player on the right flank (often interchanging with teammates) with no specialist right fullback behind him. Paseka Mako played a tucked-in position at left-back, giving a back three of Nyauza-Maela-Mako from right-to-left to build up and to cover counters.

Pule’s position high and wide on the right and Mako’s inverted role as part of a back three. Here, he joins the attack in a central position.

Fadlu Davids explained Pirates’ issues in breaking down essentially a back six in the first half:

The change certainly brought more threat to Pirates but they still could not break down Chippa, who had simply removed a striker for defensive midfielder Ryan Rae and kept the same setup with ten men. Josef Zinnbauer responded by withdrawing Mako and adding Mntambo. That brought the game’s key change – Fortune Makaringe playing as an inverted left-back. Against ten men who weren’t really covering the half spaces, Makaringe scored the crucial goal by bursting forward untracked. Once in front, he was constantly free to receive and slow the game down to see out the win.

Few teams in the PSL have made changes like that when chasing a game and many don’t adjust when facing ten men. Pirates may have dropped some points of late but that was one of the most inventive changes in the league this term.

Maritzburg United 1-1 Mamelodi Sundowns

In Ernst Middendorp’s second match in charge, he came up against a Sundowns side playing a new system at the start of this season – a midfield diamond with two genuine strikers in Peter Shalulile and Kermit Erasmus, with Themba Zwane behind them. After being dominated in the first half and going in 1-0 down, the German coach made a crucial change. Off went defensive midfielder, Phumlani Ntshangase and on came Jose Ali Meza. This saw Maritzburg match up with a midfield diamond of their own.

In attack, Maritzburg now had much more threat with Meza playing as a hard-working number ten at the diamond’s apex behind Judas Moseamedi with Thabiso Kutumela as a split striker on the left. His job was to stay high and wide in the space behind Thapelo Morena’s adventurous forward runs. This resulted in the home side winning the second half 1-0 and leaving with a credible point from the match.

Ernst Middendorp explained at full time that performance analyst, Paul Lamb had provided good information at the interval from his higher vantage point. When Fadlu Davids was in charge of Maritzburg, he had his assistant coach, Maahier Davids wear an earpiece and get direct communication from the analyst in the stands.

Middendorp said:

“The analyst really gave a good input during half-time, seeing it from the top.”

Kaizer Chiefs 1-1 Bloemfontein Celtic

The first half of this match saw total domination with Kaizer Chiefs leading 1-0 against Celtic with just 13% of that opening period being played in the Chiefs defensive third (source: SuperSport television). At the break, John Maduka took decisive action making four changes at one time. Despite the five substitutions rule being seen in many European leagues, few coaches have taken such drastic measures to breath life into their team. Off went two of Celtic’s bigger name players in Lantshene Phalane and Ndumiso Mabena with Ryan De Jongh and Motebang Sera replacing them respectively. Also withdrawn were Menzi Masuku and Tebogo Potsane with Tumelo Mangweni and Tumelo Njoti entering the action.

Celtic produced a very good second half, outshooting Chiefs 6-2 (having been outshot 4-1 in the first half) and after 67 minutes, Mangweni equalized from De Jongh’s assist. That match came on the back of a win three days earlier against Baroka. Four substitutions were made at one time in that match too with 11 minutes left to play and the game at 0-0. Both Mangweni and Njoti came on and scored to secure the result.

Maritzburg United 1-1 Kaizer Chiefs

After a disastrous first half in which Kaizer Chiefs were outplayed in every aspect of the match, they were fortunate to go in at the break just 1-0 down. Gavin Hunt could easily have sat on his hands and given his starting XI time to turn their performance around. After all, a triple change at the break for a so-called top side is an inadvertent admission of getting the initial team selection and tactics wrong.

Instead, he took decisive action.

Off went Willard Katsande for Njabulo Blom in a straight swap at defensive midfielder. Philani Zulu was taken off at left-back with Happy Mashiane dropping into fullback whilst Siyabonga Ngezana came on at right-back, allowing Reeve Frosler to push forward into midfield. Samir Nurkovic also came on up front, meaning Lebogang Manyama could play as a number ten and not as a striker.

Amakhosi produced a much better second half as Maritzburg were forced deep. Frosler’s presence higher up meant a greater supply of crosses and eventually, a delivery from the right led to a late equaliser for Manyama. It was clear from the start of the half that Chiefs looked better balanced and more dangerous and their pressure eventually led to a goal.

Other Examples

There are many other examples of clever changes of personnel or tactics by coaches which has led to a turnaround in matches. Benni McCarthy, for example, changed AmaZulu from a 4-2-3-1 shape to a 4-4-2 with two genuine strikers against Kaizer Chiefs once Amakhosi had gone down to ten men. Lehlohonolo Majoro’s presence brought a well-deserved winner.

Playing against ten men is a very different tactical challenge and McCarthy deemed his side to no longer need three men in midfield. It was a brave move away from home and showed the development in the coach and the top job he is doing.

Another team who have constantly turned results around this season has been TTM. They have drawn seven matches this season with six of those coming from 1-0 down. With plenty of forward and winger options, they have usually played much more direct and with a genuine front four when chasing games. A feeling of having nothing to lose can embolden a team and a coach.


There are many factors to consider here. Firstly, teams like Mamelodi Sundowns are rarely chasing games as they so rarely trail in matches. That makes it less necessary to be inventive or creative. As the saying goes, “necessity is the mother of invention”. When they eventually do start finding themselves 1-0 down in matches, they know Rulani Mokwena has made inventive alternations during his spell as head coach of Orlando Pirates, at least. It could be an attribute that is very valuable to call upon.

In a season where five substitutions are allowed, coaches can be more ruthless in making changes to turn games. Ernst Middendorp and Fadlu Davids are famed for their unpredictability within matches. Many coaches are capable of devising excellent pre-match plans but are not able to read the game and make changes on-the-fly. Adjusting your tactics versus ten men, using players in creative positions, making numerous substitutions in one go and matching up tactically are some of the best ways to turn the tactical tide in matches.

Get weekly emails packed with the best tips and sports content.
Get ahead of the game now - fill in the contact form below.