Are Pirates Succumbing To The Pressures Of Being League Favorites?

Much was expected of Orlando Pirates after their blistering finish to the 2017/2018 season they, however, have started this year’s campaign on a less than impressive note.

The Sea Robbers have managed to win only two of their first five games in the Absa Premiership, scoring 4 goals (two own goals, a penalty, and one goal in open play) in process. Their defence has been shaky and their forwards don’t seem to know where the right side of the net is.

After the first half of last season, Orlando Pirates were pretty much written off as league contenders but following the New Year, the Buccaneers looked like a different team, they were winning games and scoring goals. Their resurgence was cute, nonetheless, they were far too many points behind Sundowns to mount any challenge to topple the league leaders. But, after a run of wins, they pushed the eventual champions all the way to the last match day of the league.

This season Orlando Pirates are favourites to win the Absa Premiership along with Mamelodi Sundowns, has that burden of expectation contributed to their lacklustre start?

2nd half of last season (2017/2018)

Orlando Pirates unveiled Milutin ‘Micho’ Sredojevic as the club’s new head coach in August 2017.

He previously mentored the Buccaneers for seven months from July 2006 to January 2007.

It wasn’t pretty. Hence his tenure was shorter than a human fetus’ life cycle.

Orlando Pirates started last season off below average. By the end of December, Pirates’ league record was:

Won: 4

Drawn: 8

Lost: 3

Points: 20

Micho Sredojevic and his assistant Rulani Mokena skipped the festivities and went back to the drawing board for their holidays. They tweaked the way their team play and a new Orlando Pirates was born. After December Pirates’ league record was:

Won: 11

Drawn: 2

Lost: 2

Points: 35 points

The beginning of the current season (2018/2019)

Understandably, Orlando Pirates supporters couldn’t wait for the beginning of the 2018/2019 season as they felt their team was the best team in the league at the end of the last. Things haven’t started off the way they would have expected.

Orlando Pirates 1 – 1 Highlands Park

Orlando Pirates first game was against newly promoted Highlands Park, this game, for the 2018 Pirates should have been a walkover but thanks to an atrocious mistake by – a player who is now best known for his comic relief rather than his goalkeeping prowess – Wayne Sandilands they were one goal down early after the keeper failed to control a back pass which ended up into this own net.

Pirates laboured for an equalizer,  they managed to get a penalty, Justin Shonga converted and was all she wrote.

Orlando Pirates created chances but they didn’t have their shoot boots on that night.

Chippa United 0 – 1 Orlando Pirates

Their second game came against a talented Chippa United team who are excellent in their home stadium. Orlando Pirates got their goal in the first half when Justin Shonga’s freekick rebounded off the crossbar and was passed back into the net by a Chippa United defender.

Pirates should have added to their lead but didn’t capitalize on their chances.

Orlando Pirates 0 – 1 Bidvest Wits

This was a game Orlando Pirates had total control of. Wits coach Gavin Hunt seemed to be playing for a draw, he respected Orlando Pirates a bit too much for my liking. As it turns out his pragmatism would bear fruit as his side found a goal 10 minutes before the end of regulation via an own goal by Gladwin Shitolo.

Again, opportunities created, none converted.

Bloemfontein Celtics 1 – 0 Orlando Pirates

Another game Orlando Pirates, on paper, should be winning against a side that has been having administrative problems. The Pirates defence got caught wanting on a corner when they left a player unmarked to half-volley a ball into the net.

A tendency to generate chances and miss them was beginning to emerge.

Black Leopards 1 – 2 Orlando Pirates

Having only collected 4 points from a possible 12 this was a must-win game for Pirates against another newly promoted side. A game that will forever be known as the ‘Gabuza-walk-off’ game* Orlando pirates should have buried the game within the first 10 minutes.

Yes, 10 minutes.

They finally got their breakthrough via another own goal but were left to play the rest of the game with 10 men after Thamsanqa Gabuza walked off the pitch. They doubled their lead in the 2nd half through Vincent Pule and it looked like the game was done and dusted but Black Leopards snatched one back in the last 20 minutes which made for a tense finish.

*Side note. Thamsanqa Gabuza missed 3 clear-cut opportunities (as in they were easier to score than to miss type opportunities) the fans jeered him and hit him with the classic substitution sign because they were not happy. Later he found space on the left he played in a cross, a Black Leopards defender foolishly played it into the back of his own net, feeling vindicated he celebrated the own goal by taking off his jersey and throwing it to the supporters then he walked off. The referee gave him a yellow for the taking off of his jersey and a yellow for getting off the pitch without his permission = Red. The kicker is he came back with a ridiculous ice-pack on his right thigh suggesting he was injured. This must be the first in South African footballing history


Orlando Pirates are following a trend started by Mamelodi Sundowns (don’t get me started on them) of signing a billion players they may or may not need to (1.) cripple their competition and (2.) have 3-4 players in one position for back-up. (this is good for business but bad for our football)

Unlike Sundowns though, this strategy does not seem to be working for Orlando Pirates who made 9 signings this season. Bringing in new players affects the team’s chemistry not only on the pitch but in the dressing room as well. Vincent Pule has been the only new player who was looked decent for them.

Chopping and changing the starting eleven has definitely had an impact on Orlando Pirates performances so far.


One formation that worked well for Orlando Pirates was their 5-2-3 formation or 3-4-3 formation. Players like Mpho Makola, Thembinkosi Lorch and Luvuyo Memela, technically Orlando Pirates best attackers, were good playing between the defence and midfield lines of their opposition. Their attacking midfielders made runs into the box which gave Pirates numbers when anticipating crosses from their two wing backs Mthokozisi Dube and Innocent Maela.

This season, because of the influx of new players that the coach feels that he has to play, their tactics have changed. One strange tactic is playing Gabuza alone upfront. I like his energy and his determination but Gabuza cannot a) finish and b) hold up the ball long enough to get midfielders involved. Orlando Pirates player of their season Musa Nyatama has not even gotten a kick this season because his conservative defensive midfielder position has become redundant in the new way they are set up.

Why fix something that isn’t broke?

Yes, Orlando Pirates supporters are right for expecting their team to be as good as they were last season.

The team seemed to be playing freely last season as underdogs but there is a tenseness about their play nowadays. It looks like the pressure has gotten to them and the belief of their supporters has amplified that.

Of course, there is no need to press panic buttons yet, it has only been five games and their title rivals Sundowns haven’t been looking good either. Orlando Pirates are creating chances which is a good thing a bit more tactical awareness, consistency in the team selection and Pirates will be back to scoring goals and winning games no time.

By @cheez_zoboblog



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