Founded in 2016 following the relocation of Vasco da Gama F.C. to Stellenbosch, Stellenbosch FC were crowned champions of the National First Division on the final day of the 2018/19 season following a 0-0 draw with Maccabi FC, claiming the sole automatic promotion spot. The following season, they became the first team from Stellenbosch to play in South Africa’s top-flight, finishing a comfortable 10th before narrowly surviving the drop. The 2021/22 season would see them finish fourth, but they have finished the 2022/23 season in sixth place in large part to a drop in quality in defense.
Despite scoring 39 goals, the third-highest tally in the league, Stellenbosch would concede 38 goals, the fifth-highest tally in the league, a -15 difference from last season. In order to get back into the top four, Steve Barker — who has been in charge of the Stellies since 2017 — needs to fix his team’s defensive woes. Today, we’re going to be taking a look at the reasons behind Stellenbosch’s struggles at the back.
Lack of a Quality Left Back
Many of the goals that Stellenbosch have conceded have come from the left wing due to their left backs lacking the speed to keep up with rapid wingers on the counter, as well as the mental speed to track off-the-ball runs and keep an eye on their opponent. In the below example, the Chippa United player gets in behind the defense as Stellenbosch’s left back fails to track the run, leading to a dangerous chance.
Stellenbosch struggles in aerial duels and regularly concede from set-piece situations and crosses due to center backs failing to hold their own and use their muscle to impose themselves in the air. In addition, they struggle to react to second balls which typically emerge from set-pieces with the team tending to concede many free kicks as well which only multiplies the danger.
No Proper Defensive Midfielder
A good defensive midfielder is able to read the game and make plays that limit the ability of the opposition to score. In this situation, the midfielder was supposed to read the square pass that was going to come into the mid in the box since the attack was forced wide. However, he fails to do this, resulting in the team conceding as the attacker runs into the box and converts. This is something that happens routinely with this team where the midfielder fails to track these inside runs, causing them to give up a dangerous opportunity.
Slow Defensive Transitions
The team gets beat in many counter-attacking situations due to their fullbacks pushing up, and the defensive midfielder is often too slow to get back and cover for them when the team is defending on the transition. As a result, they often get beat by teams that have pacey attackers and are able to run in behind. They would benefit more from a defensive midfielder who sits deep, allowing the fullbacks to go forward more.
Stellenbosch have made considerable progress since earning promotion to the top-flight in 2019, but in order to qualify for intercontinental football for the first time in club history, they need to back manager Steve Barker with some significant investment in the upcoming transfer window. They need a solid left back, a genuine defensive midfielder and a physically commanding center back who is capable of leading the defense as they look to crack into the top three, and they need to fix their defensive woes as they prepare for a fifth-straight season in the South African Premier Division.
By: Methembe Thomas Tshuma / @MethembeThomas
Featured Image: @GabFoligno / Photo AM