A New Dawn? A Kaizer Chiefs Tactical Profile

By Karabo Rithuri and Lwazi Shwala, October 2021

Keagan Dolly (Original image: Backpagepix) 

Season 2020/2021 was one of the most underwhelming league seasons in recent memory for Kaizer Chiefs fans. Despite fighting their way to a CAF Champions League final at the first attempt, there were plenty of disappointments domestically. An uninspiring squad as a result of a transfer ban, long-term injuries to key players (such as Khama Billiat), and a dull brand of football were among a list of reasons that make last season one to forget.

In theory, the 2021/22 season presents a lot more promise. Although Chiefs are without a trophy for 6 years, the last time silverware made its way to Naturena Stuart Baxter was at the helm. The reintroduction of Baxter and the end of the transfer ban suggests that Chiefs fans may begin to become optimistic again.

Exactly how optimistic? It’s not yet clear. A solitary win in the first 6 games may tempt the Amakhosi faithful to despair; however, Kaizer Chiefs are sufficiently equipped to make the remainder of the season still one to remember. We profile some of their new signings and assess how they may be effective within Baxter’s system.

An overview of Stuart Baxter’s tactical profile

Stuart Baxter tends to build his teams on the foundation of a solid defensive structure. This is reflected in his typical 4-2-3-1 or 3-4-3/3-5-2 formations. However, upon this foundation, Baxter has produced teams that play an attractive brand of direct attacking football. This is best illustrated by his 2014/15 Chiefs team. Although it has been a jagged start to the current campaign, Baxter's side has shown glimpses of this style of football, most prominently in their 2-1 win at home to Baroka. A few markers of this style include an emphasis on transitions, the use of outlets, and a focus on attacking through wide areas. The signings Baxter has made largely play into this style while still contributing to the defensive solidity.



One of Mabiliso's most prominent strengths is his technical ability. He is able to deliver accurate crosses from a number of different areas on the pitch; either from deep positions, set pieces, or conventional wide areas. In either system Baxter employs, width is an important component of his attacking style. The use of Mabiliso’s crossing ability paired with the aerial threat of Chiefs’ targetmen Nurkovic, Castro, and at times the centre backs Cardoso and Mathoho indicates a useful source of chance creation:

Mabiliso’s technical ability allows him to find line-breaking passes to forward players from deep positions as well. He averaged 5.93 passes into the final 3rd last season.* Baxter is unafraid to go back-to-front towards a targetman, or more often, encouraging direct passes between the lines during transition situations. Mabiliso’s ability in this regard allows for the swiftness of these transitions. Whether lofted forward or played into feet, Kaizer Chiefs possesses the profile of player to retain the ball during these situations. Nurkovic and Nkosingiphile Ngcobo, in particular, tend to occupy dangerous areas in the final 3rd. Their ability to protect the ball in these areas maximizes the attacking threat of Mabiliso’s progressive passes.

Out of possession, another of Mabiliso's prominent qualities is his attacking runs. The pace and timing of these runs allow him to arrive into vacant space. This gives him optimal space and time to use his crossing ability and make the correct decisions in attacking areas:

Wide areas were crucial for Chiefs' attacking play last season, particularly the left side. With a lack of conventional wingers in the squad, full-backs and wingbacks were the primary wide outlet. Most likely operating from a wing-back position, Mabiliso may be able to continue this threat.



Hlanti maximizes his defensive qualities when he is not isolated and the rest of the team is compact. In these tight spaces, he uses his physicality to limit opposition wingers' effectiveness in 1 v 1 situations. The most famous example is perhaps his duel with Mohamed Salah in the 2019 AFCON playing for Stuart Baxter’s Bafana side. His competence in compact defences, in addition to his attacking qualities, makes him a useful option for Baxter this season.


Going forward, Hlanti also possesses great crossing technique. The shape and pace of his crosses allow for opportunities to be created from seemingly harmless positions. As shown against Kaizer Chiefs last season:

Hlanti has already provided an assist from a cross for Daniel Cardoso in the game against Baroka. In the early stages of the season he appears to be Baxter’s first choice left-back.


In Possession

Although he's a centre back, Ngcobo's ball-playing ability immediately stands out. He's comfortable in possession and able to find attackers with long diagonal passes as shown below:

At times last season (particularly in the CAFCL), Chiefs' defensive approach forced them to clear the ball aimlessly, only to face recurring waves of attack. Ngcobo's passing ability is useful for, firstly, escaping the opposition press by accurately finding a targetman and secondly, finding an outlet on the occasions Chiefs are forced to sit deep.

Out of Possession

Ngcobo's anticipation and reading of the game are some of his most prominent defensive qualities; this is partly reflected in his interception stats (he managed 6,96 per 90 minutes during the 2020/21 season*). Ngcobo often reads passes into the feet of attackers, stepping in ahead of them before they receive secure possession.

In other instances, Ngcobo knows when to approach attackers and when to retreat. Most often he closes them down on their first touch or when their back is towards goal. This frequently forces the attacker into a mistake. By doing this Ngcobo is able to make low-risk challenges on the occasions it is necessary for him to make a tackle:

Kaizer Chiefs were forced to sit deep against many opponents last season. Ngcobo's ability to defend high up the pitch using his anticipation allows Chiefs to have the option of pushing the defensive line further up while minimizing the defensive risk.


Alexander possesses a varied passing ability. These include short combinations, balls inbehind defences, and cross-field passes. However, most noticeable is how often he makes line-breaking passes into forward players:

Alexander's direct passing style would be integral for these transition situations.


Alexander's ability to break up play is the cornerstone of his defensive game. He is able to do this using his engine, as well as his anticipation:

The ability to break up opposition attacks is crucial for this style to be successful. Transition football is most effective when opponents have an unsettled defensive shape, this occurs when they are in their attacking formation.


Nange's energy, particularly his ability to run from midfield, is a standout quality. In possession he is able to progress the ball through the opposition half using both combinations and ball-carrying:

Nange's ability to progress the ball, either through combinations or ball-carrying, is useful especially immediately after winning possession. His running off the ball is another strength. Nange is able to make runs from midfield to support the attack. He is able to either run beyond the forwards into the box or make runs supporting the primary attack with equal effectiveness:

In this example, he is the Primary attacking threat:

Although used infrequently, runs from midfield were important outlets for Chiefs last season. The two most prominent examples are Blom’s run to assist Nurkovic against Wydad in the first leg of the CAFCL semifinal; the other is Dumisani Zuma’s run to score in the victory against Sundowns. Adding another player with this ability gives them an outlet especially against teams that dominate possession and force them deep.



Dolly's creative ability was best shown at Sundowns when partnering with Castro and Billiat. In this partnership, his passing range was one of his main weapons. In deep positions, Dolly used his long passing to release Billiat running in behind the defence or down the channels:

The ability to play direct passes from deep is crucial for Chiefs' counterattacking setup. Although Billiat has had fitness issues, by having Nange in midfield and Sekgota out wide it seems Chiefs have enough runners to stretch teams for these long passes in transition. In the CBD partnership, Dolly's ability to combine with the other forwards in the opposition half was prominent. He is most creative when entering the final 3rd and finding a dangerous pass. This pass may be a direct assist, 2nd assist, or a combination that sets up a chance for himself:

In this example, Dolly drives in from the left to find Billiat in the box. Simple but effective creative play:


Sekgota's 1v1 dribbling is probably his strongest quality. He has a low centre of gravity that allows him to protect and manipulate the ball either side of the defender. The ability to go either way allows him to cut in and shoot or take the ball into crossing positions:

The ability to get into crossing positions, in particular, is important for the profile of fforwards Chiefs have (Nurkovic and Castro in particular). Wide areas were important for Chiefs last season, however they were overly reliant at times on their fullbacks to supply this width. In addition to a pair of left-backs, Baxter has added a winger to strengthen Chiefs' wide areas. Although dribbling is his main attribute, he doesn't have to beat a defender to be an attacking threat; this is because of his strong shooting ability from range. This, as well as his 1v1 ability, allows him to be effective even against compact defences:

Another important aspect of Sekgota's game is his pace and his willingness to run in behind defences. Chiefs' compact low block often lacked an outlet last season. His off the ball running gives them the option to stretch the opposition and play more direct passes in transition situations:


For all the signings Chiefs have made, there are still several reservations about this current squad:


Although the club brought in midfield reinforcements in Nange and Cole, there remains doubt whether these two signings are sufficient to take Chiefs anywhere significant this season. While both players possess a significant amount of quality and experience, they share a similar box-to-box profile. While this profile is crucial for Baxter’s transitional approach, as highlighted above, having this profile exclusively may cause a few problems in Chiefs' midfield.

Ball progression

A double-pivot of Nange and Cole introduces a number of helpful attributes into the Chiefs midfield, including line-breaking passes, midfield runs, and Nange’s occasional ball-carrying. Neither, however, is especially secure in possession, particularly in deeper areas of the pitch. The absence of a midfield ‘controller’ introduces the possibility of Chiefs lacking control in their games, even against supposedly weaker opposition.

Defensive duties

Both midfielders possess great defensive qualities. The double-pivot structure of Baxter’s midfield, however, means neither is given the primary defensive role. Many teams in the league successfully play with a 2-man midfield, however, both Nange and Cole are particularly effective when approaching the attacking third of the pitch. The absence of a midfield anchor may either force one of these two to significantly limit their game or for Chiefs to accept that they will occasionally surrender their compactness in midfield. Baxter has previously used both Willard Katsande (in his first Chiefs spell) and Dean Furman (in his spells at Supersport United and Bafana Bafana) as the anchoring midfielder besides a more progressive midfield partner. This convention indicates that Baxter may have preferred another midfield signing.

Centre forward

Although Chiefs have added quality attacking options with the signings of Dolly and Sekgota, they perhaps remain a little thin in the centre forward position. Nurkovic, the only fit recognisable number 9 at the start of the season, will now be sidelined for some weeks with a knee injury. Baxter has already hinted at how he may address this issue, at times playing Parker as a false 9, while on other occasions Billiat would occupy the centre forward role. It remains to be seen whether Baxter’s experiments up top are able to make Chiefs competitive over the course of the season.

This early in the season, it's difficult to make any predictions relating to silverware, especially with so many new faces in the squad. There is, however, no hiding from Chiefs' concerning start to the campaign. 1 win in the first 6 games has left the Soweto giants 13th in the table while failing to score in disjointed performances against the bottom 2 sides Marumo Gallants and TS Galaxy. Equally concerning are emerging reports of the Chiefs’ hierarchy’s recruitment oversights that have left the squad incomplete. With all this said, we are yet to really see Baxter’s new-look Chiefs side. A leaky defence has mostly excluded Njabulo Ngcobo, Austin Dube, and Mabiliso. Keagan Dolly has often looked like the team’s sharpest creative threat, while Sekgota is yet to significantly feature. The Nange and Cole pivot has already been broken up once due to an injury to the former, while Hlanti has had a solid start (setting aside his red card against Marumo Gallants). Regardless of the holes in the squad, it seems only fair to judge Baxter with any sort of integrity once these signings feature more prominently.