Sport

Chiefs' winning streak confounds expectations

Mark Gleeson

Kaizer Chiefs will be seeking to stretch to eight games their winning start to the new season that has put them at the top of the league standings.

Stuart Baxter, coach of the Kaizer Chiefs which hopes to stretch to eight games their winning start to the new season. (Gallo)

An assignment on Saturday night at home to crisis-torn SuperSport United offers every chance for the run to continue, as Chiefs have confounded expectations with a small squad that does not feature several of their key players.

Both Bernard Parker and Siphiwe Tshabalala have yet to make any significant contribution as they work their way back after ankle surgery and a knee injury respectively.

The expected return to the club of Knowledge Musona, to lead the attack again this season, did not happen, with the Zimbabwe international preferring to stay in Europe instead. “You have to want to play for Kaizer Chiefs,” said coach Stuart Baxter cryptically as a more expensive package scuppered plans to take him on loan from Bundesliga club Hoffenheim for another season.

Chiefs’ early acceleration into the lead, which has been somewhat understated, contrasts with the spluttering attempt to get off the grid by their key rivals, champions Mamelodi Sundowns, as well as Orlando Pirates and Wits.

Sundowns have dominated all the matches they have played, as one would expect given the quality of their creative department, but have fallen short in the opposing penalty box. They seem more hurried and anxious with each passing game, as if chasing some deadline.

There is also an air of increasing predictability about their approach. Even though the best-prepared defences find that the team’s swift execution regularly breaches their lines, the Sundowns strikers often fluff the opportunities.

Coach Pitso Mosimane continues to sound a cautionary note and appeal for more time but he knows, better than most, this is not the ­reality of life at the top end of the domestic game.

The clarion call for success sounds even louder for Sundowns now since winning the championship, and because they have made so many additional high-profile signings in recent months. Patience is a commodity supporters rarely bring to the stadium.

Reaping the rewards
Wednesday’s 3-0 loss to Pirates would have been massively deflating because it was Sundowns’ first game in the new campaign against one of their major rivals and they came away a distant second, even though they had the lion’s share of possession. 

Pirates played a counterattacking game to perfection, drawing in their opponent and then swiftly transitioning from defence to offence – often with just a single pass.

Chiefs have played a similar strategy this season and reaped the rewards. The two Soweto giants, who meet in the MTN8 final on September 20, both look well drilled this season.

The swift sucker punch at the end of a ball over the top of an advancing opponent is always an exciting element of the game, but even more thrilling to watch is when a team can perfect the delivery of searching passes through midfield to put their strikers in the clear. There was a great display of this from surprise package Ajax Cape Town on Tuesday night, when they dominated Wits 3-1.

South African football – even the national team – remains a tour de force when it comes to creative play, moving the ball seamlessly over the pitch and easing past opponents. But it almost always ends in frustrating fruitlessness.

The lack of finishing ability (mixed in with a few defensive calamities) was responsible for Bafana Bafana’s failure to get through their last three qualifying campaigns and caused them to drop out of world football’s top 50. It is also a blight on the Premier Soccer League and is becoming more and more of a crisis point.

Therefore, the number of goals scored in the midweek league matches and some of the excellent finishing were a delightful surprise. – none more so than the audacious chip over the onrushing goalkeeper that Kermit Erasmus executed to give Pirates the lead over Sundowns at Loftus Versfeld on Wednesday.

For once, the usual gulf between shots attempted and those successfully executed would have narrowed in a much-needed positive for the league. There may be some hope yet.

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