Chiefs have Stars in their eyes, but it's early days yet
A blitzkrieg start to the Premier Soccer League (PSL) campaign – with two rounds in five days – has provided the oxygen to fire up some early enthusiasm, but this is about to be tempered by a weekend of cup action exclusive to just four clubs.
Holders Platinum Stars lead Bidvest Wits, Kaizer Chiefs and Orlando Pirates into the MTN8 semifinals, to be played over two legs over the next two weekends, somewhat stymying the intrigue created by an unpredictable set of league results.
All of the semifinalists emerged largely unscathed from their midweek encounters; Chiefs and Stars with the momentum of victory and Pirates and Wits showing encouraging signs even though they played to draws.
Chiefs have now posted three competitive wins over the past fortnight, scoring seven goals and conceding just one: in the process it brought to mind their capabilities at a time when they are missing key elements of their squad.
The absence of Bernard Parker, Siphiwe Tshabalala and, assuming he is still heading back to the PSL, Knowledge Musona has been barely noticed in the kind of fluid start that is already the envy of many other coaches.
But a trip to Phokeng this Saturday to take on Stars will stretch their threadbare squad, offering the potential of either halting their bright start or adding further confidence to their winning start.
Chiefs’ progress this season is going to be closely examined as they have taken a directly contrasting approach to champions Mamelodi Sundowns on the issue of resources.
Stuart Baxter prefers a small and easily manageable squad whereas Pitso Mosimane wants three players a position as he looks ahead to, and reckons on, a taxing calendar.
Last season Mosimane’s philosophy proved right as Chiefs imploded amid fatigue and injury and were usurped in the closing stages of the title race, having enjoyed at one stage a nine-point advantage in the league standings.
But Baxter has not been tempted to change, admittedly also constrained by Chiefs’ inability to match Sundowns in the marketplace.
Consistency and familiarity mean Chiefs have been able to get out of the starting blocks quickly while Sundowns, without a win in their first three official games of the season, fumble about, looking to get some shape to their side, with all the new signings.
“We are under a dark cloud. It’s not nice,” Mosimane said after Wednesday’s 0-1 loss to Ajax Cape Town.
But who has the last laugh is a long way from being decided.
In the short term, Chiefs can pick up the first bit of silverware in the top-eight competition, offering valuable early-season confidence and negating the potentially toxic influence of unhappy fans that has bizarrely been evidenced this early in the season at Sundowns.
Of course, Chiefs must first get past not only Stars but also the winner of the other semifinal between Pirates and Wits. Those two clubs play their first leg at Milpark on Sunday, with the return at Orlando Stadium next Saturday night.
Wits have conceded only a single goal so far but scored just twice, needing post-match penalties to advance past Bloemfontein Celtic in the MTN8 quarterfinals.
They produced a momentary lapse of concentration to go behind at home to AmaTuks on Tuesday but in the second half they went on an all-out offensive – they should have won, instead of drawing.
Their ability to improvise and change tactics in midcourse will stand them in good stead this season.
Pirates’ problem has already been highlighted after just three games: converting chances and finding the back of the net. But they have looked impressive in patches, with swift interchange of passes, deft through balls and a decided crispness to their play.