Chiefs ready to rule the derby

Oupa Manyisa of Pirates and Reneilwe Letsholonyane of Chiefs resume their rivalry on Saturday. (Lefty Shivambu, Gallo)

Oupa Manyisa of Pirates and Reneilwe Letsholonyane of Chiefs resume their rivalry on Saturday. (Lefty Shivambu, Gallo)

For the 33rd time in just over four decades, Kaizer Chiefs and Orlando Pirates go head to head to decide a trophy and, despite predictions of a diminished appetite for the derby, Saturday’s MTN8 final in Durban was sold out in just a matter of hours.

Just over 50 000 will watch Chiefs take a nine-match winning streak into their 10th official game of the new season against a Pirates team without similar results of late but much the same quality.

Form, however, has rarely been an indicator of the outcome of previous derbies or cup finals and as a result there is no obvious favourite to pick.

Chiefs coach Stuart Baxter was decidedly unhappy after Saturday’s win over the University of Pretoria despite the result extending his club’s 100% record in the league to six out of six.

It seemed a little harsh because Chiefs overcame a dogged opponent with a defensive mind-set who had come not with victory necessarily as a priority but rather to make it as difficult as they could for their opponents. Chiefs still found a way to win where many other top sides over the past two seasons have been nullified by the high pressing game and tight defensive lines of AmaTuks.

Hard taskmaster
Baxter is a hard taskmaster and insists his side work at maximum through the 90 minutes, not only in the way they move the ball around but how they get back to defend and how prepared they are for winning possession and going on the counterattack, or “transition” as the trendy coaches like to call it these days.

Last Saturday he believed Chiefs got it right for just 20 of the 90 minutes. Mitigating against a flawless showing was the heat, surprisingly stifling for early spring, and also the dullness of the atmosphere in a largely empty Soccer City.

That will not be an issue on Saturday night at the Moses Mabhida Stadium where conditions should be perfect and the atmosphere intoxicating.

Orlando Pirates’ last showing against Wits, last Saturday night, saw them beat their highly rated opponents for a third time in a matter of weeks.
No mean feat. They had won both home and away in the MTN8 semifinal and then last weekend’s league encounter at the Orlando Stadium. But Vladimir Vermezovic called it a “lucky win” for the Bucs, still battling to find any form of consistency.

On their day, Pirates can beat any of their domestic rivals. Their 3-0 win over Mamelodi Sundowns in the league was powerful evidence of this. But it is never clear just when they will kick into that turbo gear.

More solid play
At the beginning of the season their only problem seemed to be finishing in front of goal. Now they have scored 10 goals in their past four matches. Defensively they have conceded none in their last three and are a lot more solid with Siyabonga Sangweni back from the injuries that reduced his participation to an almost negligible level last season.

But there is still a sense that Pirates are bumbling a bit, often losing a grip on the game and far from playing to their full potential.

Selection wise there are not too many mysteries. Thabo Matlaba is back from suspension and Ayanda Gcaba is likely to be chosen ahead of Rooi Mahamutsa in the back four. Thandi Ntshumayelo has come through a scan on a thigh injury and will play, but Vermezovic must decide on whether to play two wide men in Daine Klate and Sifiso Myeni or sacrifice one of them to allow Mpho Makola to slot in behind lead attacker Kermit Erasmus, allowing Oupa Manyisa to drop back into the heart of the midfield.

Side show
The battle with Reneilwe Letsholonyane will be a wonderful side show. Both are in hot form again this season, but although the younger Manyisa (26) is in the national team, the older Letsholonyane (32) is now discarded even though he is probably the best player in the Premier Soccer League right now. “Yeye” might be out to prove a point on top of trying to steer his side to silverware.

For Chiefs there is a difficult choice in the goalkeeping department, where either Brilliant Khuzwayo or Reyaad Pieterse must replace injured Itumeleng Khune. Baxter picked Khuzwayo for the last game because he had taken a mental blow last season, when Pieterse re-emerged as the chosen deputy to Khune, and went off the rails for a while only to fight his way back into contention. But whether the reward for his application extends to the final remains to be seen.

The Chiefs coach must also wrestle with whether to start with Bernard Parker and Siphiwe Tshabalala, who were both in the first XI on Saturday as they marked their return from the injuries that kept them sidelined at the beginning of the season.

Baxter will more likely pick in-form Mandla Masango and George Maluleka to start and keep the two ex-internationals to use off the bench.

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