There have been few Soweto derbies without the requisite pre-match hype and all-consuming expectation. Equally, there have been few that have lived up to all the fanfare. Most, certainly in the past decade, have been snore fests, which is born out by the statistics.
None of the last nine derbies between Kaizer Chiefs and Orlando Pirates has produced more than two goals and five of them have finished in draws. But this Saturday has the potential to break the mould and finally deliver the kind of excitement the usually packed crowds seek.
Kaizer Chiefs will bring a new attacking approach, which has been missing in recent years, and Orlando Pirates are capable of either an emboldened showing or a limp concession – such has been the unpredictability they have achieved with markedly inconsistent form.
There is no doubt the upcoming African Confederation Cup weighs heavily on the Buccaneers, whose domestic league showings have been appalling but also find themselves in the semifinal of the Telkom Knockout.
Coach Eric Tinkler is living on borrowed time with a departure predicted for December after the conclusion of the pan-African campaign if he does not manage to turn around matters in domestic competition.
Pirates’ players look burnt out and the injury list is mounting as the exertions of balancing playing in continental competition with that of a tight Premier Soccer League schedule take their toll.
Injured midfield maestro Oupa Manyisa is unlikely to be back before the end of the year; goalkeeper Brighton Mhlongo is still weeks from making a return; Sifiso Myeni was hurt in a horror tackle last week; and Happy Jele went off in Wednesday night’s surprise home defeat to Lamontville Golden Arrows.
But, time after time, Pirates manage to rise above the setbacks and turn in a warrior-like performance. Increasingly, they seem to be saving it for the big occasions, as witnessed during the Confederation Cup campaign, and, after the misery of local results in recent weeks, are set for something heroic.
Chiefs start as favourites, buoyed by two wins in recent matches against Mpumalanga Black Aces (in both cup and league action), where Steve Komphela had his tactical acumen constantly tested by the machinations of opposition coach Muhsin Ertugral, and came up with a solution almost every time to ensure Chiefs won both times.
Komphela, since arriving at the start of the season, has struggled to effectively make the switch in Chiefs’ approach from the transitional, counterattacking game favoured by his predecessor Stuart Baxter to a much more expansive approach.
They have got the creation of goal-scoring chances spot on but have been let down by poor finishing and the occasional defensive muddle, although it must be added that no team has conceded as few goals so far this season as Chiefs.
Saturday at Soccer City therefore promises to be less cagey and shackled in comparison to previous clashes and might just provide a memorable afternoon’s entertainment.
It is to be followed by a second meeting next Saturday in the semifinal of the Telkom Knockout.
It is rare to have the Soweto derby on successive weekends and in austere economic climes presents a predicament for supporters who might only be able to watch one of the two.
History suggests the Cup clash will prove more attractive and could therefore pull spectators away from this Saturday’s clash.