Big chance for Chiefs to damage 'Downs
Kaizer Chiefs barely avoided the ignominy of matching their worst-ever run when they snatched a late winner in midweek to beat the struggling University of Pretoria.
Mamelodi Sundowns, on the same night, were letting slip potentially vital points in the Premier Soccer League title race but still have a handy four-point lead at the helm of the standings.
The two champions of the previous two seasons meet at Loftus Versfeld in Pretoria on Saturday – one desperately keen to salvage something from a dire season and the other struggling to keep track of their title aspirations as they begin to lose gas.
Sundowns versus Chiefs rarely fails to deliver as a spectacle, but this season their form has been at a marked variance – the calamity-afflicted Chiefs looking like a clapped-out second-hand sedan, compared with the smooth slickness of the sports car that Sundowns have been for most of the campaign.
How ironic it would be, then, if Chiefs were to set up a roadblock and stymie Sundowns’ title challenge – a possibility alive with potential after Wednesday’s latest round of league fixtures.
Chiefs looked a team relieved of a major burden when they finally got around to snatching a 2-1 win against AmaTuks – finally winning – and Sundowns can, and did, consider themselves most fortunate to avoid losing to Ajax. Suddenly the two long-time protagonists looked much more evenly matched.
For Chiefs, success at Loftus on Saturday would go a long way towards providing relief and respite from their slump, and would confer on coach Steve Komphela some confidence in his ability to manage all the expectations that come with the hottest job in South African sport.
Sundowns are insisting on continuing to field the same jaded-looking line-up that is subjected to two matches a week and has already played 39 games this season, with six more still to come, four of them in the league and two in the African Confederation Cup group play-offs.
Pitso Mosimane admitted last weekend that the profligate spending of recent years has been an exercise in futility because his confidence in the players on the fringes, who are supposed to step in and keep Sundowns at a consistent level of excellence, does not exist.
In effect, it is a multimillion-rand change of heart from a coach who persuaded his owner to spend liberally in a quest to have three players of equal or similar talent per position to be able to challenge on all fronts.
He still keeps up the mantra – “we are an ambitious club” – but is now saying they have found out they do not have the capacity to chase all the trophies they want.
“We have to find out what we are capable of, but winning a treble we are obviously not,” Mosimane added.
This season they could well end up with just one trophy – the Telkom Knockout, won in December in a convincing humiliation of Chiefs in the final in Durban.
There is every chance their league title chase will slip up further on Saturday, allowing Bidvest Wits the opportunity to encroach on their once handsome lead. Sundowns and Wits must also still go head-to-head on May 11, which is shaping up to be a mouthwatering, championship-deciding game.
This is also contingent on Wits winning, which is no guarantee, given their high level of inconsistency.
Sundowns remain favourites to take back the championship they ceded to Chiefs last season.
They are still in an advantageous situation. But they look tired and are running low on reserves, and there is every chance of a few more twists and turns before the league season ends on May 21.