Kaizer Chiefs will have their backs against the wall when they kick off the new season against SuperSport United at Durban’s Moses Mabhida Stadium on Saturday.
For a team once considered the glamour boys because of their unprecedented success in league and cup competitions, Chiefs have become a pale shadow of their former selves. Amakhosi fans who have suffered two seasons of mediocrity will be looking to the MTN8 clash for signs of a return to the glories of yesteryear.
In recent years, Chiefs have had to play second fiddle to the likes of Mamelodi Sundowns and Bidvest Wits. This weekend, supporters will be anxious to see whether the black and gold can return triumphant from Durban against the marauding Matsatsantsa.
Chiefs won the season-opening Carling Black Label Cup and followed that with success in the Maize Cup, but it seems they simply flattered to deceive as they came crashing down against lightweights Chippa United in a friendly game last week.
It was not just the loss that must have been disconcerting to fans — the fact that they were outplayed by the minnows sent a strong signal that this could be yet another long year spiced with dejection and trophy drought.
In the close season Chiefs brought in Dumisani Zuma, Bhongo Jayiya, Teenage Hadebe and Argentinean striker Jonatan Philippe, and youngsters like Kgotso Malope and Wiseman Meyiwa were promoted from the club’s youth development cohort.
United, on the other hand, have rejected an offer from across-town rivals Sundowns for the services of Jeremy Brockie, who will be expected to lead their attack as he has so brilliantly over the past two years. Under new coach Eric Tinkler, they’re starting to look like the real deal.
In a midweek friendly game against Botswana champions Township Rollers, Matsatsantsa humiliated the visitors 11-1, with New Zealander Brockie smashing five goals inside 25 minutes.
The striker was withdrawn early by Tinkler, probably fearing that he could suffer a knock ahead of this weekend’s showdown with Chiefs.
Veteran Yeye Letsholonyane and young Teboho Mokoena, assisted by Cole Alexander, called the tune from a midfield that suggested Tinkler is going to settle for a 4-3-3 formation this season.
Against Rollers, SuperSport excelled in their wing-play and displayed frightening pace going forward, but most impressive was their ability to press opponents when they lost the ball, forcing the opposition into schoolboy errors that were subsequently punished.
Yet there is a glimmer of hope for Chiefs. The combination of veteran Bernard Parker and Gustavo Paez, who showed great harmony during the Black Label Cup, could be the answer to their team’s scoring woes.
Sundowns were thwarted in their attempts to sign Brockie by SuperSport, who turned down an improved offer from the Brazilians. But the latter still look strong enough to mount a serious challenge on the domestic front, starting with their tie against Maritzburg United at Lucas Moripe Stadium on Sunday.
Sundowns coach Pitso Mosimane had the entire country in a state of shock when he brought in former Orlando Pirates captain Oupa Manyisa, who is undeniably one of the best passers of the ball and has an incredible football brain to boot.
Manyisa appeared to have lost his mojo following the departure of Andile Jali and a long-term injury from which he never seemed to have sufficiently recovered. Mosimane is hoping that “Ace” will regain his desire and best form at Chloorkop.
It is not going to be easy to unseat Hlompho Kekana or Tiyani Mabunda from the middle of the park, where they are the undisputed bosses of the “yellow machine”, but Manyisa will bring a different dimension to an already star-studded team.
Maritzburg were their hoodoo side last term and nothing will give Mosimane more pleasure than to put one over Fadlu Davids, who also indicated his plans to compete with his modest side by signing highly rated Siyanda Xulu from Kaizer Chiefs.
Cape Town City gets the ball rolling against Polokwane City in Cape Town on Friday and league champions Bidvest Wits will unveil Daylon Claasen and Steven Pienaar against Golden Arrows at the Bidvest Stadium on Saturday.