Soweto derby will test Rulani’s resilience



It is common to assume everything is a nail if the only tool you have is a hammer. Football has warned us too many times in clichéd fashion that the game is played on grass and not paper, but that did not stop endless predictions about Orlando Pirates’ fortunes before they had even begun their treasure hunt.

Neither did it halt the critique of Kaizer Chiefs, which placed them as a mid-table side before a single ball was kicked.

Those predictions seemed on point, especially on the evidence of the Soweto derby that was played before the start of the 2019-20 season. Pirates cruised to a 2-0 victory in that match.

Things have changed somewhat since then and the two giants find themselves at opposite ends of the panorama.

Amakhosi are soaring, while the Bucs have won just three of their last nine domestic games, a run that sees them 10 points off leaders Chiefs in the Premier Soccer League.

This is a Telkom Knockout game, but former Pirates captain Dan Malesela is nevertheless concerned about the side’s failure to capitalise on their creativity.

“Things have not been going right, especially in terms of scoring goals. They have not been converting their chances and, at the same time, they have this trend of conceding one or two.

“I think that is the challenge that they have,” he said

Chiefs coach Ernst Middendorp has adopted a conservative philosophy until now. His side has kept four clean sheets in their last five matches. They have a newfound ruthless efficiency, displayed in their ability to be able to concede possession, but punish their opponents when the ball does arrive at their feet by being direct.

This is an approach that forward Samir Nurkovic in particular has been profiting from.

The German was counting on this tactic when he spoke to journalists at Naturena on Wednesday. He touched on Leicester City’s miracle season as an example to emphasise that you can be behind the ball for the majority of a game and still come out on top.

The Foxes had an average of 44% possession in 2016 when they won the English Premier League.

Malesela doesn’t believe that this will stop the flow of Pirates football. He argued that the quality within the Pirates’ ranks is just enough to open up any side at will, but they are just lacking luck at the moment.

That luck may just materialise as Chiefs have not beaten Pirates since 2014 and the former captain believes Pirates coach Rulani Mokwena must use this as motivation for his team to turn a corner.

However, Pirates have been struggling for consistency in their starting 11 and, against Highlands Park on Tuesday, Mokwena made an additional five changes from their previous outing.

Whether this was done to hinder Middendorp’s preparations is anyone’s guess, but the German admitted that he is not specifically focusing on any players but rather on stopping the way Pirates play.

With doubts raised about Mokwena’s ability after some poor results, the last thing he needs is to exacerbate an already tough start to his time as Pirates coach.

For Chiefs, victory will lift the awful hoodoo they’ve been saddled with since 2014 in the derby and give them an added sense of belief that they can break their trophy drought.

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Eyaaz Matwadia
Eyaaz Matwadia
Eyaaz Matwadia is a member of the Mail & Guardian's online team.

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