Get ready for a re­mark­able ride

No foot­ball tour­na­ment pro­vides as many thrills, spills and a roller coaster of emo­tions as the league race does, writes S’Bu­siso Mse­leku as he gazes into the Absa Premier­ship crys­tal ball Fix­tures

CityPress - - Sport - Fri­day: Bid­vest Wits vs Cape Town City FC (Bid­vest Sta­dium, 8pm) Satur­day:

The usual sus­pects

Ev­ery foot­ball league in the world has its usual sus­pects who start al­most ev­ery cham­pi­onship cam­paign wear­ing the “favourites” tag.

Th­ese are usu­ally clubs that have ei­ther dom­i­nated the league in the re­cent past or those that have ac­quired new money.

The Absa Premier­ship is no dif­fer­ent.

At the be­gin­ning of ev­ery sea­son, Mamelodi Sun­downs, Kaizer Chiefs and Or­lando Pi­rates start as favourites due to their deep pock­ets, as well as tra­di­tion.

Af­ter sev­eral ti­tles, Su­perS­port United have climbed on the band­wagon and so have de­fend­ing cham­pi­ons Bid­vest Wits, who brought the ba­con home last sea­son af­ter knock­ing at the door for sev­eral years.

A sur­prise run last sea­son also throws new­com­ers Cape Town City into the mix.

So, de­spite their poor per­for­mance in the past sea­son, no bet­ting per­son would leave out Chiefs and Pi­rates, even if it’s just to hedge his or her bets. An­other as­pect that is in­creas­ingly be­com­ing a fea­ture in de­ter­min­ing the fi­nal des­ti­na­tion of the league ti­tle is the qual­ity of the ar­se­nal each club pos­sesses in its ar­moury.

Af­ter their lat­est ac­qui­si­tions, who in­clude Ge­orge Lebese from Chiefs, Oupa Many­isa from Pi­rates and Ghana in­ter­na­tional Brimah Razak, Sun­downs are in the pound seats as odds-on favourites to an­nex the top prize. Pi­rates have also been quite busy in a bid to avoid last sea­son’s dis­as­ter, which saw them fin­ish in an un­fash­ion­able 11th po­si­tion. Af­ter re­veal­ing “prodi­gal son” Mi­lutin “Mi­cho” Sre­do­je­vić last week, the club followed up by rop­ing in Rhu­lani Mok­wena as his as­sis­tant.

Mok­wena has carved a niche for him­self in the South African foot­ball land­scape as one of the key cogs in Pitso Mosi­mane’s well-oiled tech­ni­cal ma­chine.

With play­ers such as goal­keeper Wayne Sandi­lands, Thami Sang­weni and Musa Ny­atama also hav­ing been cap­tured by the Buc­ca­neers, they are sure to mount a se­ri­ous chal­lenge, not only for the league hon­ours, but also for the other sil­ver­ware that has proved elu­sive. And the man­ner in which Wits and City have strength­ened their squads should be cause for broad smiles from both Gavin Hunt and Benni McCarthy – now that their tasks have been made eas­ier.

It re­mains to be seen whether Eric Tin­kler can carry the mo­men­tum he gained with The Cit­i­zens, and whether he will be able to build on the foun­da­tion laid by Stu­art Bax­ter at Su­perS­port United.

Also-rans

League reg­u­la­tions stip­u­late that there should be 16 clubs con­test­ing the cham­pi­onship. This means there will al­ways be those who are there to make up the numbers and who could fin­ish any­where be­tween the top eight, mid­dle and lower rungs of the log.

Platinum Stars, La­montville Golden Ar­rows, Polok­wane City and Mar­itzburg United fit snugly into this cat­e­gory.

Rel­e­ga­tion can­di­dates

AmaZulu, who have re­turned via the back door af­ter buy­ing the Thanda Royal Zulu sta­tus, an­nounced their part­ing of ways with coach Joey An­tipas and as­sis­tant coach Prince Ma­tore.

The Zim­bab­wean duo has been re­placed by Cavin John­son, but I see them join­ing Stars, Baroka FC and Bloem­fontein Celtic in the dog­fight against rel­e­ga­tion.

Let the games be­gin

So, as the sea­son be­gins with a full fix­ture that starts with de­fend­ing cham­pi­ons Wits host­ing Cape Town City on Fri­day, four fix­tures on Satur­day and three on Sun­day

we might have an inkling of what to ex­pect by the end of the week­end.

How­ever, the real ver­dict will come on May 9, which is sched­uled to be the last day of the 2017/18 Absa Premier­ship sea­son with a full fix­ture of eight matches.

(see box), Ar­se­nal

Su­perS­port United vs Mamelodi Sun­downs (Lu­cas Moripe Sta­dium, 3pm); Polok­wane City vs Baroka FC (Old Peter Mok­aba Sta­dium, 3pm); AmaZulu FC vs Free State Stars (King Zwelithini Sta­dium, 3pm); Or­lando Pi­rates vs Chippa United (Or­lando Sta­dium 6pm); Ajax Cape Town vs Golden Ar­rows (Cape Town Sta­dium, 8:15pm)

Sun­day:

Bloem­fontein Celtic vs Kaizer Chiefs (Free State Sta­dium, 3pm); Platinum Stars vs Mar­itzburg United (Royal Bafo­keng Sta­dium, 3pm)

PHOTO: CHRIS RICCO / BACK­PAGEPIX

EX­PE­RI­ENCE Gavin Hunt is ca­pa­ble of de­fend­ing the ti­tle he won with Bid­vest Wits last sea­son

PHOTO: SAMUEL SHIVAMBU / BACK­PAGEPIX

FAVOURITE Pitso Mosi­mane may lead Sun­downs to the Absa ti­tle

PHOTO: SAMUEL SHIVAMBU / BACK­PAGEPIX

ON GUARD Mi­lutin Sre­do­je­vić has a point to prove at Or­lando Pi­rates

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