Into the final straight
Sundowns, Pirates, FS Stars, Chiefs and CT City all in the running for the PSL championship
With Mamelodi Sundowns sitting pretty at the summit of the log standings with 10 matches remaining for the four teams, it is tempting to say the Premier Soccer League title is as good as theirs.
The smart money is on Sundowns, but with Orlando Pirates a different proposition from the pedestrian bunch they were last season, concluding bets on the league trophy adorned in the Brazilians colours could be a risky business, judging by the couture of the chasing pack.
Free State Stars have a surprise as part of the pretenders to the throne as opposed to their regular fights to stave off relegation.
Cape Town City and Kaizer Chiefs are not completely out of it.
This situation enjoins us to expect more twists and turns heading into the final straight that will culminate in the coronation of the 2017-18 champions on May 12.
Given that their run-in includes only Free State Stars as title chasers among the 10 teams they are still to face in second-round fixtures, the league is Sundowns’ to lose.
But try telling that to Sundowns coach Pitso Mosimane and you’ll get an answer far from that kind of thinking.
“I think if we win five league games in a row the story will tell,” said Mosimane this week. “Nobody has won five games in a row (this season), even us. So whoever can win five in a row, his story will be there.
“What we need to do is to manage everyone who’s close to us.”
Mosimane’s sentiments were echoed by skipper Hlompho Kekana and star attacker Percy Tau.
Both have banished any thoughts of winning the title, which will be a record eighth for Sundowns in the PSL era.
Sundowns will host Stars in their next league fixture but still be without Mosimane who’ll be serving the last of his two-match ban following his first red card as a professional coach last week.
Trying to forecast Pirates’ results this season has been as good as prophesying what President Jacob Zuma will do about his future or that of his cabinet.
A win this week, followed by a loss or a draw in the next match, that’s been a story of Milutin Sredojevic’s team.
That the Buccaneers find themselves occupying the second spot behind Sundowns, albeit having played a match more, is due to other teams being as bad as they are when it comes to consistency.
Surprisingly, Sredojevic believes his team is very much on course to win their fifth league title — the first since 2011-12.
“We are still very far from where we are supposed to be but results in our next three league games against Chippa United (away), Kaizer Chiefs (home) and Golden Arrows (away) will determine where we’re going with the league title. Those are the games that are likely to determine our destiny this season,” said Sredojevic.
With other teams pussyfooting around this title, perhaps Sredojevic’s claims can be ignored at one’s peril.
Free State Stars
For a team that finished third last in the previous campaign, surviving relegation by the skin of their teeth, to being third from top this time around signifies a remarkable turnaround in fortune.
For this Ace Magashule or Mosebenzi Zwane must reward Luc Eyamel with a big fat cow from the Vrede dairy farm.
Coach Eyamel has the Stars shining the brightest, with a future so bright no one can fault them for wearing sunglasses inside the house. Trailing Sundowns by six points, Ea Lla Koto have the second-highest number of wins — Sundowns have 12 and Stars are tied on nine with fifth-placed City and one more than second positioned Pirates.
Their biggest challenge is that they score as much as they concede, with 21 goals to their credit and 21 against them.
They desperately need to plug the holes in their defence if they are to mount a campaign that can see them in with a shout of their first PSL gong.
Can Stars do the unthinkable and pull it off? Manning Rangers and Santos have done it before and unfancied Stars will take inspiration from such fairy-tales.
They have lost the least number, three, of matches but have a monumental number of draws, 10, which is why they find themselves in fourth position.
Amakhosi are, to the irritation of their supporters, able to squander a lead when securing three points seems a certainty and in equal measure come from behind and snatch a draw.
Therein lies the rub, it is football not drawing. The major contributing factor to being draw merchants is how coach Steve Komphela sets out his stall.
Supporters complain bitterly that he sets up his team with his mind governed by the fear of not losing rather than inspired by the quest for victory.
With the Nedbank Cup and league titles the only honours up for grabs, they provide the last-chance saloon for Komphela to bring on board some sterling silver.
That will not happen if he keeps on benching his new reinforcements, bring them on in the second half.
It certainly won’t happen if he fails to pick up negatives from Siphelele Ntshangase’s game and continues to play a horribly offform George Maluleka.
Cape Town City
Getting Benni was a big gamble by John Comitis. It is one that is paying off handsomely. McCarthy has rung changes that have mirrored The Citizens in his own image. City have been bobbing to Bob Marley’s Exodus beat, with a string of stars who put a shine on their maiden season heading for the exit. He has had to do without Lebogang Manyama, Aubrey Ngoma, Bongolwethu Jayiya, Matt Sim, Lehlohonolo Majoro, Thato Mokeke and Aubrey Modiba.
All seven were critical components of Eric Tinkler’s team that scored the Telkom Knockout trophy and a third-place finish which came with the Caf Confederation Cup qualification. (City play Young Buffaloes of Swaziland today in the first leg preliminary round).
Not only has McCarthy kept the team within touching distance of leaders Sundowns, he also took them to the final of the MTN8 where they settled for silver medals after wasting a tsunami of chances against Tinkler’s SuperSport United.
The Karate Kid from Hanover Park has pulled off a remarkable feat against his Mr Miyagi, Gavin Hunt, whom he has whipped four times this season.
It is certainly a special start for a novice coach which would be a spectacular gloss should he be successful in annexing the holy grail of the Premiership on his very first attempt.
The big five from left, Pitso Mosimane, Luc Eymael, Steve Komphela, Benni McCarthy and Milutin Sredojevic.