The top two teams in South Africa clash in a colossal affair at Orlando Stadium this evening at 18H00. Will the result of this top-of-the-table clash decide where the PSL title resides come next weekend?
Leaders Kaizer Chiefs host defending champions Mamelodi Sundowns on Thursday in one of the biggest PSL clashes in recent memory. Orlando Stadium will be a cauldron of noise and anticipation, with Chiefs’ fans longing to put a hand and four fingers on the trophy they’ve been without for nearly 5 years.
If Ernst Middendorp’s side win, they will open a 6-point gap over Sundowns. It would be the psychological victory they need as the League enters the penultimate stage. It would be theirs to win.
If Pitso Mosimane’s champions win, they will be level on points, from 12 earlier in the season. As Chiefs know, there is a fragility to top spot, but Sundowns’ recent inconsistencies suggest this is a must-not-lose in Mosimane’s quest for three straight titles.
Since the inception of the NSL, exactly 35 years ago in 1985, Amakhosi and the Brazilians have met 69 times in the League. It’s always been humdingers with the Soweto giants emerging victorious 28 times while their Tshwane opponents have won 21 of those. The two teams have shared the spoils 20 times.
In recent seasons, Mosimane’s contentious utterances that the men from Naturena are beneficiaries of poor refereeing often stoke tensions. Without a doubt, emotions are likely to be at an all-time high considering what is at stake today.
Chiefs news ahead of the clash
Amakhosi go into the match without the in-form Samir Nurkovic, scorer of both goals in the reverse fixture played in October, because of suspension after he picked up his fourth yellow card against Stellenbosch FC on Sunday. Middendorp may also have to do without Leonardo Castro, who pulled a hamstring in the first half of their game against Stellenbosch.
In the event that Castro, scorer of 7 goals in 18 League games, does not recover on time, the German will have to look to former Sundowns talisman Khama Billiat and Lazarous Kambole, for goals. The Zambian finally broke the duck when he netted his first goal at the weekend.
The clash could, however, see the return of Lebogang Manyama after he missed their game against Stellies due to a niggling injury he picked during their encounter with Bloemfontein Celtic.
Kaizer Chiefs’ 4 key players
Daniel Cardoso has been outstanding throughout the season having played 26 games, scored 4 goals and has 3 yellow cards so far. He will be expected to shut the back door for players like Gaston Sirino and Themba Zwane.
Manyama leads the PSL’s assists table after providing 9 scoring opportunities for his teammates. Not only has he created chances from the middle of the park, but he has also weighed in with 6 goals in 24 outings.
Chiefs’ fans will be hoping Mathoho towers over Sundowns’ attack. The man from Thohoyandou has formed a telepathic understanding with Cardoso in the Chiefs rear-guard. At the other end of the pitch, he has contributed 5 goals in 23 games, a commendable feat for a defender.
The man from Pietermaritzburg has come on as a super sub in a number of games. The plan has worked in some instances as Middendorp went on to win some all-important fixtures after introducing Zuma. The 25-year-old has played 22 league games, scored 3 goals and provided 3 assists.
Mamelodi Sundowns’ 4 Key Players
Mosimane will be hoping the Uruguayan brings his football intelligence and bag of skills to Orlando Stadium. He can be a menace to any opposition when on song. Sirino has scored 2 goals and made 1 assist in 19 league games this season.
On his day, the Sundowns captain will lord it over any opposition’s engine room. He will be expected to lead Mosimane’s troops with aplomb as they fight to level points at the top. The 35-year-old ‘Keke’ has played 23 league games and weighed in with 3 goals and 2 assists. When speaking to Downs’ media department, he sounded unfazed ahead of the crunch tie. “We now understand the nature of this game and I believe we are a team that’s very ambitious because we have been in this space for so many seasons now,” he said.
Sundowns have struggled for goals since the League resumed, only managing 4 in 4 games and conceding the same number. Vila is one man they will be looking to for goals. However, the former Wits man still must find his post-lockdown scoring touch. His 5 goals in 22 games all came before Covid-19 shut the door on all football activities.
Mshishi has played 21 league games, scored 10 goals with 5 assists and Amakhosi know too well any lapse in concentration will be detrimental. Zwane is a gem of a player and has been excellent for the Brazilians all season.
Pitso Mosimane’s style of play
After the narrow win against Golden Arrows, Mosimane said: “I don’t think Thursday’s game against Kaizer Chiefs is the title decider. The way I know these things sometimes the title might be decided at the last match.’’ However, he would be hoping to win and level points at the top.
Sundowns play the pass from the sides for their frontman to pick it up and score. And Mosimane is on record as saying it would be futile for his side to dominate a match but not score goals.
He uses the likes of Vilakazi, Sirino and Lebohang Maboe to release passes from inside for their attacking teammates to convert.
Mosimane also loves seeing the ball moving from left to right and exploiting pockets of space. He also uses the pace of players like Tebogo Langerman to get behind opposition defenders.
In midfield, while Kekana and Tiyani Mabunda or Andile Jali protect the back 4, they often have the latitude to get forward.
Ernst Middendorp’s style of play
Middendorp’s style of play has been criticised by many. Fans call his direct method of play ‘Javelin football.’ However, Chiefs find themselves at the apex of the log, thanks to the so-called ‘Aeroplane football’.
Chiefs have, in the past, proven dangerous in set pieces. Interestingly, Polokwane City coach Clinton Larsen once accused Chiefs of actively looking to win games through free-kicks and being over-reliant on dead-ball situations to find the back of the net.
Kaizer Chiefs’ legend David Radebe is also on record as saying the kind of football Chiefs plays nowadays is not the same as the style the team played under Middendorp during his first stint with Amakhosi.
What happens if Chiefs win?
A Chiefs win will obviously give them an edge over Sundowns as well as boost their confidence ahead of the final 3 games of the season. The Soweto giants face Bidvest Wits on Sunday, a potentially tricky tie in which a win is not guaranteed.
What happens if Sundowns wins?
A win for Downs will further blow open the race for the title, as the 2 teams will now be level on points. It will boost their confidence ahead of their final 3 games, which are against clubs occupying the bottom 5 spots. Sundowns’ next assignment is against 14th placed Baroka FC and then 16th placed Polokwane City.
So, is this the title decider? No. But there is little doubt come next weekend, this fixture will be seen as the epicentre of Chiefs’ title win or Sundowns’ fightback.
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By Mthokozisi Dube and Mauwane Raophala