The thrilling Absa Premiership race enters its final stretch with both Kaizer Chiefs and Mamelodi Sundowns running side-by-side as they approach the finish line on Saturday in what has been the longest South African football season in history.
‘Amakhosi’ are seeking to end a five-year trophy drought and what stands between them and glory is a victory against a relegation-threatened team that cannot afford to drop points, Baroka.
The encounter at the Bidvest Stadium, scheduled to start at 15:30 is more like a final for both sides as survival and the championship are at stake.
Well, Baroka are more like a bogey team for Chiefs if you like, as the Limpopo team has picked up two wins and two draws in seven League matches since the 2016/17 campaign.
And to add insult to injury, in Ernst Middendorp’s second spell at Chiefs, the Soweto giants have only managed to score one goal against Baroka in two matches, which happens to be their lowest total against any current top-flight team.
In the first round at FNB Stadium, Chiefs walked away with a 1-0 win thanks to a goal from Lebogang Manyama but this time around, ‘The Glamour Boys’ will have to dig deep to reach the promised land – Premiership glory.
A victory for giant-killers, Baroka, who currently occupy 15th spot will save them from the relegation play-offs.
“We are not threatened by facing Chiefs. Our ambition [to avoid the chance of relegation] is no less important than theirs,” said a confident Baroka coach Dylan Kerr.
A team fighting for survival can be as dangerous as a team chasing the title or the ‘La Decima’. If you don’t believe that, ask Sundowns as they suffered a shock 1-0 defeat at the hands of Baroka last Sunday.
“We have a chance to possibly make our lives a lot easier [by avoiding the playoffs] and we need to do our best to take it,” added Kerr.
Log leaders Chiefs are on 59 points, level with second-placed Sundowns with the latter adrift by three in terms of goal-difference.
Middendorp’s men have endured a rollercoaster ride as they have only registered two wins in seven league matches since the resumption of football, while ‘Bakgakga’ have collected eight crucial points.
“It’s a very competitive last match-day. We have Baroka who are in 15th position and Sundowns have to compete with Black Leopards, who are one point and position ahead of Baroka,” Middendorp,
“With both relegation-threatened teams sitting where they are, they cannot just go to the game and give it away. We’ll see in both locations the kind of fighting spirit that will come out. And that will probably decide what will come out at the end of day.”
Football loving fans are in for an emotional roller coaster ride in Saturday’s blockbuster final round of league matches.
As they say, ‘It will end in tears’. For some teams, it will be tears of joy, and to some will be tears of pain, sorrow and disparity.’
BAROKA PLAYERS TO WATCH
The Namibian international has proven to be a more reliable offensive threat and a better defender. Gebhardt scored the winner against Sundowns and he will be tasked with keeping the likes of Samir Nurkovic quite.
The 20-year-old striker has scored four goals in seven league appearances. Makgopa was on target as Baroka drew 1-1 against Orlando Pirates to earn a valuable point.
He added to his goal tally as he opened the scoring in Bakgaga’s 4-1 defeat over SuperSport United in midweek. A lethal striker capable of causing the Chiefs defence all sorts of problems this afternoon.
With three goals and three assists in the league, Patjie is a key member of the Baroka team and one of the most senior. Dylan Kerr will be seeking for a match-winner in a must-win match and Patjie is a player he can count on.
CHIEFS PLAYERS TO WATCH
Billiat will be full of confidence after scoring his second goal of the season during the 1-0 win against Chippa United in midweek. Although he has not shown the same form as he did at Sundowns, on his day, the Zimbabwean international can be a match-winner.
Manyama has been one of the driving forces behind the ‘Amakhosi’ this season. Manyama amassed six goals and nine assists in 26 league appearances so far this season.
The midfielder has proved a constant threat through his set-piece delivery and crosses which Nurković has thrived on.
The Serbian striker indicated during the week that he would like to finish top of the scoring charts. With 13 goals, he is currently behind Peter Shalulile and Gabadinho Mhango.
Nurković has proved a handful for defenders in the PSL with his physical prowess and aerial ability.
Prediction: Baroka 1-3 Chiefs
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By Tokelo Martin Mokhesi