It was exactly a year ago this week that the PSL bio-bubble experiment was launched, as PSL football returned from a near 5-month hiatus due to the pandemic.
A year later, another Project Restart is on the cards this weekend. The narratives around the PSL have already started building up, given the numerous transfers of players and coaches in the off-season.
As usual, we bring you a stats preview of the weekend action, focusing on the quarter-finals of the 22nd edition of the Top 8 tournament.
Golden Arrows v SuperSport United
Arrows Best Finish: Winners 2009/10
SuperSport Best Finish: Winners 2004/05, 2017/18, 2019/20
It is easy to forget how difficult the second half of their campaign was last season, when you consider that SuperSport ended in 5th position in the league. Their form since mid-January was fit for a relegation side, as Kaitano Tembo’s men won just four of their last 20 league games in 2020/21.
Having said that, they are renowned Cup specialists and are particularly familiar with this tournament.
20 – Since their first Top8 appearance in 2001/02 (featuring a Kaitano Tembo goal), SuperSport are the only club to have appeared in all 20 Top8 tournaments.
They won the competition with Kaitano Tembo at the helm in 2019, only to be knocked out by Golden Arrows in the Telkom Knockout a month later. That started a run of five matches without a win against Arrows for the Zimbabwean-born coach, who has won just once in seven matches against Arrows, including defeats in each of the last three. But, could it be
the best time to visit Abafana Besthende, given the departure of their overperforming head coach, Mandla Ncikazi?
Orlando Pirates v Swallows FC
Pirates best finish: Winners 2000/1, 2010/11, 2011/12, 2020/21
Swallows FC best finish: 1st appearance
Orlando Pirates host Swallows FC in a Soweto derby on Saturday evening, looking to retain the title they won so impressively last season. Pirates have won the Top 8 everytime the year ends in a nought – 2000, 2010 and 2020, and remain the only PSL side to win back-to-back Top8 titles, adding the 2011 title to their 2010 one.
The superstitious will be optimistic that the cycle will repeat itself, but they’ll need more than optimism to go past one of the biggest surprise teams of recent years. Swallows will be featuring in their first ever Top8 tournament since a memorable debut season in the top-flight. They were one point away from equalling the points record for a newly promoted PSL side (Free State Stars’ 45 points in 2005/6). However, their end of season form paints a very different picture.
2 – Swallows won 2 of their last 21 games in all competitions last season, losing two and drawing the other 17.
In the end, their status as an overperforming new side suffered at the hands of their reputation as a drawing side. Whisper it to the coach – a draw may not be enough to progress in a Knockout game.
Mamelodi Sundowns v Kaizer Chiefs
Sundowns best finish: Champions 2007/08
Chiefs best finish: Champions 2001/02, 2006/07, 2008/09, 2014/15
The biggest game of the weekend sees Sundowns host Chiefs on Sunday. It’s the
biggest in that the defending league champions face the 2021 CAF Champions League finalists. Not only that – this will also be the 66th meeting between Chiefs and Sundowns in the PSL era, making it Sundowns’ joint-most played Cup fixtures (66 also v Pirates & SuperSport, all comps).
Sundowns have a mixed record in this Cup, having previously lifted this title only once (2007/08). Meanwhile, no side has won more Top 8 titles than Chiefs (4, joint with Pirates).
There is a déja vu feeling for Stuart Baxter in his second spell at Chiefs. He faced Sundowns in his first domestic game in the 2012 MTN8 Quarter finals during his first spell, and will do the same here again. Back then, Chiefs lost 4-1, but went on to win the league title. While Baxter has lost six times to Sundowns in his career (against no South African side has he lost more), Chiefs have seen better days historically.
49 – Kaizer Chiefs will be appearing in a Top 8 match for the 49th time in the PSL era (incl. BP Top 8 & SAA Supa 8), more than any other PSL club.
AmaZulu v Cape Town City
AmaZulu Best finish: Semi-finals 2009/10
Cape Town City Best finish: Winners 2018/19
Benni McCarthy and Eric Tinkler clash on Sunday night, both looking for victory to answer a different set of questions. For McCarthy, it’s time to prove that last season’s form was not a fluke, and a deep Cup run would set that record straight. For Tinkler, a good run in the Cup would go a long way in justifying his recruitment at the end of last season. Head-to-head, the two former teammates are inseparable. They have faced off four times, winning one match apiece and drawing the other two. Their teams have scored four goals each when they clash, and they both have one MTN8 title to their names, with Tinkler beating McCarthy in the 2017 MTN8 final.
As a club, AmaZulu have only played four matches in previous Top 8 competitions, not winning any, despite once progressing on penalties in the 2009 quarter-finals. On the
contrary, Cape Town City have been regulars in the MTN8, although they were only formed in 2016.
13 – City have played 13 games in the MTN8, and are already in the Top10 of clubs for fixtures played in the competition (including BP & SAA competitions).
By Opta Jabu