A cursory look at the table at this time last season would make you wonder how so much has changed in a short space of time.
After four games last season, Chiefs were top of the Premier League table, a position they would hold for 350 of the next 353 days before surrendering it painfully at the death, to Mamelodi Sundowns.
Around the same time, a division lower, Swallows had won just one of their opening four games, with an almost identical record to Chiefs right now.
Fast forward one season, and the same Chiefs side are languishing in 11th on the league table, while Swallows can go top of the top division with a win against Chiefs on Tuesday night. How things change.
The transfer ban will hang over Gavin Hunt like a yoke for a few more months, so expectations for the season may have been lowered in Naturena. How low those expectations have been lowered in anybody’s guess. You would not expect the Chiefs hierarchy to come out and say something like: “We’re just aiming for Top 8 this season”.
Yet, reality is that the hopes of another title challenge, however fanciful, are vanishing with every game. Unless Chiefs get some sort of rhythm going, they risk watching everyone else disappear into the horizon for good.
Swallows FC v Chiefs
Up next for Amakhosi are Swallows FC. The Dube Birds boast the best defence in the land, not just this season, but since the bio-bubble resumed in August. Three clean sheets in the opening four games is impressive for any team, let alone a newly promoted side.
Since Swallows were relegated at the end of the 2014/15 season, only seven sides have started a league season with at least 3 clean sheets in their opening 4 games. That’s seven out of 80 different sides.
0 – Swallows are still the only side in the top two South African divisions yet to concede an open-play goal since football resumed in the bio-bubble in August. The two goals they have conceded in 10 games since the bio-bubble have both come from penalties.
An age old rivalry
Chiefs were crowned champions in the same season the old Swallows were relegated. The rivalry between the two sides may have mollified over the last few years, given that Swallows have not been in the top-flight in any shape or form for the last five seasons. Now Swallows are under a new brand (Swallows FC), with numerous staff and
player changes on both sides since then.
Historical stats may mean less. That said, Bernard Parker was the last player to score for Chiefs in a league match against Moroka Swallows, so there is some continuity there.
4 – In the PSL era, no Chiefs player scored more league goals against the old Moroka Swallows than Bernard Parker (Reneilwe Letsholonyane also 4).
Are Chiefs scoring again?
2 – On Saturday, Chiefs scored more than one goal in a league game for the first time in ten attempts, last doing so in the August comeback against relegated Polokwane City.
The two goals over the weekend must have been a relief for many including Khama Billiat, Leonardo Castro and Gavin Hunt. For Billiat, this was the first time he assisted two goals in a league match for Chiefs.
Castro scored his first goals in 12 league matches, while Hunt was celebrating his first league goals from his own players as a Chiefs coach. Hunt will be asking his experienced players for more of the same. The likes of Billiat, Castro and Parker himself must step up where youthful and often inexperienced players are settling into the rigours of top-level football.
1 – Chiefs have lost just one of the last 15 games played against sides that were new to the top-flight since 2015/16. They will need that ruthlessness tonight if they are to get a win, and with it, manoeuvre
themselves out of the current mire.
The other midweek game sees Bloemfontein Celtic host Black Leopards, as both teams look to move away from the relegation zone. Celtic’s home form has been their saving grace in an otherwise topsy-turvy year.
1 – Celtic have lost just one of their ten games at home in the league in 2020, the lowest of all top-flight sides, winning four and drawing the other five.
Their opponents on Wednesday have scored just one goal from open-play (including one penalty and one own-goal) in the nine away matches they have played since the end of January 2020. Hodophobia.
By Opta Jabu