Stuart Baxter has played down Kaizer Chiefs’ inconsistent start to the new season, indicating he would prefer a good performance against Maritzburg United this evening to victory at all costs.
The Amakhosi led the Absa Premiership pretty much from wire to wire last season, but this campaign the reigning champions have won just one of their opening three league games, as well as losing to Orlando Pirates in the first leg of the MTN8 semifinal.
Baxter, however, seemed unperturbed at Chiefs training, comparing his team to another reigning champion across the ocean, England’s Manchester United, who have also picked up a win, a draw and a loss in their opening three league games.
“To say it is an erratic start … Manchester United have had exactly the same start,” said Baxter yesterday.
“The Martizburg United games were tight games last year. We had two draws with them when people said we were playing so well.
“If we win 1-0 and are lucky and outplayed, is that better than playing really well and drawing?
“Playing really well is key for a long season. Going forward we will pick up points. If we are useless and win, the fans will be okay, but I’ll be having sleepless nights, waiting for us to tread on the next landmine.
“I want a 90-minute performance and I want us to show the right attitude – as defending champions, to go on and make a good fist of defending the title.”
Baxter’s comparison with Manchester United is slightly disingenuous, given that the English champions have a new coach, David Moyes, and the progress of Chiefs under Baxter from last season to this might have been expected to run a little smoother.
Chiefs were sloppy at the back against Moroka Swallows, and they endured a second half cave-in against SuperSport United, in a game in which Baxter reverted to a back five. Chiefs looked solid enough in the first half, but just could not cope once SuperSport had equalised.
It will be interesting to see if Baxter continues to field all three of Morgan Gould, Eric Mathoho and Tefu Mashamaite against Maritzburg, but the Chiefs coach scoffed at suggestions fielding five defenders is more defensive than a back four, with another comparison with happenings over in England.
Baxter's implication is that playing with a central three effectively pushes his full backs into the midfield.
“We never play with a back five,” said the Chiefs coach.
“I don’t know where people get that from. In England, the commentators on TV, when a team is losing, they say ‘I wonder if they will go to three at the back’. When you have three centre backs, the wing backs can go as high as they can, and it allows the wide players to go in off the line. Everyone who thinks it is negative to go with a back five, ask Pa (Gaxa) and Tsepo (Masilela).
“Playing like that they run 13 to 14km in a match. When they are just full-backs, they run 11 or 12. That’s an extra 2km. It’s meant to be more offensive, and means we are secure on transition with three centre backs. We will play that way again, depending on the opponents and the state of the game.”
Fixtures (3pm unless stated)
Today: University of Pretoria v Bloem Celtic (Tuks Stadium); Free State Stars v Platinum Stars (Goble Park); AmaZulu v Moroka Swallows (Moses Mabhida, 6pm); Kaizer Chiefs v Maritzburg United (FNB Stadium, 8.15pm)
Tomorrow: Black Aces v SuperSport Utd (Mbombela Stadium); Polokwane City v Golden Arrows (Peter Mokaba Stadium) - Saturday Star