The Mother City has been abuzz all week in anticipation of tonight’s derby between Cape Town City and Ajax Cape Town at the Cape Town Stadium (kickoff 8pm). But all the hype, all the build-up, all the talk and discussion, and all the slobbering expectation and conjecture come to a close when the referee blows the whistle to get the action under way.
Then, it’s up to the players to do justice to their talent and potential, and the two coaches’ opportunity to demonstrate their tactical nous and awareness.
Who will win? We don’t know - But these are the areas where we believe the game will be won or lost:
Forget the fact that Nathan Paulse is 34 years old. To the veteran, Athlone-born Ajax striker, age is just a number. He remains as hungry as ever, as keen and passionate, and as combative as he was when he made his debut for the Cape club as a teenager back in 2000. He’s still giving opposition defenders a torrid time as they struggle to cope with his aggression and gangly, unorthodox style. Ajax have had a low-key start to the season - a defeat and two draws - but they’ve scored three goals in those three games, and Paulse has got all three. That in a nutshell demonstrates his importance to Ajax. If City are to have any chance of getting a result, then they are going to need a game plan to neutralise the influence of Paulse.
Now here’s a footballer in the prime of his career. Having just returned from injury, City schemer Lebogang Manyama has been in scintillating form in the early stages of the season. The captain of a newly-assembled squad at a newly-established club, Manyama has led by example. He’s an all-action player, always in the thick of things and keen to make things happen.
In fact, with Manyama being the type of player capable of creating something from nothing, he’s certainly going to be high up in Ajax coach Roger de Sa’s thoughts when putting together his game plan to thwart neighbours City. If Ajax are unable to master Manyama, and they allow the City man the freedom Cape Town Stadium, then the result is probably a foregone conclusion.
This is something that has plagued both Ajax and City this season.
In Ajax’s 2-1 defeat to Orlando Pirates last week, they dominated the match, but were undone, in De Sa’s words, ‘by five minutes of madness’. Two terrible errors during that time, two unforgivable lapses in concentration, and Ajax conceded two soft goals.
City, too, in a 3-0 defeat to Wits were guilty of swanning around and losing focus and, by the time they woke up, the game was all over. Both coaches will be particularly mindful of how vital it is that their players stay in the moment for 90 minutes. A derby is a game often won or lost by attention to detail and absorption to the taskâ€¦ and these small margins are determined by which team makes the least mistakes.
Need we say any more about this - it’s not just a City or Ajax issue, it’s a national problem. Every coach in the PSL, every coach of a national squad, constantly complains about the lack of goals. Chances are created, but squandered - some so easy, the misses are almost comical.
But, while it may have become a tedious, repetitive refrain and goals are what the game is all about ... it wins games; it brings people to the ground; it pays the bills, for the clubs and players.
City haven’t scored in their last four games and that is, obviously a big worry for City coach Eric Tinkler.
Ajax, also, against Pirates last week and Polokwane City on Tuesday, created a plethora of scoring opportunities, but couldn’t take advantage, and failed to kill off the game.
Essentially, what that leaves us with in tonight’s derby, is that whoever turns things around in front of goal will surely emerge victorious.
It’s an old adage in football that if a team defends well and doesn’t allow the opposition to score, they cannot lose. City and Ajax will be fully aware of this; nobody wants to play second fiddle in a derby. As such, if the defence stays solid and compact, and doesn’t concede, it’s up to the forwards to do the trick up front and take the team to victory.
Ajax suffered a setback in this regard when Roscoe Pietersen was sent off against Polokwane on Tuesday, but they have an able replacement in Zimbabwean international, Eric Chipeta. He’ll slot in alongside Rivaldo Coetzee in central defence.
For City’s defence, Latvian Renars Rode was rested against Pirates and it will be interesting to see if he regains his position alongside Tshepo Gumede at centre-back. Thato Mokeke deputised for Rode and he had a solid game against the Buccaneers. But, irrespective of who Tinkler opts for, the basic tenet remains the same: Donâ€™t concede.