Photo: Samuel Shivambu/BackpagePix

JOHANNESBURG – It may feel like ages since the curtains were rolled down on the domestic season, Bidvest Wits crowned MTN8 and Absa Premiership champions, while Cape Town City surprised all in a highly entertaining 2016/17 campaign to clinch the Telkom Knockout cup.

But there’s still a bit more.

On Saturday (8.15pm kickoff), SuperSport United will look to retain their Nedbank Cup title when they face Orlando Pirates at Durban’s Moses Mabhida Stadium.

These two sides are no strangers at this stage of the competition as this is the exact repeat of last year’s fixture in Polokwane, where SuperSport ran riot in a 3-1 victory. But a lot can happen in a year, and here we look at what’s changed and how the two teams can hurt each other in their quest for silverware.

Who’s stronger 12 months down the line?

Pirates undoubtedly began the season with clear intentions to make sure they improve on their seventh place finish from the campaign before under then coach Eric Tinkler, who coincidentally starts his new job as SuperSport coach on July 1. 

He was replaced by Muhsin Ertugral, with the club also recruiting several players with the expectation that they would challenge for the championship and celebrate their 80th anniversary in fine fashion.

Ertugral quit barely three months into the job and the Buccaneers never really picked up the pieces even with the arrival of a Swedish mentor in Kjell Jonevret, who was appointed in February and could only manage an 11th place finish on the log table.

But Baxter seemed to carry on from where he left off as SuperSport looked serious league contenders until the final weeks of the season – the key factor being the imminent departure of the coach after he was offered the Bafana Bafana job.

What seemed to be turning out into a spectacular season has only resulted in fifth position on the table and the hope that they could win the Nedbank Cup to send Baxter off.

How can SuperSport hurt Pirates?

Ertugral abruptly quit minutes following the Buccaneers’ 6-1 humiliation by Matsatsantsa in Nelspruit back in November, and when the two sides met in a corresponding fixture six months later – with Jonevret now in charge – they played to a 1-1 draw.

It suggests the new man at the helm had been able to address the defensive frailties, especially considering Pirates had again been hit for six by Mamelodi Sundowns prior to his arrival.

But that would be giving him too much credit. Jonevret hasn’t been able to settle on a back four and probably needs an overhaul of the squad to reset going into the upcoming season.

SuperSport will use this to their advantage, and they are definitely not short of firepower with Jeremy Brockie, Bradley Grobler, Mandla Masango and Thuso Phala all capable.

How can Pirates hurt SuperSport?

It will be a tough job, but it is possible to frustrate Baxter’s men as evidenced by their capitulation in the final weeks of the campaign.

SuperSport often seem to struggle with having to counter a high-pressing approach from the opposition, like when they were thumped 5-0 by cross-town rivals Sundowns in April.

Jonevret will have to alter his selection somewhat if he plans to benefit from this, meaning the use of his side’s quickest players in Luvuyo Memela, Thabo Qalinge and maybe even Tendai Ndoro ahead of Thamsanqa Gabuza up front.

Although Chippa United wasted their chances in the semi-final against SuperSport and lost out on penalties, their game plan against SuperSport is also a good reference point on how to frustrate them into retreating and making mistakes.

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Sunday Independent

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