JOHANNESBURG - Wayne Arendse is confident Mamelodi Sundowns’ past success and failure has put them in the right frame of mind to keep leading the Absa Premiership race until the end, on May 12.
The Brazilians look miles ahead of the chasing pack even though they haven’t kicked into fourth gear just yet Sundowns sit at the summit with a four-point lead and a game in hand over second-placed Kaizer Chiefs, and that "catch-up" match is against Free State Stars at Loftus Versfeld on Wednesday.
Pitso Mosimane, who will be in the stands serving the second of his two-match ban, admitted that the league is theirs to lose. Mosimane said the key to ensuring Sundowns don’t slip-up in the final stretch like they did last season is managing teams close to them, which means the aim on Wednesday is not to lose against Ea Lla Koto.
“Playing the Champions League and the league is totally different,” Arendse said. “We had different formations in the different competitions because they require different things from you. Those are the small details that we fine-tuned (after slipping up in the league last season and the Champions League last year).
"We have improved in how to manage the game better. When we score we have to manage the game. The guys have learned from last season. The different competitions we have played in, including the Fifa Club World Cup, have toughened us.
"The main lesson for us is not looking at the last hurdle but pacing ourselves and looking at the first hurdle first, because if you stumble on that hurdle you might not reach the last one.”
Right after Stars the Brazilians take on SuperSport United, who have become their daily bread. While the game against Ea Lla Koto is about managing the chasing pack, Sundowns’ clash with their neighbours on Saturday is about putting distance between themselves and their rivals.
“The target for us is to stay up there, which means collecting maximum points as much as possible. It’s a totally different case for them (SuperSport),” Arendse said.
“They want to get points so that they don’t drop into the relegation mix but jump into the top eight instead. We’ve been dominant in the derbies. At the back of their mind is that they need to win one derby at least. I think that it’s going to be a tough, physical game with a lot of kicking.
"We don’t need to get ahead of ourselves. Free State Stars is our first obstacle and they are fighting for a place at the top. The good thing for us is that we know how to play these games with a lot at stake. We know how to deal with these rough games. We are experienced and we know what to do.”
The 33-year-old’s experience will come in handy in the final stretch. Due to his age, Arendse has been used sparingly this season with the young Motjeka Madisha leading the defence. While Madisha brings youthful exuberance, Arendse is a calm head who knows how to handle heated moments.
“Being able to play well at my age comes down to your lifestyle,”Arendse said. “You must eat properly and rest well. I have been doing that. The coach gave players who were doing a chance and like he said, he can take out six players in the team and bring six different ones who can still do the job. For me if a guy is doing well, he should play. There are no complaints from me.”