JOHANNESBURG – The Absa Premiership title race is getting to the business end with Mamelodi Sundowns and Orlando Pirates leading the pack.
But the two clubs have some tough obstacles they have to overcome, physically and mentally, if they are to be crowned champions on May 12.
Sundowns: their trump card
The Brazilians’ biggest trump card is that they have their fate in their hands. Sundowns’ coach Pitso Mosimane went as far as to say that the league is theirs to lose. The Tshwane side are a point ahead of second-placed Pirates with a game in hand. But it’s not just their lead that is in Sundowns’ favour, the Brazilians are a ruthless machine with an impressive record under Mosimane.
They have finished first or second in the four seasons he has started with the club. A number of key players are clicking at the right time, from Sibusiso Vilakazi to Hlompho Kekana, Themba Zwane, Khama Billiat and Percy Tau who are all proven match winners.
What could derail them
Sundowns have a more gruelling schedule than the Buccaneers due to their involvement in the Nedbank Cup semifinals and Caf Champions League group stage. Mosimane refuses to prioritise one cup over the other, going for all three competitions. That approach hurt the Brazilians last season as they ran out of steam towards the finish of the league race and they ended up with neither of the three cups.
To counter that, Mosimane has been resting certain players so that they return fresh for the final stretch. The Brazilians also have to factor the Tendai Ndoro case into their points tally as Pirates could be awarded three points should they win their appeal on the Zimbabwean not being eligible to play for a third team in the same transfer window.
v Chippa United @ Loftus Versfeld, tonight
v Baroka FC @ Peter Mokaba Stadium, Sunday
v Bidvest Wits @ Loftus Versfeld, April 14
v Golden Arrows @ Loftus Versfeld, April 17
v Maritzburg United @ Harry Gwala Stadium, April 25
v Ajax Cape Town @ Lucas Moripe Stadium, April 28
v Bloemfontein Celtic @ Dr Molemela Stadium, May 12
Pirates: their trump card
The Buccaneers have nothing to lose. A top three finish would be impressive for a team that’s coming from their worst season in the PSLera which led to a dramatic squad overhaul and the introduction of a new technical team led by coach Micho Sredojevic.
The Serbian and his colleagues have done wonders at the Sea Robbers, transforming the club from the weak state it was in last season to challenging for the championship a season later. Sredojevic’s passion and love for the Buccaneers, coupled with the players’ desire to make up for last season is the fuel that has pushed Pirates this season.
What could derail them
Pirates are not the complete package just yet. They are still a work in progress and they owe their dramatic rise partly to an inconsistent season. Even if the Soweto giants beat Bloemfontein Celtic tonight, they will still be five points behind their target of accumulating 10 points in the six sets of five matches they divided the league by.
If they were successful in that target they would be on 50 points after 25 matches instead of the 45 they would be on should they collect maximum points against the struggling Phunya Sele Sele. The Buccaneers shook off their slow start to be in second place thanks to their players finding their scoring boots and the removal of any pressure to keep up with the likes of Sundowns in the league race.
v Bloemfontein Celtic @ Orlando Stadium, tonight
v SuperSport United @ Mbombela Stadium, April 11
v AmaZulu @ King Zwelithini Stadium, April 15
v Bidvest Wits @ Orlando Stadium, April 24
v Cape Town City @ Cape Town Stadium, April 28
v Free State Stars @ Orlando Stadium, May 12