CAPE TOWN – Benni McCarthy faces another test of his coaching credentials when Cape Town City host Bidvest Wits in a PSL fixture at the Athlone Stadium tomorrow (kick-off 6pm).
It’s not so much the fact that City will be looking to beat the Clever Boys for the fifth time this season, rather it’s a selection quandary that is the former Bafana Bafana striker’s big challenge.
McCarthy, make no mistake, has a big decision ahead of him: City are yet to lose to Wits, after victories in the MTN8 (twice), the league and the Nedbank Cup. But, now, he is not just aware of the resolve he can expect from his Johannesburg opponents, he’ll also have to find a way to shore up his central midfield.
With influential Austrian Roland Putsche suspended and Mpho Matsi still out injured, the 40-year-old has to find a way to fortify the team’s midfield shield. Against a side like Wits, bristling with central midfield talent, this area of the game is likely to be the difference between winning and losing. So, without the services of Putsche and Matsi, what does McCarthy do?
It appears the City coach has always been aware that this day would come, which is why, in the two legs of the CAF Confederation Cup, he has been playing captain Robyn Johannes in central midfield. Usually a central defender, Johannes is comfortable on the ball, a smooth passer and an all-round composed footballer.
Initially, the plan was to shift the captain to a midfield shielding role and play Kwanda Mngonyama and Taariq Fielies in defence. But Johannes had a shocker against Swaziland’s Young Buffaloes on Tuesday - and, afterwards, McCarthy admitted that he might have to re-think his strategy for the game against Wits.
For the clash against the Clever Boys, Teko Modise will be the creative force in the Citizens’ midfield and Thabo Nodada the dynamic runner from deep-lying positions, a ploy that usually catches the opposition unaware. But McCarthy will have to find another midfielder to complement their strengths.
The good news is that 19-year-old Shane Roberts has been excellent since his elevation to the PSL squad. He’s got great feet, an excellent, intuitive football brain and superb passer to boot. The question is: at this stage early stage of his career, does he have the defensive nous, especially against a side as experienced and street-wise as Wits?
The decision is McCarthy’s to make. So far, in his debut season as a coach, the Capetonian hasn’t got too many things wrong. Let’s see.
“We can’t be too confident going into the Wits game,” said McCarthy. “Yes, we have beaten them four times this season, but now we have to be even more focused. We’ve already had a dip this season and we can’t afford to have another one. If we do, we will lose all the hard work we’ve put in this season.”
Over in the other half of the Mother City, Ajax Cape Town are also preparing for what is a must-win fixture when they take on fellow-strugglers Golden Arrows at the Princess Magogo Stadium in Durban on Sunday afternoon (kick-off 3.15pm). With the teams mired in 13th (Arrows) and 15th (Ajax) positions on the PSL standings, victory is paramount.
PSL fixtures for the weekend:
Tonight: Maritzburg United v Platinum Stars
Tomorrow: Baroka FC v Polokwane City; Cape Town City v Bidvest Wits (Athlone Stadium, 6pm); Mamelodi Sundowns v SuperSport United; Free State Stars v AmaZulu; Kaizer Chiefs v Bloemfontein Celtic
Sunday: Chippa United v Orlando Pirates; Golden Arrows v Ajax Cape Town (Princess Magogo Stadium, 3.15pm)