Do Kaizer Chiefs have the fight to finish the job?
But such is Kaizer Chiefs’ improvement that they sit atop the summit of the PSL with 48 points, four ahead of defending champions Mamelodi Sundowns.
With eight games before the curtains officially falls on the domestic season, there’s no telling that Chiefs will hang on to the summit. Here is a summery of their season so far.
Their season in a nutshell:
A season that was meant to be about reconstruction has turned into something memorable.
Sure, the Glamour Boys have had their disappointing moments - such as losing to relegation-threatened AmaZulu in their last league match. But how many thought they’d complete a league double over nemesis Orlando Pirates whom they hadn’t beaten since 2014?
For their impressive efforts, they’ve been rewarded. Last year, Ernst Middendorp scooped the Coach of the Month awards three times in a row - a record in top-flight football. The team, though, bagged the quarterly innovation crowns in two successive occasions.
The thing about the Glamour Boys is that they’ve been using their strength to their advantage. They are the deadliest team when it comes to set-pieces. Lebogang Manyama and the outgoing George Maluleka have delivered with aplomb, while Samir Nurkovic and Leonardo Castro have converted with ease.
Middendorp is not everyone’s cup of tea. But it’s been appeasing to see how he’s got the best out of the situation, turning the negativity of their campaign into positive vibes amid the club’s 50th birthday.
Middendorp has preferred quality over popularity. Such that when Billiat and Khune got the green light from the medicals, they’ve had to prove their worth. He is not your typical coach who preaches fancy football, instead he gets the job done when it needs to be.
Having scored 40 goals this season - of which most came from set-pieces - Middendorp had a strong link between defence and attack, something that has got the better out of goalkeeper Daniel Akpeyi, who’s had impressive outing between the sticks.
What they’ve done right/strengths:
Chiefs’ strength comes from set-pieces. Nurkovic and Castro may have scored from open play as well but most of their goals have been from dead-ball situations. Nurkovic, moreover, has fitted like a glove into Middendorp’s set-up, scoring goals that have been crucial for the team.
But it’s not only the Serbian that has been Middendorp go-to-man. Keeper Akepyi has been a knight in shining armour for the team between the sticks, keeping Khune, who’s donned the No. 1 jersey for more than a decade, on the bench.
In the bigger scheme of things though, the entire team has come to the party this season, engulfing a sense of prosperity. Even when they were trailing, they pulled towards a common goal and came out victorious in dire situations.
What they’ve done wrong/weaknesses:
Underestimation. Yes, the title contenders have lost matches or dropped points in outings that they were expected to prevail with ease.
The draw away to Black Leopards, loss at home to Maritzburg United and Usuthu exposed Chiefs’ loopholes in their bid for the championship. It was surprising that they lost to AmaZulu after beating Pirates. Middendorp had said in order for them to reign supreme, they’d have to start beating teams that are fighting for their lives.
Hadn’t the league been suspended last week amid the outbreak of the coronavirus, it was really going to be interesting to see how Chiefs would fair at home to Bidvest Wits and away to struggling Polokwane City.
Key player: Samir Nurkovic:
Nurkovic’s goals for Chiefs have been instrumental in the team’s pursue for championship glory this season. The 27-year-old has scored 11 league goals, four behind the league’s top marksman Gabandinho Mhango.
In essence, Nurkovic has been one of the differences in Chiefs’ structure this season. Not only has he been the point of reference upfront, but he’s delivered when it mattered the most, scoring goals that have given the team a sense of belief that they can come out victorious despite the situation.
It’s going to be interesting to see whether Nurkovic will close in on Mhango and walk away with the prestigious Lesley Manyathela Golden Boot award.
Remaining six games for Chiefs:
Away from home:
Polokwane City, Bloemfontein Celtic, Bidvest Wits and Baroka FC.
Bidvest Wits, Stellenbosch FC, Mamelodi Sundowns and Chippa United.
Past five games: