JOHANNESBURG - Kaizer Chiefs midfielder George Maluleka is excited about the prospects of his team’s bright start this season, crossing fingers that it lives to the lofty billing of the 2014/2015 season.
Rewind four-and-a-half seasons ago, and Chiefs were crowned the Premiership champions for the second time in three seasons, thanks to the guidance of British coach Stuart Baxter.
That season, Baxter’s mandate was clear from the outset as he scooped monthly individual awards, while his team grabbed a chunk of the Quarterly Innovation recognitions.
However, it has taken Baxter’s third successor, Ernst Middendorp, to somewhat emulate that championship winning formula.
Middendorp has guided Amakhosi to the summit of the Premiership in 12 matches with 31 points, 10 ahead of second-placed SuperSport United, who’ll host Highlands Park at Lucas Masterpieces Moripe Stadium tonight (8.15pm).
Middendorp and his team’s rich vein of form hasn’t gone unnoticed. The German tactician won the first two editions of the Coach of the Month awards, while his team was recently crowned the Q1-Innovation winners and pocketed a cheque of R1.5 million.
Struck by déjà vu, Maluleka is hoping their fine start could set the tone for the rest of their season, just like it did almost half a decade ago.
“It’s very important to start on a good note. And winning Q1 is one of those. It’s a confidence booster for the team, and that makes the guys to even want more because it puts the team in a position where they can win the league. But we are not getting carried away, we take it one game at a time,” he said.
“There’s been a lot of similarities to the 2014/2015 season. There’s been a couple of similar results where we won 1-0 or 2-1, very close ones but we’ve been able to contain the opponents. Clean sheets have been important, and they say defenders win you championships, and so far, so good.”
Chiefs will be hoping to continue with the rich vein of form when they welcome Bloemfontein Celtic to the Moses Mabhida Stadium tomorrow night (8.15pm) in their penultimate round of the year.
However, that’s easier said than done. Celtic have been on an impressive run, collecting nine points out of 15 - an impressive return for a team that was cash-strapped last season.
“We’ve seen a couple of their clips. But we’ve tried to work on a couple of things so that we can destabilise them,” Maluleka said. “They are playing very good football at the moment, and they have ways of trying to destabilise their opponents, so it will be very difficult to contain them.
"But we’ve been working hard, although it will be a difficult game, I am positive we can be able to come out with a positive result.”
Being at the summit of the table, while their opponents in the chasing pack still have games in hand, will test Chiefs’ mettle at the start of the New Year.
Mamelodi Sundowns, the defending champions, are third in the league standings, 10 points behind Chiefs, while they have two games in hand.