The game before the Soweto derby is mostly considered a nightmare by the coaches of Kaizer Chiefs and Orlando Pirates, as players from both sides usually do not give their all, presumably to avoid injuries ahead of South Africa’s biggest football fixture.
This week, Amakhosi and the Buccaneers find themselves having to fulfil midweek games tomorrow, before they meet in Saturday’s epic derby which could go a long way in deciding the Absa Premiership.
Leaders Chiefs travel to Chippa United, with full knowledge that a slip up could see second-placed Pirates closing in on them, should they defeat Bloemfontein Celtic at Orlando.
Both Stuart Baxter and Roger de Sa have spent the past few days emphasising that Saturday’s match is furthest from their minds, and yesterday De Sa went as far as to suggest he would drop players who underperform against Celtic, saving themselves for Saturday.
“For me it’s quite simple: all the focus has to be on Celtic. If there are players who don’t give their all in this match, they won’t play in the derby. They have to perform to stay in the team for Saturday,” De Sa warned yesterday.
The Pirates coach conceded his men have “no choice” but to bounce back against Phunya Sele Sele, after two damaging back-to-back defeats on the domestic front.
Bucs were bundled out of the Nedbank Cup by lowly Maluti two weeks ago and, three days later, let slip a two-goal advantage to lose to Moroka Swallows.
Those results have put De Sa under pressure, and his cause won’t be helped by the fact that Pirates spent the weekend in the Comoros, fulfilling the second-leg CAF Champions League fixture against Djabal, which the South African champions won 4-0.
“That (win over Djabal) has helped our confidence a bit, but this is still a difficult week for us because we were out of the country, and now we have a situation where we have to play Wednesday and Saturday. But we have no choice but to play well against Celtic because our recent results weren’t good.”
Pirates’ outcomes against Celtic this season haven’t been any better either.
De Sa’s first taste of defeat in Bucs colours, last September, was against Clint Larsen’s side, and Phunya Sele Sele again beat Pirates two months later, mounting an incredible comeback in the Telkom Knockout quarter-final to force a draw and then win on penalties.
“You could definitely say so (that Pirates have a score to settle against Celtic),” De Sa said. “We lost twice to them, although we didn’t play badly on both occasions. We need to make sure that we’re on our toes this time.”
Pirates will be aware of the fact that Celtic do not have a great away record, having won just once on the road this season. Pirates, meanwhile, have not failed to beat Celtic at home in the last four years.
But a leaky defence which let in a total of seven goals against Maluti and Swallows will fill the Free Staters with some hope, especially as Siyabonga Sangweni will still be missing in the Pirates defence.
“He trained on his own (yesterday), but I don’t think he’ll be ready,” De Sa said of the Bafana defender, who is expected to return to action for Saturday’s derby against Chiefs.
Amakhosi, meanwhile, are expected to be without injured Tsepo Masilela for the clash at Chippa, while leading striker Bernard Parker is suspended. Both, however, would give anything to play on the weekend.
Tonight: FS Stars v SuperSport, 6pm; Sundowns v Swallows, Loftus
Tomorrow: Tuks v Ajax, Tuks Stadium; Pirates v Celtic, Orlando; Leopards v Arrows, Peter Mokaba Stadium; AmaZulu v Platinum Stars, Moses Mabhida Stadium; Wits v Maritzburg, Bidvest Stadium; Chippa v Chiefs, Athlone (all matches at 7.30pm unless otherwise stated)
Saturday: Chiefs v Pirates, Soccer City, 3.30pm
Sunday SuperSport v Sundowns, Lucas Moripe Stadium, 3.30pm
P W D L F A Pts
Chiefs 20 12 7 1 37 14 43
Pirates 19 12 4 3 27 12 40
Plat Stars 20 12 2 6 33 21 38
FS Stars 20 8 7 5 19 16 31
Maritzburg 20 7 7 6 20 19 28
Celtic 20 8 4 8 22 22 28
Wits 20 6 8 6 19 22 26
Tuks 20 5 10 5 21 20 25
SuperSport 19 4 12 3 20 16 24
Sundowns 19 5 8 6 16 16 23
Arrows 20 6 5 9 19 22 23
Swallows 20 6 4 10 29 33 22
AmaZulu 20 4 8 8 11 24 20
Leopards 20 3 8 9 22 34 17
Ajax 19 4 5 10 18 32 17
Chippa 20 3 7 10 17 27 16 - The Star