CAPE TOWN - Taariq Fielies is back from suspension and his availability has left Cape Town City coach Benni McCarthy with a bit of a selection quandary.
With Kwanda Mngonyama and Tshepo Gumede turning in excellent performances in the club’s last two fixtures - 1-0 wins over Wits in the Nedbank Cup and Young Buffaloes in the CAF Confederation Cup - the former Bafana Bafana striker has a big decision to make.
The question is: Will McCarthy stick with the form men at the back, or does he bring Fielies back into the team at the expense of either Mngonyama or Gumede?
Coaches, they say, love having selection headaches, so City’s McCarthy is likely to have a really painful one as he contemplates who to play in the centre of defence against Kaizer Chiefs on Saturday night.
The two teams meet in a PSL fixture at the FNB Stadium in Johannesburg (kickoff 8.15pm), and it’s a game City can ill-afford to lose. In short, defeat signals an end to any pretensions they have of challenging for the PSL title. As it stands, Mamelodi Sundowns top the log with 38 points, followed by Orlando Pirates on 33, Free State Stars 32, and City and Chiefs both on 31 points. If the Capetonians are to stay in the race, then victory is paramount.
But, with Chiefs boasting Leonardo Castro and the in-form Ryan Moon in attack, and veterans Bernard Parker and Siphiwe Tshabalala as sprightly as ever, City’s defence will have to be at the top of their game to keep Amakhosi at bay.
McCarthy’s selection headache could, in fact, have been worse, had captain Robyn Johannes been available to play against Chiefs. Two weeks ago, McCarthy lost his number one pairing in central defence, Johannes and Fielies - Johannes to a red card (two-game ban) and Fielies for his fourth booking of the season (one match suspension). In their absence, new man Mngonyama and Gumede produced solid displays in keeping clean sheets against Wits and Buffaloes.
Johannes has one more game to sit out, but Fielies is back in contention. So what does McCarthy do? It’s a tough call - but, as they say, these are the type of decisions coaches live for - and, at the same time it’s these decisions that win or lose football games. McCarthy will have to think deeply and carefully about the decision because he is fully aware that, ultimately, whatever he decides, it will have a major impact on the outcome.
As for the opposition, it’s the type of fixture McCarthy loves. Not only is it a stage for players to rise to the occasion, it’s also an opportunity for a coach to test himself, with regard to tactics and all-round game preparation.
“They’ve (Chiefs) done well in recent times, which is why they find themselves close to the top,” said McCarthy. “We know we can expect a more open match than the last time we faced them. It was a time when they weren’t doing so well, which made the match a little bit cagey, but this time around they are in a much better place and they are playing at home. But this adds to the importance of the match for us, because we want to get back into that second spot, though we have to depend on one or two other results as well.”
City won’t lack for confidence, considering their recent form. And, if there’s one thing everybody knows about McCarthy, it’s that he loves the big occasion. In the PSL, one such big occasion is a football match against Chiefs - and the City coach is relishing the opportunity.
“We are obviously delighted to have won our last two matches coming into this one,” said McCarthy. “Playing Chiefs now, our confidence is high and I don’t think I need to motivate my boys any further. It’s natural that they’ll be pumped up for the fight; we’ve been decent on the road, so, of course, we’ll look to continue that form.”