JOHANNESBURG - Baroka FC have appeared a closed book to at least two of their opponents in the PSL campaign so far. And Kaizer Chiefs will not be an exception when coach Giovanni Solinas leads his charges at the Peter Mokaba Stadium in Polokwane on Tuesday night to face a side which has not only brought in a new man at the helm in Wedson Nyirenda, but have almost completely changed the look of the team.
Following their close brush with relegation last season, a 14th-place finish that forced management to do some serious introspection, 15 new players were signed to afford Nyirenda, coincidentally a former Chiefs striker, to start from scratch.
Baroka lost to AmaZulu in their league opener earlier this month, but made up for it with a home win over Cape Town City four days later. One of their new recruits is Emmanuel Letlotlo, a loanee from Chiefs who is ineligible to play against his parent club. It is due to these dynamics that Solinas, fresh from his first victory as Amakhosi coach at the weekend, is wary of the trip to Limpopo.
“We can’t underestimate them,” the Italian mentor said. “For me there is no easy game in this league. Every game is a battle, difficult and tough. Baroka is a good team. They beat Cape Town City 2-1 in the last game and everyone knows City is a strong team.”
Solinas has already been given a rude awakening since taking over the reins at Amakhosi, first managing a satisfactory 1-1 draw against defending league champions Mamelodi Sundowns before Chiefs were taken apart by Bidvest Wits in a 3-1 defeat at FNB Stadium last Tuesday.
Amakhosi bounced back on Saturday to progress to the semifinals of the MTN8 at the expense of Free State Stars, beating them 3-0. But Solinas must try and replicate that performance against plucky Baroka.
“They have a big advantage because they didn’t play (on the weekend of the MTN8) and got to rest. They are fresh,” Solinas argued. “That is a big advantage. We are going to be traveling after playing on Saturday night and this means there is no time to recover. I must now check my players and make the decision, try to refresh the squad because we have played three games in seven days. Maybe we need a little bit of rotation...”
The coach had made four changes in the starting line-up of the side that thrashed Stars - an attempt to get a positive reaction from the Wits defeat. Siphiwe Tshabalala, Erick Mathoho and Bernard Parker were left on the bench, while goalkeeper and captain Itumeleng Khune was excused completely from the match day squad to spend time with his girlfriend Sbahle Mpisane, who was in ICU after an horrific car crash on Thursday.
“To improve we need more training sessions, but we don’t have that right now because we are playing twice or three times a week,” said Solinas. “I have great respect for Baroka, so we need focus. We need to go there and play with personality, concentration and we should not lose our idea. But it will be a tough game.”
One guaranteed change for Chiefs will be that of winger Joseph Molangoane. He was rushed to hospital on Saturday night having suffered a broken ankle from a tackle with Stars hardman Makhehleni Makhaula. It looks unlikely that Molangoane will play for Chiefs again this season.