Sundowns' Oupa Manyisa challenges Willard Katsande of Kaizer Chiefs in the opening game of the Premiership. Photo: Muzi Ntombela/BackpagePix

Mamelodi Sundowns (1) 1

Nascimento 25' (pen)   

Kaizer Chiefs (1) 1

Mphahlele 8'

With a new coach that’s hardly had time to settle and had been pleading for patience as he begins his tenure prior to this Absa Premiership opener, Kaizer Chiefs weren’t as vulnerable as it was expected against Mamelodi Sundowns, the defending champions.

In fact, Giovanni Solinas’ men were just about on par with the Brazilians here in front of a packed crowd. But whether that sets the tone for both clubs for the rest of the 2018-19 season is another topic altogether.

Sundowns are viewed by many as favourites to retain their title and there were suggestions in the build-up that they would prove just how much of a gap there is between them and Amakhosi, who only announced the appointment of their Italian mentor several days before they began pre-season.

How Chiefs would shape up for this encounter dominated talking points, with the coach not afforded the opportunity to explain his methods to the press as he battled to get a work permit in time to sit in the dugout for this match.

Would he stick with the 3-5-2 formation used by his predecessor Steve Komphela last season or would he go for the traditional 4-4-2 system and play it safe? In the end Solinas went with the latter – a flat back four, pairing Daniel Cardoso and Erick Mathoho together at centreback, while Ramahlwe Mphahlele – who scored the opener in the eighth minute – and young Siphosakhe Ntiya-Ntiya were deployed at right and left back respectively.

Perhaps the surprise from the new man in charge was seeing Siphelele Ntshangase starting as the creative mind in midfield to support Leonardo Castro and Khama Billiat upfront. Veterans Siphiwe Tshabalala and Bernard Parker were played out wide. There could be more changes in the coming games – Solinas has hardly had a proper look at what he has in his disposal.

In contrast, his counterpart Pitso Mosimane at Sundowns is a lot more comfortable as he enters his sixth full season at the club.

But he, too, is having to make some adjustments, and it showed.

The Brazilians made just a single change to the side that beat AS Togo-Port in the CAF Champions League group stage clash last weekend to keep their hopes of advancing to the quarterfinals alive. Lyle Lakay displaced Tebogo Langerman from the leftback position in what might be more of a regular feature this season – the former Cape Town City player was brought in to give Langerman competition.

Sundowns didn’t have the ideal start when Gaston Sirino was disposed off the ball by Mphahlele and punished for his error, but this goal was cancelled out by Ricardo Nascimento before half time as he coolly converted from the penalty spot after Daniel Cardoso fouled striker Jeremy Brockie in the box.

Overall the two sides appeared evenly matched, but Sundowns always tend to show Chiefs a bit of respect in this fixture, coach Mosimane always mindful of the fact that Amakhosi rise to the occasion against them.

The opening few minutes looked like they would set up a thriller to roll up the curtain on a new campaign, but the performance faded with the sun as they shared the spoils. Solinas can breathe a little, but there’s much work ahead for a men who had not held a job for at least a year before he got the phone call to come coach one of the biggest clubs in Africa.


 IOL Sport

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