Our football writer takes a look at the teams challenging for the 2016/17 South African PSL title in an in-depth outright preview for the new campaign.
Finally! The 2016/17 Absa Premiership is upon us. Mamelodi Sundowns are strong favourites to retain their title, while Kaizer Chiefs, Orlando Pirates, SuperSport United and Bidvest Wits will fancy their chances. Newly-promoted sides Baroka FC and Highlands Park will add more competition this season, while the PSL's newest club, Cape Town City, will be looking to take the league by storm. With new players, coaches and new teams, it promises to be an exciting and very competitive season, but I know just who will be crowned champions. The doctor knows best...
To Win Outright
Sundowns 18/10 | Chiefs 7/2 | Pirates 4/1| SuperSport 10/1 | Wits 12/1 | Cape Town City 20/1
Mamelodi Sundowns (18/10)
Having won the Absa Premiership by a canter last season – beating nearest rivals Bidvest Wits by 14 points – Mamelodi Sundowns are strong favourites to repeat that feat. Pitso Mosimane, who guided Downs to their seventh PSL title, was awarded a new long-term deal in June. The Brazilians played some scintillating football, scoring a remarkable 55 goals thanks to the ‘CBD’ trio of Leandro Castro, Khama Billiat and Keagan Dolly. Billiat in particular was instrumental for Downs and was deservedly voted South Africa Player of the Season. While the ‘CBD’ wreaked havoc in the PSL, the champions were rock-solid in defence, conceding the least amount of goals (20) and keeping 17 clean sheets.
After a lengthy spell on the sidelines last season, Bongani Zungu has departed with midfielders Lucky Mohomi and Sibusiso Vilakazi joining from Free State Stars and Bidvest Wits respectively. This Sundowns side is amongst Africa’s best and they could dominate the Absa Premiership for the next couple of years. It is going to be extremely difficult for any team to stop them.
Kaizer Chiefs (7/2)
It was an underwhelming season for the 2014/15 champions who finished fourth in the Absa Premiership, 25 points off champions Mamelodi Sundowns. Steve Komphela will be expected to deliver the goods in his second season and repay the club who have shown a lot of faith in him. Amakhosi have released a large amount of players including Reyaad Pieterse and Reneilwe Letsholonyane, which paved a way for a host of new players. Chiefs have added Keagan Buchanan, Enocent Mkhabela, Sibusiso Khumalo, Emmanuel Letlotlo (promoted), Zambian striker Lewis Macha, Zimbabwean duo Mitchell Katsvairo and Edmore Chirambadare.
The talent there is undeniable but with that many changes in the team, the players might need some time to gel together. The likes of Willard Katsande, George Lebese and Siphiwe Tshabalala will need to step up this season if Chiefs are to have any chance of claiming their 13th league title. If Amakhosi can find the same rhythm they showed in the Carling Black Label Cup on a consistent basis – where they beat Pirates 2-0 – they will be strong contenders.
Orlando Pirates (4/1)
Words can barely describe the magnitude of Orlando Pirates’ 2014-15 season. Catastrophic, shambolic, outrageous are a few that come close. It was a crazy season at Orlando Stadium to say the very least but Muhsin Ertugral is ready to rumble for Pirates. Ertugral, who replaced Eric Tinkler, will be tasked with rebuilding the Buccaneers and quickly turning them into title contenders. There are a lot of bruised egos and players eager to impress at Pirates after a campaign in which they left it to the final day of the season to earn their place in the MTN8 competition.
The Buccaneers have got rid of the deadwood, while signing a host of talent including former Ajax Cape Town duo Riyaad Norodien and Abbubaker Mobara. Thabiso Kutumela is another exciting addition whose goals got Baroka FC promoted to the PSL. There’s no doubt Pirates will be much stronger this season and if they have a good start, they could mount a serious title challenge.
SuperSport United (10/1)
Stuart Baxter found a group of players low on confidence when he joined in January as Gordon Igesund's successor. He slowly changed the mood at the club and although he would have hoped to finish higher than 8th place, he can be proud of the impact he made in five months. Baxter led Matsatsantsa to Nedbank Cup glory, defeating Orlando Pirates 3-2 at Peter Mokaba Stadium. The former Chiefs coach will be hungry for success and with the signings of Reneilwe Letsholonyane, Keegan Ritchie, Reyaad Pieterse, Thabo Mnyamane and Cole Alexander, the season looks very promising for Matsatsantsa.
Whether they can mount a title challenge though, I’m not so sure. Matsatsantsa will need their best players to be their best players. The form of Dean Furman, Jeremy Brockie, Bradley Grobler and Thuso Phala are crucial to their chances.
Bidvest Wits (12/1)
Bidvest Wits have gone from strength to strength under Gavin Hunt. Since he took charge of the Braamfontein-based club in 2013, the Students have finished third in consecutive seasons (2013/14 & 2014/15) and were Sundowns' biggest threat for the title last season, finishing runners-up. Hunt will be hoping his side can go one better and win the Absa Premiership this season. Sibusiso Vilakazi’s departure to Sundowns is a massive loss, but the Students were at least clever to include Cuthbert Malajila and Mogakolodi Ngele in that deal. Malajila will add to the firepower up front, while Ngele will add some guile to the midfield.
Wits have also signed Eleazar Rodgers from Platinum Stars, and have Gabadinho Mhango back from Golden Arrows – where he was on loan. Hunt has reinforced his last line of defence with the arrival of their former goalkeeper Darren Keet from Belgium. Along with James Keene, Daine Klate and Phakamani Mahlambi, Wits should be title contenders.
Cape Town City (20/1)
John Comitis bought the PSL franchise of Mpumalanga Black Aces and relocated the team to the Mother City, changing the name to Cape Town City. Comitis and his head coach, Eric Tinkler, have worked feverishly and quickly in assembling a squad capable of being competitive in their debut PSL campaign. City have signed a host of new players, including top striker Lehlohonolo Majoro from Orlando Pirates. Majoro has experience and with his prowess in front of goal,
City will be optimistic about the 2016/17 season. Other notable additions are veteran defender Robyn Johannes, Tsepho Gumede and Australian defender Matt Sim. Tinkler has a lot to prove as a manager, but he could benefit from having a hungry new team looking to make their mark in the PSL.
The New Boys And How They Will Cope
Baroka FC (100/1)
Baroka won the National First Division last season, pipping Highlands Park to the title and automatic qualification to the Premier League and along the way, also featured in the semi-finals of the Nedbank Cup, where they lost to eventual winners, SuperSport United. This will be Baroka’s first season in the PSL and they will look to set it alight.
Bakgaga have become famous for a vibrant style of play, upsetting big teams in the top division and mostly for making bold statements about their aspirations. The players genuinely believe that they are good enough to challenge for all the silverware on offer this campaign. However, the loss of last season’s top scorer Thabiso Kutumela is a massive blow. Nevertheless, Baroka will punch above their weight this season and a top-eight finish might even be achievable.
Highlands Park (150/1)
Highlands Park secured PSL promotion via the Play-offs, beating Mbombela United twice (3-0 and 2-0) and University of Pretoria 1-0 at home, before drawing goalless in Tshwane. Allan Freese’s side are expected to take the Absa Premiership by storm this season after a host of experienced signings.
The new players include the high-profile capture of Mpumalanga Black Aces striker Collins Mbesuma‚ who was last season’s top goal-scorer, fellow forward Charlton Mashumba and midfielders Thanduyise Khuboni and Eddie Ngalo. With those additions, Highlands Park will not be thinking of relegation and a top 10 finish might be on the cards for the Lions of the North.
Verdict: Sundowns (18/10)
Sundowns are not just the best team in the league, but the best in Africa right now. They’re rock-solid defensively and deadly offensively, thanks to the lethal CBD trio. With Vila joining Pitso’s side, they only become more formidable. They’ll win the league this season but Pirates will push them all the way.
Doctor’s Orders 2016/17 Table Predictions
1. Mamelodi Sundowns
2. Orlando Pirates
3. Bidvest Wits
4. Kaizer Chiefs
5. SuperSport United
6. Platinum Stars
7. Bloemfontein Celtic
8. Baroka FC
9. Cape Town City
10. Highlands Park
11. Chippa United
12. Ajax Cape Town
13. Maritzburg United
14. Polokwane City
15. Golden Arrows
16. Free State Stars