The ultimate showdown in the run-in for the Absa Premiership title sees Kaizer Chiefs, who are looking to end their five-year drought of silverware, host reigning champions, Mamelodi Sundowns, at a football ground which is home to their bitter rivals, the Orlando Stadium.
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With so much at stake for both teams, games simply do not get bigger than this in the league, and with this fixture coming at the most crucial stage of the season, now would be the perfect time for either side to win this match and kick on as they look to grab hold of the title.
Thursday 27 August
Kaizer Chiefs 13/10
Mamelodi Sundowns 2/1
After almost a year sitting at the top of the table, Kaizer Chiefs have come under immense pressure since the restart of football, struggling for consistency which has also got the football world questioning head coach, Ernst Middendorp, and his fairly predictable tactics.
The Glamour Boys have won just a single game since the beautiful game returned in Mzansi, coming from two goals down to beat Polokwane City 3-2. Even then, there were more negatives than positives to take from that encounter against a side who are threatened by relegation.
Perhaps the break came at the worst possible time for Chiefs, which has seen their rhythm disrupted, while Middendorp’s head remains on the chopping block, despite punching above his weight with a team that has struggled to win silverware in recent years and finished in the top three just once since the club last won the league in 2015.
One can only suggest that the football brand he comes with is not pleasing on the eye to the Amakhosi faithful, with many of the club’s big players failing to live up to their usual standards, most notably former Sundowns superstar, Khama Billiat, who has scored just once this season.
Chiefs have heavily relied on set-pieces and utilising their target man up front, but will be without their star duo, Samir Nurkovic and former Masandawana forward, Leonardo Castro, who are out due to suspension and injury respectively.
Now, Middendorp will have to depend on the likes of a misfiring Billiat, an aging Bernard Parker, and a Lazarous Kambole who has failed to convince that he is worthy of getting Chiefs back to their glory days.
It certainly doesn’t look good for Kaizer Chiefs here, but they haven’t been on top of the log for so long only to be undermined with four matches to go. The Glamour Boys might just have a trick up their sleeve on the day.
After a rocky, slow start to the restart of the campaign, Mamelodi Sundowns look to be slowly finding their rhythm. The two-time defending champions, looking for their 10th “La Decima” crown, look to have found their groove, and with an almost-fully fit squad, they seem to be on the right track.
Despite closing the gap to three points with a victory over Golden Arrows on Monday, their current goal difference suggests that the league is still in Kaizer Chiefs’ hands, whether Sundowns win on Thursday or not.
Its over the remaining three games where pressure will start to mount.
As Pitso Mosimane once indicated during previous title run-ins, his side are more than capable of winning five in a row, and after they had Arrows on the backfoot and showed the mark of champions when they scored late through Themba Zwane, you certainly can’t rule it out.
In terms of personnel, Masandawana will still be without Ricardo Nascimento, who serves his final match of suspension, while Andile Jali is set to return in midfield.
Jali has been the talk of the town since football restarted in the bio-bubble, firstly with accusations regarding alcohol abuse, then with the fact that he had been left out on a number of occasions while the team clearly missed him in midfield.
Regardless of his return, there’s still a massive headache selection for Mosimane to deal with. He’s likely to stick with the ever-reliable Hlompho Kekana, while it would be the biggest injustice to drop Rivaldo Coetzee off the back of his superb performance against Arrows.
In attack, it proved to be a great decision to give Zwane, Lebohang Maboe and Sibusiso Vilakazi a rest as Phakamani Mahlambi and Jose Ali Meza gave Mosimane a different kind of option in attack.
Sundowns definitely have the quality to punish Chiefs on Thursday, and after two fairly impressive performances against Maritzburg United and Arrows, they will come into this game high on confidence as this club have been in this position before and come out as the winners in the end.
Kaizer Chiefs: 3-5-2
Akpeyi; Mathoho, Cardoso, Agay; Moleko, Katsande, Ntshangase, Parker, Frosler; Billiat, Kambole.
Mamelodi Sundowns: 4-2-2-2
Mweene; Ngcongca, Madisha, Lebusa, Langerman; Kekana, Coetzee; Zwane, Mkhulise; Sirino, Vilakazi.
Prediction: Mamelodi Sundowns (2/1)
We’re in the endgame now and its certainly looking like Sundowns’ time to shine. Chiefs are yet to win me over, and until Sundowns’ last two displays in the league, I wasn’t convinced by them either. Now, looking at how Masandawana performed once they got their team selection right against Maritzburg and how they followed that up against Arrows, suggests that I can only be team Sundowns for this one. The underdog price at 2/1 is something we should look to take advantage of as well.
Written by Jesse Nagel