There’s A Long Way To Go
We are in to the final stretch of the league with just 10 games remaining. At present Mamelodi Sundowns are firmly in the lead as they head into the final corner and onto the home straight. As I pen this column, they are a full eight points ahead of Kaizer Chiefs and seven ahead of Bidvest Wits. Based on the fact that they have won more games, scored more goals and conceded fewer goals than their pursuers, they are certainly worth their lead. Add to that the fact that Pitso Mosimane has his star players firing and his whole team playing some delightful football, and one would think the league is all but done and dusted. But is it…?
Depending on Chiefs’ result this evening (Tuesday) the gap could be closed to just five points. Considering Amakhosi are up against a floundering Polokwane City, this should be business as usual. Sundowns’ next game is against the high-flying Mpumalanga Black Aces, who are currently fourth in the league and probably still feel like they have an outside chance of winning the league should they go on a good run. Wits are up against relegation-bound Maritzburg United and the match should be a doddle for Gavin Hunt’s men, who are in top gear and within sniffing distance of Pitso and his charges.
Looking at the run-in, all three of the current top teams face five opponents in the top half of the table and five in the bottom half, so in terms of the ease with which they will be able to navigate the home stretch, it is pretty much even. However, Sundowns will have to navigate three potential league-deciders and if there are potential banana skins for the Brazilians, these could be them.
On the 1st of March, Sundowns travel away from home to take part in what has become a fiercely contested Tshwane Derby. New SuperSport United coach Stuart Baxter will be looking to win the confidence of his club and his supporters in this one, and ironically would be doing his bit to help Chiefs retain the league title he won for them if he can take points away from Sundowns. Then, on the 30th of April, Sundowns will host Kaizer Chiefs at home in what will be a massive game in terms of deciding where the league title ends up. If Chiefs are able to maintain the pressure up until that fixture, a win for them could cause massive damage to Sundowns’ campaign hopes in what is essentially a six pointer. On the other hand, a loss would all but see Chiefs’ title hopes disappear.
But that’s not the only hazard ahead for Sundowns as they head for home. On the 11th of May they then have the daunting task of facing Gavin Hunt and his Wits away from home in another six pointer that, depending on which way it goes, could again throw the league wide open.
Now, purists will say that it is not the games against each other that will decide the final resting place of the PSL league title but rather the games against everyone else and, if this were the start of a league campaign, I would agree. But with 10 games to go, I feel these three hurdles facing Sundowns will play a massive role in deciding whether they are able to finish what they have begun. The good news for Sundowns’ fans is (when looking to the first round to see what Sundowns did in these three fixtures) that they walked away with seven points by beating SuperSport 2-0, Wits 4-2 and managing a 0-0 stalemate against Chiefs. If they can repeat a similar points haul, there is no doubt the title will be theirs.
Sundowns’ fans may accuse me of being cheeky here and looking to find ways for Sundowns to lose the league, but that’s not the case at all. Sundowns have been head and shoulders above everyone this season and would be deserved champions of the PSL. What I’m trying to illustrate is how exciting this league race still is! A lot of fans point to the English Premiership as the best league in the world because you never know who is going to win it, and currently it is still up for the taking. Likewise, this season the PSL has thrown us huge surprise packages, with the likes of Aces, Platinum Stars and Chippa creating almost as much of a wow factor as Leicester City and Tottenham Hotspur are doing atop the EPL.
As we head into this final stretch, the chasing pack will no doubt look at campaigns from yesteryear, where league leaders have been and pipped to the post. Locally, Chiefs will remember the 2013/14 campaign, when Sundowns came from behind to haul them in and snatch the title from them. Ironically, in that season it was the last 10 games of the season that was the telling factor for Downs.
Then there was the famous run-in of games in 1987, which saw Kaizer Chiefs needing one point from their final four games to win the title, which they failed to do, losing all four games instead and literally handing the league to Cosmos.
Sundowns are favourites by far, but there are still a lot of points left to play for.