Thu, 24 Sep 2020

Can Chiefs maintain grit in title run?

News24
15 Jan 2020, 22:13 GMT+10

Cape Town - Just past the halfway mark in the 2019/20 Absa Premiership season and Kaizer Chiefs have shown tremendous grit under the guidance of coach Ernst Middendorp.

In his second stint as Amakhosi mentor, the German arrived at Naturena in December 2018, within 24 hours of the Soweto giants having sacked Giovanni Solinas.

A year has since passed and the Glamour Boys (41 points) top the log standings with a healthy 9-point gap over second-placed reigning champions Mamelodi Sundowns (32 points).

However, the Brazilians do have a game in hand and are set to take on Orlando Pirates on Wednesday evening.

It's been five years since their last league crown and Middendorp's charges have been on a mission since the start of the campaign.

Historically five teams have gunned for Premiership top honours in South Africa's top-flight - Chiefs, Sundowns, Pirates, Bidvest Wits and SuperSport United.

Sundowns have been consistent under Pitso Mosimane and the club has not only dominated the league, but has been a force in Africa.

Amakhosi's financial power and hunger for silverware has seen them break the bank on several key players.

Chiefs lured Leonard Castro to Naturena in December 2017 (officially joined in January 2018), before the Soweto giants surprised the football fraternity by securing Khama Billiat's services in June 2018.

Both players arrived from rivals Sundowns.

Also, in 2018, Chiefs signed Lebogang Manyama, who joined the club as a free agent following a failed stint in Turkey.

These three players have now settled in at the club and Chiefs are bearing the fruits of their financial spending.

At the start of the current campaign, Chiefs added another forward to their ranks, Samir Nurkovic, and the 27-year-old Serbian has proved a revelation on the park.

In their 17 matches this season, Chiefs have netted 36 goals with the above-mentioned foursome contributing 21 of those goals.

In any successful title run, an attack is nothing without its line of defence, and Chiefs have been fortunate that their back four have been rock-solid, especially Nigerian goalkeeper Daniel Akpeyi.

Daniel Cardoso and Eric Mathoho have not only been stubborn in the heart of defence, but are contributing goals as well.

The defensive pair have each scored four goals to keep Chiefs in pole position in the league.

Akpeyi has become Amakhosi's undisputed No 1 shot-stopper with Itumeleng Khune taking the role as his understudy.

So far in the current campaign, the Super Eagles star has made 14 appearances with seven clean sheets.

Middendorp's experience has come to the fore with a solid foundation to which Chiefs' players are reacting superbly to.

The 61-year-old's demeanour this season has been relatively cool and calm when questioned by the South African media.

"I've said it before that I'm not counting the points," Middendorp said following Chiefs' victory over City last Sunday.

"The focus is on the game just past and the game immediately ahead of us. The results are a sign of our confidence. It's all about doing the basics.

"Actually‚ this might surprise you, but I think our best game of the three, since the new year, was the loss to SuperSport. It is not always the result that tells us what happens on the field."

Chiefs' ability to bounce back from that 2-1 defeat by beating Highlands Park 3-0 in front of thousands of Amakhosi fans at FNB Stadium on the occasion of the club's 50th birthday celebration, says something about Middendorp's charges.

They are serious about ending the club's major trophy drought and winning the 'Big Fish' - as Mosimane once dubbed the league title.

Chiefs followed up that victory with another convincing 3-0 win over Cape Town City, with Castro getting an early goal (11th minute) before midway through the second half, Nurkovic (65th) and Mathoho (67th) sealed the three points.

Last season, Chiefs' bitter arch-rivals, the Buccaneers, came close to clinching the Premiership title.

However, a 2-2 draw against Cape Town City in their penultimate league clash saw the Brazilians snatch the league crown away from the Soweto giants.

History could well repeat itself this campaign with none of the chasing pack likely to give up on winning the title.

One wrong result and things could change Amakhosi's fortunes.

Chiefs have momentum on their side and Middendorp is a man on a mission in keeping his charges mentality intact with hopes of the club celebrating under a rain of confetti come May.

KAIZER CHIEFS' REMAINING ABSA PREMIERSHIP MATCHES:

Black Leopards - Saturday, January 18

Golden Arrows - Saturday, January 25

Maritzburg United - Saturday, February 15

Orlando Pirates - Saturday, February 29

AmaZulu - Saturday, March 7

Bidvest Wits - Wednesday, March 18

Polokwane City - Saturday, March 21

Bloemfontein Celtic - Sunday, April 5

Stellenbosch - Saturday, April 11

Mamelodi Sundowns - Wednesday, April 15

Bidvest Wits - Friday, April 24

Chippa United - Wednesday, May 6

Baroka - Saturday, May 9

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