ABSA Premiership: Four horse title race goes down to the wire

The nation’s soccer lovers will need to fasten their seat belts and brace themselves for an emotional roller coaster. We are set for an exciting close of the season. In the top six‚ Pirates have 40 points from 23 games‚ Mamelodi Sundowns have 40 from 22‚ Cape Town City 39 from 23‚ Bidvest Wits 38 from 22.
— Siphosethu Thwala, FirstTouch Africa

Premier League football around the globe is hitting its penultimate moment characterized by competitiveness for the title. In South Africa’s ABSA premiership, it is no different. The Absa Premiership campaign is heading towards an exciting climax with several teams having a mathematical chance of winning the league title.

Going into Gameweek 23, Soweto giants, Orlando Pirates are currently top the table alongside rivals Mamelodi Sundowns as both sides sit on 40 points with seven and eight games to play respectively. Next is Cape Town City who are third with 39 points while Bidvest Wits’ recent form has seen them slip from top spot to fourth, on 38 points from 22 matches. Several of the Absa Premiership’s top sides still have to play each other over the course of what will be an exhilarating few weeks in the South African top-flight, with the Buccaneers and Brazilians set to battle it out in what could potentially be a title-deciding fixture at the end of April. Below we look at the run-in and assesses each team’s prospects of winning the coveted prize.

Orlando Pirates

One may be quick to think that the log leaders have it easy going into the last stretch of the remaining season. That is however not the case. Looking at their title run in, the Bucs still have to play all three of their title rivals in the next two months, starting with a matchup against Bidvest Wits, then a crunch fixture against Sundowns on May 5 before playing Cape Town City a week later. They face the toughest title run-in compared to the rest of the teams. Mind you, Pirates are still part of the CAF Champions league tournament as well, something that may hamper their domestic run-in. Juggling their Premiership assignments with continental duties still on their minds could be massively taxing. Perhaps the biggest motivation for Pirates is the pain of not having any silverware for the past five seasons, and as such, they may want to put a stop to that by going all the way. Do they have the capacity and depth to win it? I say yes.

Mamelodi Sundowns

Orlando Pirates celebrate winning the Absa Premiership Final match against Golden Arrows at Orlando Stadium on May 21, 2011 in Soweto, South Africa.  (May 20, 2011 - Source: Gallo Images/Getty Images Europe)

Orlando Pirates celebrate winning the Absa Premiership Final match against Golden Arrows at Orlando Stadium on May 21, 2011 in Soweto, South Africa.

(May 20, 2011 - Source: Gallo Images/Getty Images Europe)

Abafana Ba style, as they are fondly known, are now used to such circumstances, having won the league twice in the past three seasons. They certainly know what it takes to deliver at the most critical time. They are no doubt the favourites to land the title for various reasons. These include the fact that Sundowns have played a game less than Pirates, and if they were to win that game, it would give them a three-point cushion going into the remaining seven fixtures. Moreover, it is an open secret that Sundowns has the most depth compared to the rest of the teams in the league, and that on its own gives them options to rotate their squad in the coming busy period. However, the Brazilians also somewhat face a similar predicament as Orlando Pirates. They too are still competing in the CAF Champions League and that might disrupt their title charge. Either way, Pitso Mosimane’s side will be hoping they replicate their heroics where they won both the ABSA Premier League and the CAF Champions League in the same season. Looking at their remaining fixtures, Downs do not have it easy. Amongst others, they are still to face cross-town rivals SuperSport United before the potential title decider against Pirates in their penultimate match of the season.

Cape Town City FC

If anyone had ruled Cape Town City out of this season’s Absa Premiership title race, then their win against Mamelodi Sundowns last night would no doubt have changed their minds. Their 2-1 resounding victory over fellow title rivals Mamelodi Sundowns blew the race wide open. The Citizens came from a goal down to register a memorable 2-1 victory over the defending champions, thanks to brilliant goals from Kermit Erasmus and new signing Chris David. The victory came barely a week after Sundowns had beaten Cape Town City 3-2 in the reverse fixture.

Pitso Mosimane of Mamelodi Sundowns reacts during the Absa Premiership match between Mamelodi Sundowns and Maritzburg United at Loftus Stadium on December 20, 2013 in Pretoria, South Africa.  (Dec. 19, 2013 - Source: Gallo Images/Getty Images Europe)

Pitso Mosimane of Mamelodi Sundowns reacts during the Absa Premiership match between Mamelodi Sundowns and Maritzburg United at Loftus Stadium on December 20, 2013 in Pretoria, South Africa.

(Dec. 19, 2013 - Source: Gallo Images/Getty Images Europe)

It is no doubt that Coach Benni McCarthy used the January transfer window wisely, signing Kermit Erasmus and Thato Mokeke, two players who are already making a big impact in the side. Erasmus has bagged three goals in as many matches, while Mokeke is doing an immense job in midfield. New man Chris David, who was signed last week, showed the quality he possesses with a brilliant goal against Sundowns and much more will be expected from him in the final few months of the campaign.

Other than hosting Pirates in their penultimate league match of the season‚ City appear to have the best run-in of all the teams in the title race‚ at least on paper. Nonetheless, judging by the fluidity of the results this season‚ nothing is certain and there will be more twists in this race. Still, the scales seem to be tipped in City’s favour if one considers the fact that unlike title rivals Pirates and Sundowns‚ they (City) don’t have to worry about the Champions League. Nonetheless, City still have some tricky fixtures against the likes of Polokwane City and Bloemfontein Celtic that may prove daunting.

Bidvest Wits

Another team that is not to be ruled out of the title contention is Bidvest Wits, the 2017 champions, who sit on fourth place and just two points behind Pirates. Interestingly, Wits had been top of the league for a period dating back to the time before Christmas until the end of February when they were dethroned by Sundowns. Worse, Wits’ loss against Cape Town City also dented the club’s title hopes as it set them back two points adrift the log leaders and will therefore be banking on their remaining league games to have a shot to claim another title. That said, the Students as they are popularly known, will be banking on their remaining league games to have a go at the prospect of winning the league again. However, Wits also face a tough title run-in encompassed by tough fixtures including matches against Pirates and Supersport United.

Bidvest Wits coach Gavin Hunt has described the Absa Premiership title race as “crazy”, due to the inconsistency of clubs currently battling it out for the biggest prize in local football. Wits dropped points yet again over the weekend, squandering the two-goal lead they had at half-time to lose 3-2 to fellow title challengers Cape Town City at Bidvest Stadium on Saturday.

Conclusion

Title run-ins surely don’t get any better than this. The nation's soccer lovers will need to fasten their seat belts and brace themselves for an emotional roller coaster. We are set for an exciting close of the season. In the top six‚ Pirates have 40 points from 23 games‚ Mamelodi Sundowns have 40 from 22‚ Cape Town City 39 from 23‚ Bidvest Wits 38 from 22. Which fixtures are you most looking forward to in the Absa Premiership title run-in?