The ABSA Prem currently has one of the world's best title races this season. Who has the best chance of winning?
Where are we now?
One would argue that a league whereby it takes the final day of the season to decide the league champions speaks of the high level of competitiveness in that league. Such is the case with the South African Absa Premier League. The 2018/2019 Absa Premiership season has been nothing short of excitement and thrills. With 29 games played and one game remaining, it is still unclear who will walk away as the champions of the 2018/2019 season. Similar to the English Premier League where Liverpool and Manchester City are battling it out for the title, it is still unclear on who will win the Absa premiership title between Orlando Pirates and Mamelodi Sundowns respectively.
League leaders Orlando Pirates' Absa Premiership title run was dealt a major blow when they drew 2-2 with Cape Town City on match-day 29 of the season, failing to take full advantage of Mamelodi Sundowns' commitments in the CAF Champions League. The result moved the Buccaneers only a point ahead of second placed Sundowns who have a game in hand over their title rivals, heading into the final week of the 2018-19 season. As things stand, Pirates are on 54 points from 29 league matches, and while they will have to win their final game of the season to stand any realistic chance of winning the title, Sundowns could possibly spoil the party knowing that winning both their remaining two games will see them retain the title.
For Bafana BaStyle, the league title is now a priority particularly after bowing out of the CAF Champions League at the hands of a 2-1 aggregate loss to Morocco’s Wydad Casablanca in the semi-finals. Taking this into consideration, Sundowns know that they will have to salvage their season by doing all they can to defend their PSL crown.
Just like the two English Premier League giants
Similar to Liverpool, Pirates boast of a rich winning history, however, the club has not won the league since the 2011/2012 season. As such, winning the league title would bring back the glory days at Amabhakabhaka and should be a confidence booster for the club. On the other hand, Sundowns’ recent exit from the CAF champions league means the Absa premiership title is the team’s last shot at any hopes of salvaging some silverware this season. Thus, Masandawana would want to defend the title that they have won three times in the last five seasons. Sundowns arguably have the best squad and the best coach in South Africa if not across all the continent just like Man City, and their financial muscles have contributed immensely in ensuring that they challenge for trophies on all fronts.
Much like Manchester City, Sundowns’ season has been playing catch up to Pirates for the better part of the season due to commitments in the CAF Champions League. Playing in Africa, comprising of long distance travels for the club has evidently slowed down Sundowns’ momentum in the league. However, being a team filled with depth and comprising of quality players, the Brazilians have been able to grind out results in the toughest of situations, enough to keep them in the title race. Now, with the loss to Moroccan giants Wydad Casablanca in the CAF Champions League semi-final signalling the end of their hopes for a second star, Masandawana have shifted focus back to the domestic league title where they stand a good chance of grabbing some elusive silverware.
The top in-form players
With Pirates coach Milutin Sredojevic’s troops chasing their first PSL title in seven years, a number of players have been instrumental in the Bucs’ impressive season. One of the players at the heart of the Buccaneers’ title surge has arguably been Thembinkhosi Lorch. The 25-year old has dished out a series of stellar performances in the 2018/2019 season. To his reward, Lorch has managed to bag six goals and five assists in the league. Worth noting, Lorch’s 11 goal contributions account for over a quarter of Pirates' 39 goals this season showing how instrumental he has been for the ‘Sea Robbers’. Apart from Lorch, the likes of Xola Mlambo and Vincent Pule have also chipped in with big performances for the Sea Robbers during the course of the season.
On the other hand, players like Hlompho Kekana and Lebohang Maboe have been equally crucial for Mamelodi Sundowns, considering the large amount of games the team has had to play due to their participation in the CAF Champions league. Hlompho Kekana has been a model of consistency this campaign for Sundowns. He has remarkably missed just one league game‚ and the only time he came off the bench to play was in the Nedbank Cup Last 32 defeat to Chippa United. Kekana has started 27 league games‚ three in the domestic cups and 17 in the Champions League‚ a measure of his incredible stamina and ability to stay injury-free. As the team’s captain, Kekana’s leadership at the centre of the field have helped Sundowns grind out results even when playing a “less exciting” brand of football, something that Jose Mourinho would attribute as a champions’ mentality. Similarly, Lebohang Maboe has been lethal in front of goal for Bafana Ba Style and it is without a surprise that he is the club’s top goal scorer with eight league goals and six assists in 25 matches.
With the Absa Premiership title race going down to the wire Orlando Pirates, Mamelodi Sundowns and Bidvest Wits all have a chance to finish as champions. It is safe to say that the league is now Sundowns’ to lose particularly after Pirates’ draw with Cape Town City in their penultimate game of the season. The Soweto giants are on 54 points, just one ahead of Sundowns who take on the challenge of Khompela’s Lamontville Golden Arrows before facing Free State Stars in the final game of the season. Johannesburg based side Bidvest Wits have an outside chance as they sit in third place with 51 points, but it’s all really down to Downs and Pirates who battle with Polokwane City in what promises to be a photo finish of this season’s Absa premiership.
Looking at the remaining games for both sides, it would appear that on paper, Sundowns have an easier run-in to the end of the season, as they are left with fixtures against sides from the bottom half of the table in Golden Arrows and Free State Stars. On the other hand, the remaining games are less friendly for Pirates as they face teams fighting for top 8, closing the season with a tricky encounter against Polokwane City. Bidvest Wits, who became champions for the first time only two seasons ago, have a mathematical chance of topping the final table on goal difference. Wits currently sit third in the league table with 51 points, three behind Pirates. This season will surely go down as one of the memorable seasons due to its competitiveness.
Who do you have winning the league? Can Pirates bring back the glory days, or will Sundowns defend their title?