Are Masandawana and Orlando Pirates a class above the rest?

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Preseason is over, signings have been made, teams have been strengthened, and the time has come once again for teams to leave it all out on the field. In short, the ABSA Premiership is finally here! Africa’s most exciting league has returned to full force, and saw some exciting matches kicking off the new campaign. Being a new season, a lot of teams have reinforced their squads in a bid to become competitive in the new season. Unsurprisingly, a couple of teams have already been earmarked as prospective title challengers. These include defending champions Mamelodi Sundowns, closely followed by Orlando Pirates. In what is a similar story to that which unfolded in the English Premier League last season between Manchester City and Liverpool. Pirates will be looking to avenge last season’s misfortunes and salvage some silverware for the mighty Buccaneers faithful. Reigning champions Mamelodi Sundowns kicked off their 2019/20 campaign with a convincing victory over cross-town rivals SuperSport United. While Pirates are looking quite good, defending PSL champions Mamelodi Sundowns will again be the team to chase, while Bidvest Wits, Chiefs, SuperSport United and Cape Town City will be in the mix as well.

Chiefs have been one of the active teams in the transfer market, look to have been squeezed out of the local market and so are banking on four untested foreigners to turn around their fortunes. But whether Lazarous Kambole (Zambia)‚ James Kotei (Ghana)‚ Samir Nurkovic (Serbia) or Kearyn Baccus (South African-born Australian) are the panacea to four trophyless seasons of bitter disappointment remains to be seen.
— Siphosethu Thwala, FirstTouch Africa

Mamelodi Sundowns

Title favourites. They have easily become the “Manchester City” of Mzansi. They have it all, the money to buy any player they want, a seasoned coach in Pitso Mosimane, and boast of experience on the biggest football stages. Those reasons are enough to warrant Masandawana as title favourites even in the new season. Sundowns have the strongest team in the league in terms of depth. Further to this, the team have experienced players in the likes of Hlompho Kekana and Dennis Onyango who have experienced CAF Champions League glory and it is such attributes that sets the team apart from the rest. Do not be surprised come end of season if you should hear that they have won the league for the third consecutive time.

Fans during the Carling Black Label Champion Cup match between Orlando Pirates and Kaizer Chiefs at FNB Stadium on July 29, 2017 in Johannesburg, South Africa. At least two people have been reported to have been killed and several injured in a crush during the game at South Africa's biggest stadium.  (July 28, 2017 - Source: Gallo Images/Getty Images Europe)

Fans during the Carling Black Label Champion Cup match between Orlando Pirates and Kaizer Chiefs at FNB Stadium on July 29, 2017 in Johannesburg, South Africa. At least two people have been reported to have been killed and several injured in a crush during the game at South Africa's biggest stadium.

(July 28, 2017 - Source: Gallo Images/Getty Images Europe)

Kaizer Chiefs

Chiefs are desperate to make up for a disappointing ninth place finish last term, add the fact that the club is celebrating their 50th anniversary. They have signed five players, but they released about ten, so they may lack the numbers and the depth needed to successfully challenge for the league. Worth noting is the absence of club captain Itumeleng Khune, whose presence and leadership has been sorely missed on the pitch as fans have witnessed a number of goalkeeping howlers during his time on the sidelines. Unsurprisingly, it seems a majority of the club’s fans are also not entirely convinced that coach Ernst Middendorp is the right man to lead the mighty Amakhosi. It therefore comes as no surprise that the club has been heavily linked with the possibility of acquiring the services of former coach Stuart Baxter who recently resigned from his Bafana Bafana job. Since Baxter left the team, it’s fair to say Amakhosi seemed to lose their playing style and since then, have struggled to adopt a new and clear way of playing.

In terms of strengthening the side, Chiefs have been one of the active teams in the transfer market, look to have been squeezed out of the local market and so are banking on four untested foreigners to turn around their fortunes. But whether Lazarous Kambole (Zambia)‚ James Kotei (Ghana)‚ Samir Nurkovic (Serbia) or Kearyn Baccus (South African-born Australian) are the panacea to four trophyless seasons of bitter disappointment remains to be seen. Khama Billiat is also a question mark‚ being heavily linked with a move away from the club; potentially back to Sundowns, a move that may surely weaken the glamour boys’ attacking prowess should it materialize. Though fan support at stadiums has dropped, the pedigree that Chiefs have is second to none, therefore they cannot be overlooked for one bit. Even in the new season the club will remain favorites though realistically, Amakhosi might have to wait a bit longer before they can “reclaim the glory”.

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)

Pirates

Orlando Pirates have finished runners-up in the last two seasons and blew the title race in 2018-19 when it was theirs for the taking. Having finished runners-up in the last two seasons, the Buccaneers are determined to go one better. With Coach Micho Sredojevic’s mandate very clear, the squad has been considerably strengthened ahead of what will be an intriguing campaign indeed.

Pirates have made a host of changes in the off-season‚ looking to intensify the pressure on rivals Sundowns in order to come out tops at the end of the season. Coach “Micho” will be looking to finally earn his first silverware for the Bucs since joining the club two seasons back. Pirates certainly look to be the biggest threat to Mamelodi Sundowns’ dominance. From face value, Pirates have bought well‚ though there are also quite a few “squad fillers” in there who are unlikely to push for a first team place.

From the past and current season, Pirates have been playing with great structure and a burst of speed up-front with the likes of Vincent Pule‚ Thembinkosi Lorch and Justin Shonga able to run at defences on the wings. Add Mhango to that list now, it’s total danger. What is more, the midfield combination of Musa Nyatama and Ben Motshwari will be expected to play a commanding role at the belly of the park and the addition of Siphesihle Ndlovu and Fortune Makaringe is expected to create a healthy competition at the belly of the park for the mighty Buccaneers. Much is expected from Pirates this season and they certainly have the ammunition to march towards the title come May 2020.

Moeneeb Josephs of Bidvest Wits reacts during the Absa Premiership match between Platinum Stars and Bidvest Wits at Royal Bafokeng Stadium on August 4, 2013 in Rustenburg, South Africa.  (Aug. 3, 2013 - Source: Gallo Images/Getty Images Europe)

Moeneeb Josephs of Bidvest Wits reacts during the Absa Premiership match between Platinum Stars and Bidvest Wits at Royal Bafokeng Stadium on August 4, 2013 in Rustenburg, South Africa.

(Aug. 3, 2013 - Source: Gallo Images/Getty Images Europe)

The “Title Pretenders,” Wits and Cape Town City

Benni McCarthy's charges in Cape Town City probably didn't believe enough that they had a real fighting chance last season, but the one thing they have - that many PSL teams lack - is their fighting spirit. When they are a goal or two down, they don't simply throw in the towel. What they needed was to further bolster their squad and the acquisition of Aboubaker Mobara, Bernio Verhagen and Tashreeq Morris will make them even more difficult to beat.

On the other hand, Bidvest Wits boasting a coach that has won four league titles in Gavin Hunt, always makes the Clever Boys one amongst the favorites. Having international stars such as Namibian winger Deon Hotto and the Bafana Bafana trio of Thulani Hlatshwayo, Buhle Mkhwanazi and Sifiso Hlanti, also puts Wits in the title conversation. The quartet will be eager to bring what they learned at the recent Africa Cup of Nations in Egypt to the university side.

 There has been a change of leadership over the last two years at Wits following the departure of the company’s founder and billionaire Brian Joffe. Budgets have been slashed after Joffe's departure as the new bosses do not possess the same deep pockets for the club that the billionaire had. Players like Daylon Claasen‚ Edwin Gyimah‚ Darren Keet‚ Vuyo Mere‚ Bantu Mzwakali and Denis Weidlich were released but Wits have made some promising signings as they look to again challenge for the title. Brandon Petersen will start in goal ahead of Ricardo Goss while Phathutshedzo Nange from Black Leopards‚ has the potential to become an influential midfielder.

Conclusion

All in all, ready to build on the promising previous season and go one better, Pirates look like serious title contenders. For all we know, they are the main side that can push Sundowns all the way. One may argue that perhaps it’s too soon to judge them; nonetheless they look like the real deal. On the other hand, Chiefs will be looking to restore their pride and tarnished reputation by winning some silverware. Cape Town City will be looking to break into the top three and finally, Wits will continue to lurk behind with the hope of pouncing when unexpected, like they did three seasons ago. We’re in for a lot of shocks and drama yet again.

 Who’s your money on to walk away with the title this season? The ABSA Premiership is here, feel it!