The continental factor will provide a fascinating sub-plot to Sundowns’ league defence.
Orlando Pirates have discovered in recent years that going deep in Confederation of African Football competitions can provide a serious hindrance to league form, and it remains to be seen if Sundowns suffer the same affliction.
Initially, it probably won’t be a problem for Sundowns, in fact they may have more momentum than others as they have barely stopped playing since last season ended. It will be up to Sundowns’ excellent team of technical staff to manage tired legs as the season progresses, though most of Mosimane’s side will also be given an extended break thanks to the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations.
Mosimane has already said that the Afcon will pretty much spell his side’s pre-season, the “normal” one lost in the midst of making it to the Champions League group stages. Personally, I fancy Sundowns to retain their title, even if they lose Keagan Dolly to Europe and even if Khama Billiat, who will be one player lost to Afcon 2017, is flat out exhausted come May. Mosimane has more depth to cope than Orlando Pirates ever had, and Sundowns’ challengers mainly look like works in progress.
Kaizer Chiefs and Orlando Pirates have both rung the changes after disappointing 2015/16 campaigns. Chiefs coach Steve Komphela has been given leverage to build a side in his own image, but I am just not sure he has the personnel to challenge Sundowns. Who will solve Amakhosi’s ongoing problems in attack? And can Chiefs cope, in the early stages, without their injured “Tower” Eric Mathoho at the back?
Pirates have a new coach in Muhsin Ertugral and have brought in a raft of new signings. The Buccaneers have certainly gained a couple of deadly-looking wingers in Riyaad Norodien and Bernard Morrison, while Abbubaker Mobara should bring solidity to defence or midfield, wherever Ertugral plays him. But Pirates do not really look to have fully solved the defensive vulnerabilities of last season, while Ertugral still has to throw off the curse of never having won a Premiership title.
That leaves us with my other two contenders for the title, Bidvest Wits and SuperSport United. Wits have a similar squad to last season, without Sibusiso Vilakazi, but with some excellent additions, particularly Mogakolodi Ngele. Will Wits, however, be able to cope with the extra pressure on a side that has played well, but still hasn’t brought home any silverware under Gavin Hunt? I have my doubts.
SuperSport United might just be Sundowns’ closest challengers. They have a coach in Stuart Baxter who knows how to win titles, and they have reinforced their squad with some serious Premiership pedigree. If Jeremy Brockie fires, and a midfield containing Reneilwe Letsholonyane, Dean Furman and Cole Alexander clicks, Matsatsantsa will surely fly. But I still don’t think they’ll clip Sundowns’ wings. All that doesn’t give me much room to tell you about what is in this week’s Phakaaathi, safe to say it is mostly about the start of another potentially cracking season.