Both are in the early reckoning for the league title – on paper anyway – sitting in second (Pirates) and third (Chiefs) in the table, but teams around them do have games in hand, and it hasn’t exactly been plain-sailing for either Milutin Sredojevic or Giovanni Solinas.
Much was expected of Pirates at the start of this season, as they ran Mamelodi Sundowns far closer than expected for the championship in the 2017/18 campaign. There was much mockery of the fact that the Buccaneers had hired a finishing coach but couldn’t finish, as Pirates started the season slowly, the low point being successive 1-0 defeats to Bidvest Wits and Bloemfontein Celtic. They have picked up since, unbeaten in their last six league games, though draws against Golden Arrows and AmaZulu slightly stalled their progress.
Vincent Pule has certainly been a plus, finding shooting boots that he lacked at times at Wits, the new signing currently their top scorer this season with four goals, including the winner in Saturday’s Telkom Knockout win over Chippa United.
But even Sredojevic was not entirely happy with his side’s performance against Chippa, and Pirates could do with the kind of emphatic display in the derby against Chiefs in March, as they battered them 3-1 in the middle of an excellent title chase.
As for Chiefs, some grace must be given to Solinas for the time he has had with the side, following Steve Komphela’s departure after three barren seasons. Chiefs have certainly sparkled at times, with Khama Billiat proving the excellent signing all expected him to be.
Amakhosi have also been unlucky with injuries to some regard, with the latest to Lebo Manyama particularly damaging. Yet, looking at the bare statistics, Chiefs have only actually won four of the 14 games they have played this season (five if you include Sunday’s penalty shoot-out success against Black Leopards). A run that saw successive victories over Cape Town City, Free State Stars and AmaZulu was followed by a draw with Highlands Park and a loss at home to Polokwane City.
There has simply been no consistency, and Chiefs could do with a derby win to get back some league momentum, never mind the obvious satisfaction of beating your fierce Soweto rivals.
It should be a fascinating game, though as usual one hopes the on-game action matches the passion that is always in the stands, with 90 000 or so expected to pack into the FNB Stadium.
We have all the latest news from the Chiefs and Pirates camps in this week’s Phakaaathi, while Chiefs and Pirates legend Stanton Fredericks also gives his view on the opposite page. Elsewhere, we also speak to Orlando Pirates’ long-serving media officer Thandi Merafe.
Our regular One-on-One feature, meanwhile is with a former Buccaneer, Menzi Masuku, now plying his trade at Bloemfontein Celtic, while we also speak to Kaizer Chiefs legend David Nyathi. The final Telkom Knockout last-16 match, meanwhile, takes place in KwaZulu-Natal this evening, and we have a chat with AmaZulu head coach Cavin Johnson.
All that remains is for me to remind you about Phakaaaathi’s Private Fantasy League, which you can still enter to win great monthly prizes. For the latest on that, go to Page 7, where the advert also tells you exactly how to join.