The Carling Black Label Cup is not far from now. On August 1st, the eyes of the country will once again be glued to their tv screens, while some 90-odd thousand will be at the FNB stadium to see which one of the big Soweto teams, Orlando Pirates or Kaizer Chiefs, will get the early season boost ahead of the 2015/16 campaign. Whatever you and I, or whoever else, thinks of this particular pre-season cup is irrelevant.
It’s been going on for five years now and the truth is, people will always be interested in a Soweto Derby, no matter the guise under which it comes. What I actually want to talk about is the teams or starting line-ups that are beginning to take shape for the respective sides. We all know that it is the supporters that decide who plays and who doesn’t, and they are also able to make live substitutions during the game.
There are just a few things that are surprising for me in their choices. The goalkeeping departments for both teams were never going to be subject to any debate. Brighton Mhlongo did well enough for the Buccaneers this past season that it would have been somewhat surprising had they gone with anyone else in goal.
For Chiefs, Brilliant Khuzwayo was the natural choice since crowd favourite Itumeleng Khune, who had been topping the votes by some distance since the inaugural tournament, was sacked by Amakhosi’s top brass last month. Khuzwayo has amassed almost half a million votes thus far, which clearly shows the would-be Khune votes all went his way. The second-most voted for player for Pirates is Oupa Manyisa, who recently signed a new contract with the club.
Now this shows that the Bucs faithful were not bothered by the reports that their captain is being courted by Mamelodi Sundowns. By the way, I think this was the best career decision Oupa is ever going to make. He is easily Pirates’ best player, and the supporters trust him with everything.
What I didn’t expect on Chiefs’ side is that some important players are very low on votes in terms of the starting line-up. Firstly, I expected a guy like Siphiwe Tshabalala to be higher than he is in terms of the numbers. Just over 51 000 doesn’t really secure him a place in the team.
Reneilwe Letsholonyane, George Lebese, and Willard Katsande are also some of the players that were very crucial to the Glamour Boys’ success in the 2014/15 season. One would expect them to be leading the charts, but that is not the case. Instead Bernard Parker, David Zulu, and newcomer Siyanda Xulu are some of the front runners.
Parker is a senior player, and I can see why he’s there. I just feel that the fans should know what they are doing in voting for someone. For instance, one fan on a tv show had 50 000 booster votes, and they kicked Katsande out of the team. Should the Zimbabwean not start, it will create problems for Chiefs defensively.
Yeye will now have to stay back and play holding midfielder, while his strong point is actually being a box to box kind of player. It’s the same thing on the Pirates side. One fan took out Issa Sarr, which is suicidal if you know your football.
You cannot play a match without holding midfielders. They are the enforcers, the anchors. The link between defence and attack.
I have told you more than once here of my love affair with the holders. Take them out, and you don’t have a game. Meanwhile, I’m happy to see that Lehlohonolo Majoro is relatively high on the voting count for them.
I always say that this guy has a classy touch and has pure goal scoring instinct. If you watched their Confederation Cup clash against Zamalek this past weekend, you would have had the pleasure to witness what I’m talking about. He doesn’t have to look at the goal posts, he just knows where they are at all times.
Speaking of Zamalek, if rumour is anything to go by, the Pirates fans might have to start voting for someone else in Kermit Erasmus’ place. The Egyptian giants are said to be hot on the heels of the talented striker, and willing to pay big money for him. But for now he looks good for a starting berth on derby day. It was almost a given that Thabo Rakhale and Menzi Masuku will get a substantial amount of votes for this one.
Fans always want to see players that are technically gifted, and right now those two come second to none. They are the crowd pullers, and I thought the Chiefs fans would do likewise and push Pule Ekstein in. I mean the derby has been accused of being dull in recent years, so if there are no goals, there might as well be some sort of entertainment.
I’m pretty much happy with how things have been voted for at the back for The Ghost. The back four of Happy Jele, Siyabonga Sangweni, Rooi Mahamutsa, and Thabo Matlaba is solid and probably what the coach would go for in a normal match. Sangweni’s pace or lack thereof has been a talking point for some time, and questions have been asked on whether his best days are behind him.
But I’m a firm believer in experience over youth, especially in high pressure games. This game is one such. Matlaba is always going to give you options going forward, so an obvious choice. I’m not too sure about their counterparts.
It will be very interesting to see how Chiefs fares at the back. The departure of Tefu Mashamaite and the injury to Mulomowandau Mathoho means they don’t have their trusted centre-half pairing that was so incredibly stingy last season. One can argue that this is the reason Xulu jumped straight into the team.
Don’t get me wrong, he’s very talented and has played against Pirates before in his days at Sundowns. But he was not playing in the Soweto Derby, a game in which the Chiefs fans will seldom forgive you if anything goes wrong. Now as things stand, he will partner Siboniso Gaxa there, who is more accustomed to playing out wide in a full back position.
They have Morgan Gould, why are they not voting for him to play there? Then Kgotso Moleko will play at right back. I’m a huge fan of Moleko and I think he’ll do well there.
Maybe this might just be his season under new coach Steve Komphela. And then there is ‘Mr Evergreen’ Tsepo Masilela. Few can doubt his abilities and there was never a question on who would start at left back.
But I doubt even he can prevent Pirates from exploiting their defensive vulnerability. The fact that Pirates have actually not had an off-season might just be to Chiefs’ advantage with fatigue playing a role, but could also mean they are sharper. Amakhosi on the other hand have a new coach, make-shift defence, and no game time.
This could mean they are susceptible to a Pirates rampage. I for one will be right there at the game, taking note of every single detail because whoever gets it right here could just have a head start for the new season.