It might only have been the Carling Black Label Cup and the Community Shield but seeing both these matches over the weekend provided a friendly reminder that the football season is back. Hooray! The two most popular leagues followed by South Africans returns on Saturday and just in case you cannot wait that long, the MTN8 kicks off on Tuesday. More “hoorays”.
Now it is not as if there has been nothing to do since the start of June. Certainly not. But there is nothing quite like the football season, is there? Starting on the local front I have a feeling we could be in for a four-horse race. I expect Kaizer Chiefs to be slightly weaker under Steve Komphela than they were under Stuart Baxter, Orlando Pirates to be stronger this season after the mid-season turmoil of losing Senzo Meyiwa last year, Mamelodi Sundowns will be better this year too I believe and with Gordon Igesund in charge, SuperSport United could emerge as the season’s surprise package, or dark horse.
That does not mean the good work of Gavin Hunt at Bidvest Wits will not continue, nor the progress Ajax Cape Town has made under Roger De Sa will be stifled. It does not mean that there is no room for any of the other sides to challenge the establishment, but I do expect Amakhosi, the Buccaneers, the Brazilians and Matsatsantsa to make up the top four this coming season and if I am to stick my neck out, I fancy Downs to take the Absa Premiership this season.
After the treatment of Shaun Bartlett at Golden Arrows, there are not going to be many neutrals cheering on Abafana Bes thende. Similarly there is not much neutral love for Chippa United and these two clubs along with Jomo Cosmos will probably be battling it out at the bottom of the table I expect. However Mpumalanga Black Aces, Polokwane City, Free State Stars and the University of Pretoria are clubs that cannot take their top flight status for granted.
Over in England Manchester United has been something of a “cheque book club” in pre-season but this is no guarantee of success. If Louis Van Gaal can manage to quickly integrate his new players into his system, the Red Devils are going to be a force to be reckoned with. This is also going to be a crucial year for Manuel Pellegrini across town. Manchester City has shown faith in the Chilean after he failed to win the league last year but patience is not something there is much of at clubs like City and Pellegrini could well be unemployed by Christmas. I expect the title to once again go the way of Chelsea. Jose Mourinho is a proven tactical genius and my feeling is that the Blues are just too far ahead of the rest of the pack right now. Arsenal will again make up the top four.
At the wrong end of the table I fancy the new teams to struggle. Bournemouth, Norwich City and Watford are likely candidates to face the drop. Of the established bunch I worry about Aston Villa and Leicester City although I think Tim Sherwood has the ability to steer Villa to safety once again. On a personal note, surely it cannot get any worse for my beloved Newcastle United? The Magpies have made some good signings but I am concerned the Toon has not strengthened sufficiently in the right areas. Nevertheless I see a scenario whereby Steve McLaren’s lads start off slowly and then finish the season strongly. Oh and would it not just be super if Sunderland sink into that relegation battle too?