Kaizer Chiefs face TS Galaxy, a side they beat on the last day of the domestic season. Having started to integrate some of the new players, Stuart Baxter is set to continue where he left off.
JOHANNESBURG – Not since August 2012 has Kaizer Chiefs had such an ambience of becoming a championship winning team. Back then, they had a new coach and the arrival of international players set a tone of a team that was eager to return to the top of South African football.
They lived up to that lofty billing. They won the league title, the Nedbank Cup and the MTN8 cup in just three seasons under coach Stuart Baxter. But since then, they’ve endured a six-year trophy-less run.
But this season they’ve already shown signs from nine years ago: the same coach, same script but a slightly different cast. Baxter’s mandate is to return the glory days at the club, and given their signings, management has ensured that he soars.
In the first two matches, against Orlando Pirates in the Carling Black Label Cup and Mamelodi Sundowns in the MTN8 quarter-final, Chiefs had a different look compared to last season where they were out of their depth under Gavin Hunt.
They lost to Sundowns on the lottery of penalties, after coming from 2-0 to draw the match in regulation time and extra time. Perhaps the commencement of their league season today will tell a better story.
Chiefs travel to Mbombela on Sunday afternoon to face TS Galaxy, a side they beat on the last day of the domestic season to finish eighth on the standings. Having started to integrate some of the new players, Baxter is set to continue where he left off.
Keagan Dolly made an instant impact against Sundowns, setting up Khama Billiat for the equaliser with his first touch. That goal recreated the fond memories of the “CBD” (Castro, Billiat and Dolly at Sundowns), except that Leonardo Castro is still out injured.
Chiefs look sharp up front and they appear to be stable in the midfield. On countless occasions, Cole Alexander broke Sundowns’ build-ups and covered well for defence, while Phathutshedzo Nange was effective with his diagonal balls.
However Chiefs’ problems might lie in their centre-back pairing. Eric Mathoho and Daniel Cardoso lacked cohesiveness, resulting in the opening goal by Peter Shalulile. Baxter, though, has hinted that he’ll stick with the duo, despite their costly mistakes.
Chiefs have also signed two centre-backs, Njabulo Ngcobo and Austin Dube, the duo having formed a solid partnership in Bafana Bafana’s Cosafa Cup triumph in Gqeberha. But Baxter says they are still finding their feet at the club.
In TS Galaxy, Chiefs will face a team that’s good with counter-attacks. Lindokuhle Mbatha is ageing like fine wine, proven by his strong runs up front. But their most exciting prospect is 19-year-old midfielder Ethan Brooks.
Brooks had a fine season. As a result, he was called up for the Bafana squad that will face Zimbabwe and Ghana in the World Cup qualifiers next month. His box-to-box stamina, cover-ups and silky passes has made him stand out for Bafana and The Rockets.
Meanwhile, many will be eager to see how the new kids on the block, Royal AM, fares in the top flight. Royal AM acquired the status of Bloemfontein Celtic after losing their appeal to be crowned the champions of the GladAfrica Championship in court.
They’ll open their campaign at Swallows this afternoon. Swallows soared high last season, finishing sixth on the standings. Their attacker Ruzaigh Gamildien picked up from where he left off, scoring a brace in the MTN8 quarter-final win over Pirates.