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Sundowns being handed title on a platter

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Mamelodi Sundowns co-coaches Manqoba Mngqithi and Rhulani Mokwena
Mamelodi Sundowns co-coaches Manqoba Mngqithi and Rhulani Mokwena. File Picture: Sydney Mahlangu, BackpagePix

At the rate that the chasing pack of Royal AM and Kaizer Chiefs, Mamelodi Sundowns are just four matches away from clinching a fifth straight league title.

Cape Town — At the rate that run-of-the-mill Royal AM and Kaizer Chiefs are dropping points, Mamelodi Sundowns may just be four matches away from annexing the 2021-22 Premiership title — yet again.

Sundowns have been champions over the past four seasons.

Sundowns, with eight Premiership matches remaining this season, need 12 points to move into an unassailable position at the top of the Premiership standings. It may even be less if Royal AM, Kaizer Chiefs and Orlando Pirates drop more points in their remaining league matches.

In Sundowns’ last Premiership match, they suffered a shock 2-1 defeat to lowly Maritzburg United in early March. The result should have fired up Royal AM (2nd placed, Chiefs (3) and Pirates (4) to wage all-out efforts to win matches and stay in contention just in case Sundowns suffer another shock loss.

Chiefs had an additional morale-booster when news of the arbitration outcome was leaked on Friday afternoon. The arbitrator Nazeer Cassim SC ruled that the Premiership matches that Chiefs failed to honour in December should be played. The decision meant that Chiefs were able to pick up a maximum of six points when these two matches are played eventually.

Hours after this decision, the ageing Chiefs side (average age for this game was 29.4 years) produced one of their weakest performances this season. They suffered a 1-0 defeat to mid-table side Golden Arrows.

Fellow football analyst Thulani Mbatha pointed out afterwards that Chiefs may have been hell-bent on making sure they don’t lose the game rather than play to win.

“It would seem (coach Stuart) that Baxter’s motive was clear,” said Mbatha. “Here is a team chasing the league and playing at home. Baxter starts the game with five defenders (Eric Mathoho, Daniel Cardoso, Nkosingiphile Ngcobo, Reeve Frosler and Njabulo Blom) and one defensive midfielder (Phathutshedzo Nange).

“The team is down one goal after five minutes. At halftime, Baxter moves from five defenders to six after taking off Matoho and Nange and replacing them with Thabani Dube and Siyabonga Ngezana.”

This line of thinking suggests that Baxter has given up hope that his team has the capacity to win matches. Afterwards, Baxter tried to explain his dubious substitutions and admitted that his team has lost its way on the field of play.

“It becomes tactically messy, but you’ve got to try and push up and change the game in some way,” said Baxter. “As I say, we could’ve got it (won). With Reeve playing a bit higher we got a couple of good crosses in, but, again, the quality was just not there (convert chances).”

The Premiership restarts on the weekend of April 2-3 and Sundowns will not be in action because of CA Champions League commitments. But Chiefs and Royal AM will be, and it gives them a chance to close the gap at the top of the log. Presently there is broad daylight at the top of the log between pace-setters Sundowns (by 14 points) and the rest of the teams.

Pirates are also not in action in early April because of CAF Confederation Cup commitments.

Sundowns and Pirates will return to Premiership action on April 6 for midweek fixtures. Sundowns will play Swallows, who are fighting for survival in the Premiership. Swallows are unlikely to trouble Sundowns, although their wily coach Dylan Kerr can steer any team to great heights.

Chiefs will play Chippa United, who are lurking close to the relegation zone. A victory from this match in the Eastern Cape may well be the spark to ignite Chiefs’ hitherto ho-hum season.

@Herman_Gibbs

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