Telkom Knockout provides latest chance for silverware
After the international break, South African football returns to domestic matters this weekend with the start of the Telkom Knockout, the second of three cup competitions in the season.
Cape Town City lifted the first piece of silverware last month when they won the MTN8, with the failure of the so-called 'Big Three' to lift that trophy putting the Telkom Knockout into sharper focus.
Kaizer Chiefs' are desperate to end their well-documented club record barren run that is stretching close to three-and-a-half seasons, hoping to bring some joy to a fanbase that is rapidly being turned off the so-called 'Glamour Boys'.
Their lustre is waning and an inconsistent start to the new season under Italian coach Giovanni Solinas has not helped matters as the team flounder in the league with only 14 points taken from the first 30 available.
For Orlando Pirates, the wait for a trophy is even longer, stretching back to May 2014, though they have reached a number of cup finals since then to at least give the impression that a knockout trophy is not far away.
Mamelodi Sundowns have had recent success with a league win last season, but their form, with the most expensively assembled squad in the history of South African football, has been horrid, with only one win in their last nine games in all competitions.
It is hard to imagine there being pressure on long-serving coach Pitso Mosimane, but he will want to arrest that run before club management start to get the sense that perhaps fresh ideas are needed.
Chiefs start their campaign at home to Black Leopards on Sunday (15h30) and should have Colombian forward Leonardo Castro back from injury to bolster their ranks.
It will have been a long two weeks for the players to stew on their 1-0 loss to Polokwane City last time out, and Solinas will expect a reaction from his players.
Since that game, playmaker Lebo Manyama has been involved in a car accident and Venzuelan forward Gustavo Paez forced to apologise for seemingly snubbing the handshake of Solinas after he had been substituted in a friendly.
The absence of Manyama means a key role for attacking midfielder Siphelele Ntshangase, a former Black Leopards player who is hoping to put one over his former teammates.
He says Chiefs' victory over Celtic in the friendly Macufe Cup during the international break has provided some confidence for the side.
"We took a lot of positives out of that game," the told his club's website. "And we have been working hard at training to further improve.
"We respect Leopards, but we will have to look at the bigger picture and that's that we want to progress to the quarterfinals of the Telkom Knockout.
"It's going to be an emotional game. I still have some friends at Leopards. However, I am now a Khosi. I want to win trophies and that's why I came to Chiefs."
Pirates host Chippa United at the Orlando Stadium on Saturday night (20h15), a return for their former coach Eric Tinkler, who is now in charge of the Port Elizabeth-based side and has done well to revive their fortunes.
Pirates have been something of an enigma this season; at times looking rock solid and accomplished, at others unsteady and all at sea.
Coach Milutin Sredojevic will be hoping for a solid 90 minutes to get his side into the next round, knowing a cup failure at this stage could see discontent growing against him.
"We would like to say there are some polishing details we need, especially upfront in terms of finishing," Sredojevic was quoted by The Citizen.
"This is what we will be focusing on, but at the same time, we also have to take care of the defending and attacking so that we strike a balance. We have no right have any periods of sleep.
"In every competition we go in the with the highest possible ambition to go all the way and win. That is the DNA of this club and I am blessed to be the coach. All of us in the technical team are working very hard with our players, supported by management, and in turn supported by the fans, in order to achieve what we are looking for.
"If we had a soul-healing session last year then we are looking to do anything possible to feed the soul and doing our best to achieve the best results."
Sundowns entertain a stubborn Bloemfontein Celtic on Saturday (18h00), with Mosimane having lost another key player in Sibusiso Vilakazi, who is likely out for the rest of the season with a ruptured Achilles tendon he suffered on international duty.
The fixture pits Mosimane against his great friend Steve Komphela, who has worked wonders at cash-strapped Celtic this season. The teams played to a 0-0 draw in Bloemfontein just before the international break and this looks like another tight contest.
"It's obviously going to be a difficult game," Mosimane told his club's website. "Cup games are always a little bit of a problem for us. If you look at the top eight, it clashed with the Caf Champions League. You saw that we had different lineups when we played in Cape Town and home in the semifinal of the MTN8, that had an effect on the result.
"The Telkom Knockout clashes with the [2018/19] Champions League that's about to start in a few weeks' time. That also has an effect on us. We are two games behind in the league in terms of our schedule and there are also international games.
"To play against a team that nearly won this competition last year, a revived team, will be difficult.
"Coach Steve is showing that he's been good all the time, irrespective of what happened at Kaizer Chiefs. He has done well and we couldn't even beat them last week."
Other fixtures this weekend see Polokwane City host SuperSport United on Sunday (15h30), while Free State Stars entertain defending champions Bidvest Wits on Saturday (15h30) and at the same time Baroka FC welcome Golden Arrows.
Later that evening Maritzburg United host Highlands Park (20h15) and the final fixture of the round will take place on Tuesday when Cape Town City travel to AmaZulu (19h30).