Mamelodi Sundowns are showing no signs of slowing down and remain firm favourites to retain the league title.
The Brazilians won the treble last season – the league, the Telkom Knockout and the Nedbank Cup. It was their third league title in a row and a fifth and final title for head coach Pitso Mosimane as he left for Egyptian giants Al Ahly ahead of the current season.
Mosimane was replaced by not one but three coaches in Manqoba Mngqithi, Rhulani Mokwena and Steve Komphela.
There were some who doubted how the ‘three wise men’ would lead the team, but they’ve so far answered in emphatic style with their results on the field.
The club also delved heavily into the transfer market in the off-season and are now reaping the rewards for what are seemingly some excellent acquisitions, with the likes of Peter Shalulile and to a lesser extent, Kermit Erasmus, grabbing the headlines.
And in a time when Covid-19 has changed the playing field, Downs seem only to be pulling further ahead, because while many clubs will battle to absorb the absence of players who have contracted the virus, the Pretoria side boast a big squad full of quality.
Additionally, because of the compacted season, due to the late start, games are coming much thicker and faster than usual which will increase injuries and fatigue.
It’s not, however, an issue Downs have to worry about, thanks to the huge depth in their squad.
That can be highlighted in a number of ways, not least by the fact that their talisman of the last couple of seasons, Gaston Sirino, has not played since the first game of the season, but is now back in the mix.
Even with the recent absence of top scorer Themba Zwane, the Sundowns tank has continue to roll on.
And then there’s the club captain, Hlompho Kekana, who has purposely been used sparingly.
“The reason why we are not playing him is that we want him to be fresh,” Mngqithi explained.
“He might not like the fact he is not playing regularly, but we believe he is very important for us if he is fresher, [rather] than to continue killing him and his pace and his excitement of playing the game.”
It’s not many a team who can afford to be without the likes of Kekana, Sirino and Zwane while barely being affected.
Of course playing in the Caf Champions League will add to the challenges Masandawana face.
But it’s something they already factored in when assembling their squad for the season. And of course it helps that money is never much of an issue due to the riches of owner Patrice Motsepe.
One player who did not initially make headlines the way the likes of Shalulile and Erasmus did when joining the Tshwane club is Mothobi Mvala.
But the former Highlands Park man is now showing his worth, especially in continental competition, where he has scored twice in two matches, to add to the one league goal he notched in two games.
With a wide pool of players to choose from, the Downs technical team have the luxury of selecting ‘horses for courses’, as Mngqithi highlighted:
“Mvala is a good player for the Champions League – I’m sure you can see that, and that’s the reason why he was signed because we knew when we fight in Africa, he is one of the players we will need,” the coach told the media.
“He scores five or six goals per season, and that is very important when you have a player who is playing as a midfielder, and he contributes immensely on set pieces.”
Apart from Mvala, the likes of Haashim Domingo, Lesedi Kapinga, Grant Margeman and Gift Motupa are still waiting in the wings to get their chance, while Aubrey Modiba is starting to find his feet since his move from SuperSport United and Sibusiso Vilakazi must still come back from injury.
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