Who has Soweto derby edge?
Sport24 columnist Mark Gleeson (File)
Ahead of the weekend’s derby game, it is not clear who has the bigger advantage going into the much anticipated encounter.
Chiefs do not have a match this midweek, because their scheduled meeting with Ajax Cape Town on Wednesday has been called off.
Pirates do. They have a potentially tough encounter with Santos at Cape Town’s Athlone Stadium.
Usually you would think a game like that, just some 60 hours before the derby, would be energy-sapping and of potentially damming consequences to the Buccaneers.
It is not like they can take lightly the game against Santos. Having fallen off the pace in the title race, they must win to either haul in, or keep in step with, the clubs who are at the head of the standings.
Chiefs, on the other hand, now have Wednesday off, thanks to the rain that fell over Durban on Sunday.
The knock on effect of a spectacularly sudden downpour over the Moses Mabhida Stadium on Sunday means Chiefs’ scheduled meeting with Ajax Cape Town in Polokwane is off.
This is because the poor drainage at the World Cup venue in Durban meant the puddles that suddenly appeared on Sunday made finishing the Nedbank Cup tie between AmaZulu and Ajax impossible.
So those two protagonists will return to complete the first round on Tuesday. Ajax cannot be expected to play another match one day later so the league outing against Chiefs is likely to be switched in mid-April.
But for Chiefs the postponement of their midweek match means that when they walk out to play Pirates at Soccer City on Saturday, they will not have played a competitive fixture in 14 days.
Coaches these days are keen to keep their sides in a steady rhythm, making sure match fitness levels are peaking and the concentration and intensity is high. Parking off for a fortnight is no recipe for success.
So while Chiefs will likely be fresher than Pirates, they might just be too fresh … if you get my meaning.
The disparity in the build-up will also test the theory that Pirates have vastly more depth and strength in their squad. Pirates have used 35 players in action already this season (although several have since left the club) and Chiefs seven less. Over a long and demanding campaign, and particularly at times like this when fixtures are being squeezed into an already tight season, having a strong group of players is vital.
But it is not necessary a championship-winning criteria. We have seen Mamelodi Sundowns consistently buy squads filled with talent and yet all those fanciful purchases failed to deliver … so far.
Squad rotation is much more of an art these days; gently managing playing times and egos is part of the coach’s acumen.
The derby is key to both club’s chances of championship success this season. It will also test some of the game’s oft-sprouted theories.
Mark Gleeson is a respected television commentator and Editorial Director of Mzanzi Football.
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