Johannesburg - Kaizer Chiefs’ defence of their Premiership crown got off to shaky start this season but coach Stuart Baxter believes the fault does not lie with his own troops, but is rather due to a more competitive league.
Chiefs wrapped-up last season’s league title courtesy of a strong start, which began with a 6-0 drubbing of AmaZulu on the opening day.
They are six points adrift of where they were at the same stage last season and Baxter admitted the pressure was on the Soweto giants to improve.
“If I look at last season, I think we got off to a real flyer,” Baxter said ahead of Chiefs’ away tie with Free State Stars on Saturday.
“I’ve said this before -- I think teams weren’t as intimidated by Chiefs last season after our lack of success.
“We came in, the players were very well-disciplined and well-oiled and we surprised a lot of people… this season is totally different.”
Currently third on the log, the Glamour Boys had struggled to find the type of consistent performances which led to them lifting their first Premiership trophy in eight years.
“I think the start has been reasonable,” the Englishman added.
“Lots of teams this season have beefed-up their squads, new coaches have come in and they’re doing good work.
“It is, right across the board, a more competitive league this season compared to last.”
Amakhosi faced a tough assignment when they travel to Phuthaditjhaba, near Clarens in the Free State. Baxter reaffirmed his dislike of travelling to an intimidating venue where not many teams come away with maximum points.
“We’ve been there a few times and it’s always tough. It’s a difficult place to go.
"It’s not my favourite football arena in the country. You have to go down there, no moaning and get in with it, and that’s it.”
Chiefs headed into the clash following a morale-boosting 4-1 demolition of Polokwane City on Wednesday, which lifted them into third, level on 18 points with Moroka Swallows in second and SuperSport United in fourth.
Baxter would be sweating over the fitness of goalkeeper Itumeleng Khune, who was forced from the field at half-time on Wednesday with a niggling hamstring injury.
“He (Khune) picked up a very slight hamstring strain in the warm-up,” Baxter said.
“He was strapped and there was no danger in him playing but when we came in at half-time and he said it was tweaking, we didn’t want to risk it given the situation the game was in at that time.
“We’ll obviously monitor him. It’s a slight strain and we don’t know how that’s going to feel. Shooting from the hip, I would say he’ll be okay.”
Premiership fixtures: Saturday: University of Pretoria v AmaZulu (Tuks Stadium), Free State Stars v Kaizer Chiefs (Charles Mopeli Stadium), Golden Arrows v Platinum Stars (King Zwelithini Stadium), Orlando Pirates v Bloemfontein Celtic (Orlando Stadium).
Sunday: Mamelodi Sundowns v Moroka Swallows (Loftus Versfeld).