Cape Town - The first half of the Absa Premiership campaign has come to an end with front-runners Mamelodi Sundowns (28 points) in the best position to lift the title.
Earlier this week, Pitso Mosimane’s charges had a golden opportunity to further distance themselves from the chasing pack, but were stunned by Cape Town City FC courtesy of Nana Akosah-Bempah’s solitary strike.
The victory pushed the Cape-side into second place (24 points) with Kaizer Chiefs (3rd), Baroka (4th) and Free State Stars (5th) all on 22 points, separated by goal difference.
Bloemfontein Celtic, Orlando Pirates, Chippa United, Maritzburg United and Golden Arrows complete the top 10, while powerhouses SuperSport United (11th) and Wits (16th) attempt to climb their way out of the tail-end of the league standings.
Matsatsantsa have four games in hand due to their CAF commitments while defending champions Wits are unbelievably rock bottom after their seven defeats, five draws and two wins.
The Absa Premiership resumes on Saturday, January 6 with Sundowns’ schedule looking relatively easy with their first two games against Polokwane City and Ajax Cape Town. Their following four matches will set the tone going forward as they face Orlando Pirates, relegation-threatened Platinum Stars, Kaizer Chiefs and Cape Town City.
Realistically, the top eight all have a chance of the title.
However, only three clubs look likely to challenge Mosimane’s Brazilians, namely Chiefs, CT City and SuperSport.
Currently in his third season in charge of Chiefs, Steve Komphela and his charges have been consistent in keeping up with the top four despite roller coaster results.
The Soweto giants have a genuine shout at the trophy, especially after luring striker Leonardo Castro from Chloorkop.
*Chiefs' next five matches: SuperSport United, Polokwane City, Baroka, Mamelodi Sundowns, Wits.
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*City’s next five matches: Platinum Stars, Free State Stars, Ajax Cape Town, Bloemfontein Celtic, Mamelodi Sundowns.
Lastly, SuperSport are equipped with several experienced players, who have competed at the highest level for many years.
Head coach Eric Tinkler has already guided his side to a Telkom Knockout triumph, but dropped momentum after their CAF Confederation Cup final defeat.
However, having four games in hand could just be what SuperSport need to get their season back on track.
*SuperSport's next five matches: Kaizer Chiefs, Wits, Golden Arrows, Maritzburg United, AmaZulu.
THE PITSO FACTOR
Celebrating his fifth year at the club, Mosimane is in a bullish mood this season and claiming the crown which he calls 'The Big Fish' is a priority for the Kagiso-born mentor.
The 2016 CAF African Coach of the Year has been an integral part of the club since arriving at Chloorkop in 2012 and Sundowns owner, Patrice Motsepe, wants the 53-year-old to replicate Sir Alex Ferguson's Manchester United record by remaining at the club for many years.
Having Motsepe's cash to play with has always helped bring in special talent such as Keagan Dolly (now at Montpellier), Teko Modise (now at Cape Town City), Khama Billiat, Oupa Manyisa and Percy Tau, but in order to get the best out of them and playing as a team speaks volumes of the type of coach Mosimane is.
But the one thing that sets Sundowns apart from the rest is their winning mentality, something Mosimane has imprinted into the club.
"I think what worked for coach Pitso since he took over five years ago is that he was able to install a winning mentality and pride to the players, to know that the badge of Mamelodi Sundowns is important," said captain Hlompho Kekana on Mosimane's tenure at the club.
With that being said, it is difficult not to see Kekana lift the Absa Premiership title at the end of the season.
Tashreeq Vardien works at Sport24 and is a paper basketball dustbin champion... Follow Tashreeq on Twitter.
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