COMMENT: Why SuperSport United must focus on escaping relegation

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The South African club cannot afford to prioritise Caf competitions and risk their PSL status

After becoming the first team in the country to lift the Nedbank Cup two years in a row, SuperSport United are now slowly losing their status as one of the PSL big guns.

In the wake of winning the Ke Yona competition in 2016 under Stuart Baxter, Matsatsantsa went on to successfully defend the trophy in 2017.

The Nedbank Cup glory automatically secured their ticket to the Caf Confederation Cup as they travelled the breadth and width of the African continent.

Baxter started the campaign on a high as they reached the group stages, but he was quickly snapped up by the South African Football Association (Safa) to replace Shakes Mashaba as head coach Bafana Bafana. 

Baxter’s assistant, Kaitano Tembo was handed the reigns in some of the games in the continental tournament until the appointment of Eric Tinkler as coach at the beginning of the current term. 

Eric Tinkler

With the help of Tembo, Tinkler steered the ship to the right direction as they reached the final of the Caf Confed Cup tournament and losing to eventual winners, TP Mazembe.

To many, that was the day the cookie started to crumble for the three-time Premier Soccer League champions.

Their loss to the Ravens, saw them go 13 matches without a win. 

A poor string of results has seen the side being demoted from being title contenders to relegation candidates considering their poor run of form in domestic football.

Tinkler reportedly lost the dressing room as some players were unhappy with his managerial style and some even suggested that he had a fall-out with Tembo, a mainstay in the technical bench.

Due to their continental commitments, SuperSport had to play catch up as their counterparts enjoyed some breaks in their weekly schedules, that left Tinkler hiding behind that as his excuse for the club's poor run.

In 2018, Tinkler managed two wins, seven losses and four draws in all competitions at the club and eventually parted ways with the club on Friday before their draw against Maritzburg United. 

SuperSport United record PS

Nevertheless, the side from Tshwane has now returned to continental football, and got their campaign off with a goalless draw away to Petro De Luanda on Tuesday.

With Tinkler having been quoted that the club may not prioritise the continental tournament this year, there have already been questions on whether or not the club will give the Caf Confederation Cup their full commitment.

Do they have the right numbers in terms of personnel to balance their domestic and international ambitions?

Let’s look at the numbers and the playing personnel. The club released Jeremy Brockie to Mamelodi Sundowns, Fagrie Lakay to the Urban Warriors as well as Zama Rambuwane (both on loan) to Platinum Stars.

They got Mogakolodi Ngele on loan from the Brazilians and Evans Rusike from the Team of Choice has not yielded the desired outcomes so far - both have scored just once so far.

The club has one of the best squads on paper, a blend of youth and experience, but will they survive the relegation scare and do well in Africa?

On the log table, they sit in 13th position with 27 points from 23 matches (10 points ahead of bottom-placed Dikwena).

Given their position on the log, Tembo must just focus on saving the club’s PSL status and plan on going back to Africa in the next two seasons.

Based on Tinkler’s sentiments that Caf is the reason for their slump, trying to go all the way in this year's tournament will mean less rest for the players, and it could hurt the team in a long run.

SuperSport United, Reneilwe Letsholonyane, Dean Furman & TP Mazembe, Ben Malango

Secondly, Tembo has to find a way to refresh the squad with quality players. The likes of Reneilwe Letsholonyane, Morgan Gould and Dean Furman among others need to be rested to return to the top again. 

This is not to say the old guard are not offering any value, but they fail to keep up with the tempo of the fast-paced PSL games, signalling the need for them to rest.

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The club is known for producing the best through their development structures and to rely on players such as Teboho Mokoena and Sipho Mbule among others, will always be the right decision.

Wrapping it up, a mid-table finish is still realistic target for the club, simply because Tembo could be the perfect man to press the right buttons on his players based his longevity with the club.

As things stand, the Caf Confederation Cup cannot be a priority for Matsatsantsa. Instead, they should ensure that they win their remaining league games. 

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