Kenyan Premier League title race: Assessing the six contenders

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Goal Kenya.
Six teams can harbour realistic hopes of getting their hands on the title

The Kenyan Premier League title race is hotting up as we reach the business end of the season.

It's a particularly unpredictable season, with the plight of traditional giants AFC Leopards-who are currently languishing in the relegation zone-summing up a thrilling campaign.

After 14 matches, Bandari are top of the table with 28 points, two more than second-placed Mathare United.

Defending champions Gor Mahia are third on the log with 25 points, same as fourth placed Tusker, Sofapaka are fifth on 23 while Kariobangi Sharks have 21 points to occupy the sixth spot.

In this feature, Goal assess the chances of all six teams, who are still in with a realistic chance of claiming the title.

Posta Rangers coach Sammy Omollo.

KCB assistant coach Sammy 'Pamzo' Omollo, a domestic champion with Tusker both as a player and a coach, revealed to Goal the qualities he believes are required for a side to clinch the title.

“There are no shortcuts, you must have good structures and a strong financial base to help challenge for the title," he began. "Structures will help the team run without in-house wrangles, and that ensures everyone gives his best the entire season.

“Finances will help you acquire quality players. Having good players, who have stayed together for some time, increases any team’s chances of winning the title.

"With finances, the team can be able to sustain those players and ensure they are productive," Pamzo continued. “Finally, a team must maintain consistency to have a chance to be crowned champions.

"A team must grind out results against title challengers and anyone elses."

Bearing in mind the Brewers legend's key criteria, which of the contenders are best placed to win the league?

Bandari players celebrate.

Bandari

The Dockers have never won the league, with second place their previous best. The Bernard Mwalala-led side have amassed 28 points after managing to take eight wins, four draws and a loss to date. Bandari have already picked up maximum points against the likes of AFC Leopards, Sofapaka and Gor Mahia.

Bandari's strength lies with their wingers and pace; they boast widemen, who can beat their opposite numbers and swing in effective crossing.

However, they will have to work on their finishing; too many chances are wasted, something that might work against them in the long run.

Matches against Gor Mahia, AFC Leopards, Western Stima and Sofapaka will determine the fate of the Dockers, but their away record has not been impressive, and Mwalala must ensure that he motivates his team to victory away from home.

Next five fixtures for Bandari: Feb 23; Bandari v Nzoia Sugar (H), March 2; Bandari v Mathare United (H), March 10; Ulinzi Stars v Bandari (A), March 16; Sony Sugar v Bandari (A) and March 23; Chemelil Sugar v Bandari (A).

Mathare United (Cover photo).Mathare United

The 2008 league champions have started the season well and are currently in second position after collecting 26 points from 14 matches. The 'Slum Boys' have registered seven wins, five draws and two defeats so far.

They're traditionally known for their quick transitions, and with their slick play, they are able to ease past opponents, playing teams off the park on occasion.

However, United have struggled against the big boys; they were defeated by Sofapaka and failed to collect maximum points against Gor Mahia and Ulinzi Stars. Their only 'big' win has come against Tusker.

Away games against Kakamega Homeboyz, Sofapaka, Tusker and Gor, and even Posta Rangers, represent significant challenges over the coming months.

Next five fixtures for Mathare United: Feb 23; Mathare United v AFC Leopards (H), March 2; Bandari v Mathare United (A), March 9; Mathare United v Western Stima (H), March 16; Kakamega Homeboyz v Mathare United (A) and Mathare United v Posta Rangers (H).

Gor Mahia striker Jaxques Tuyisenge v AFC Leopards.

Gor Mahia

Gor Mahia may be third on the log, on 25 points, but they're still title favourites considering their quality and experience. After 12 matches, Hassan Oktay's side have eight wins, a draw and three defeats so far.

Impressive wins against bitter rivals AFC Leopards and Sofapaka underline their seriousness in retaining the league title, while the immense support is also a factor that gives them the edge over their rivals.

However, could they be derailed by consistency or off-field issues? Unlike some of their rivals, they have at least been dealing with their rivals at the top of the table.

Next five fixtures for Gor Mahia: Feb 20; Gor Mahia v Western Stima (H), Feb 27, Gor Mahia v Tusker (H), March 6; Ulinzi Stars v Gor Mahia (A), March 9; Gor Mahia v Kakamega Homeboyz (H) and March 16; Zoo Kericho v Gor Mahia (A).

Tusker win against Mount Kenya United.

Tusker

The Brewers are the third most successful team in the country behind Gor Mahia and AFC Leopards, and are slowly returning to their best after a fallow spell.

Robert Matano's side are unpredictable, dropping points in games they should not, and it's up to the coach to instill a winning mentality in the players as they go through their rebuilding process. Tusker certainly need to improve if their to boost their title hopes before the season's end.

The brewers are now lying fourth on the log after Tuesday's decision by the KPL Discplinary committee to award them three points from their match against Western Stima. Tusker had lost the match by a solitary goal but protested the decision by the power men to field on loan player Kevin Okoth.

Tusker now have 25 points after seven wins, four draws and two defeats.

However, with big games to come against Gor, Leopards, Kariobangi Sharks, Sofapaka and Bandari, they have a veritable mountain to climb to win a 12th domestic title.

Next five fixtures for Tusker; Feb 27: Gor Mahia v Tusker (A), March 2; Nzoia Sugar v Tusker (A), March 9; Tusker v AFC Leopards (H), March 16; Tusker v Ulinzi Stars (H) and Tusker v Kariobangi Sharks (H).

Sofapaka coach John Baraza.

Sofapaka

Batoto ba Mungu announced their arrival in the Kenyan Premier League with a title triumph in 2009, but haven't managed to win it since, despite numerous changes on the technical bench.

That might change this season though. After six wins, five draws and three defeats, John Baraza's side are fourth on 23 points.

There is unity in the team and a good relationship between the players and technical bench. However, on the field, there's been a measure of complacency, and points have been dropped carelessly.

Five draws do not sound particularly impressive, and just like Gor Mahia, Sofapaka have had problems dealing with the smaller teams and should expect a tricky run-in.

Next five fixtures for Sofapaka: Feb 23, Kakamega Homeboyz v Sofapaka (A), March 2, Sofapaka v KCB (H), March 9; Chemelil Sugar v Sofapaka (A), March 16; AFC Leopards v Sofapaka (A) and Sofapaka v Mount Kenya United.

Vincent Wasambo of Kariobangi Sharks.

Kariobangi Sharks

The defending Shield Cup champions are improving every season after their promotion to the top tier a couple of seasons ago.

Coach William Muluya is proving his critics wrong, and wins against the likes of Gor Mahia and Ulinzi Stars have represented a major statement of intent.

Sharks play as a team, they do not rely on an individual to beat teams,and they play as a confident, coherent unit as a result. However, they do tend to drop points on the cheap, and it's imperative they take more points from the teams below them if they're to mount a sustainted title charge.

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With 21 points from 14 matches, they may be the ultimate dark horses in the title race, but considering the unpredictability of the current KPL season, it's impossible to rule them out!

The Kenyan league has typically been won with several matches to spare, but this time around, expect a tough scramble until the final day.

Next five fixtures for Kariobangi Sharks; Feb 24; Vihiga United v Kariobangi Sharks (A), March 2; Kariobangi Sharks v Chemelil Sugar (H), March 9, Posta Rangers v Kariobangi Sharks (A), March 16; Kariobangi Sharks v Nzoia Sugar (H) and Tusker v Kariobangi Sharks (A).

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