Defending Premier Soccer League (PSL) champions, Mamelodi Sundowns league campaign is about to resume. This follows an extended mid-season break due to the Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) finals in Gabon. The question on everyone’s mind is whether Masandawana can recapture the league title?
The 2016 Caf Champions League winners will embark on an arduous fixture schedule for the remainder of the campaign. Pitso Mosimane’s men will be forced to juggle their exploits on three separate fronts. The Tshwane giants were already faced with a fixture backlog, having played only nine PSL matches. They have, however, accumulated 19 points averaging over two points a game, which is championship pedigree.
Sundowns will hope that having to play catch up for the remainder of the season, could actually work to their advantage. As it allows the team to plan meticulously for their 21 remaining league fixtures that lie ahead. This is something that a mastermind tactician such as coach Mosimane will relish.
The seven-time PSL champions are yet to face Bidvest Wits, SuperSport United, Orlando Pirates, Bloemfontein Celtic and Chippa United this season. These are matches where the results could determine if Sundowns will cruise to the title or not.
There is also the small matter of a one off Caf Super Cup match against African powerhouses TP Mazembe. Again Masandawana will have to perform a balancing act as this match follows a trip to the Eastern Cape where they will face Chippa.
Downs had hoped that their midweek fixture against the Chilli Boys would be postponed, but their plea fell on deaf ears. The Chloorkop-based outfit has shown that success on the African continent does not come easy and it is a true test of their depth.
The African champions will also have an imbalanced PSL fixture schedule in March, due to their Champions League commitments and are only set to play two league fixtures. Furthermore, this only leads to a hectic May period as Sundowns will then play seven matches in that month. Which includes a trip to Wits, Pirates and a Tshwane derby against Matsatsantsa.
The importance of squad rotation cannot be emphasised enough if Sundowns are to be competitive. In addition to the league and continental matches, the Nedbank Cup and its importance cannot be underplayed. Mosimane may be forced to prioritise his trophies, but for a massive club such as Sundowns this may not be deemed acceptable.
Sundowns will surely also feel the void of their star player Keagan Dolly’s departure. With the season resuming, Mosimane begins life without the playmaker after his eventual move to the South of France during the January transfer window.
The talented 24-year-old was an integral part of Sundowns success forming a lethal combination known as CBD. Along with Khama Billiat and Colombian Leonardo Castro the trio instilled fear in the opposition.
Nonetheless, now with Dolly’s departure, the pressure will be stacked on Billiat. The Harare-born talisman may be the key to Sundowns success in this campaign, but the 26-year-old has been overplayed this season.
While the rest of the team has been well rested during the Afcon, the mercurial forward was on duty with his national team in Gabon. Mosimane says he will not rush Billiat and fellow Afcon competitor, the Ugandan Denis Onyango back into the first team.
Sundowns' defence of their league title will heavily rely on a well thought out plan for an effective football fitness regime. Mosimane and his technical team will undoubtedly have their work cut out if they wish to defend their league title.