The new Kenyan Premier League 2019/20 season will kick off on Friday, as Kariobangi Sharks open the campaign against Western Stima in Kasarani Stadium ahead of eight other fixtures across the weekend.
The league's relauch has been mired in controversy, with the KPL yet to secure a new title sponsor following the exit of betting firm SportPesa three weeks ago.
“The process of getting a new sponsor is quite lengthy and we may experience delays before we get a positive response,” KPL CEO Jack Oguda told Goal. “We have approached six corporates and none has responded, but I can confirm the league will start and run as planned.
“We have a few days remaining to the first match, and with no approval of our partnership with the potential sponsors approached, then we may have to wait a little bit longer, but we are pushing.”
It was a third straight title for Gor, and going into the new season, they, along with old rivals Bandari and Sofapaka, appear to be the key contenders for the crown.
Newcomers Wazito FC have also joined the fray after spending big in the transfer window, and many see them as title contenders.
Both Bandari and Sofapaka have beefed up their squads in a bid to challenge Gor for the title, but can they unseat the reigning champs?
Certainly, Sofapaka coach John Baraza believes that K'Ogalo are vulnerable.
“If you see how other teams like Bandari, Tusker and even Sofapaka have been building their squads recently, it suggests readiness of those clubs to challenge Gor Mahia,” Baraza told Goal.
Tusker FC, under coach Robert Matano, have also gone for experienced players – the likes of George ‘Blackberry’ Odhiambo and Humphrey Mieno – and could be there or thereabouts.
“We are ready for the season, we have prepared well and we now know what we need to do to beat Gor Mahia to the title," he told Goal. “We'll fight to end and will not give up as we did last season. We want to have a close contest until the end of the season.”
In total there are arguably five genuine title contenders for the league this season, but who will end up with the gold at the campaign's end?
Editor's title prediction: Gor Mahia
While promoted side Wazito FC have spent over Sh8million to bring in new players, it is important to note they will have to give the new signings time to gel before they can start dreaming of the title.
They have good organisation and may be the best-managed club in the Kenyan league so far, but they will have to sweat to break down the top five teams, who far surpass them in terms of experience.
Tusker, on the other hand, are in a rebuilding phase after finishing outside the top five last season, and it would take a miracle and a lot of hard work for them to jump from sixth to top spot in a year.
Sofapaka came close last season and gave up after losing to Gor Mahia in Kisumu, prompting coach Baraza to admit that it would not be an easy outing for them again this season.
It is the same case with Bandari, under coach Bernard Mwalala. The Dockers have managed to finish second behind Gor Mahia in the previous two seasons, and will again mount a challenge.
However, I don't see anyone stopping Gor from winning their fourth title on the trot.
Despite losing key players - striker Jacques Tuyisenge, defender Harun Shakava, and midfielder Francis Kahata - Polack has all the experience and the players to go the distance.
They've already proved they're the team to beat after defeating Bandari by a solitary goal to lift the KPL Super Cup.
Editor's relegation prediction: Kisumu All-Stars & Posta Rangers
There are many candidates for automatic relegation, but Posta Rangers and Kisumu All-Stars appear the most likely teams to go down.
The Mailmen came close to being relegated last season but pulled off a miraculous escape after beating National Super League side Nairobi Stima in the play-offs to maintain their top-flight status.
Posta have already opted to re-hire coach Sammy Omollo, who they fired last season owing to ‘poor results’, and are hoping he can help keep them in the league.
However, I am yet to be convinced the return of Omollo will help their cause, as they have a new team of young players after releasing nine first-teamers this transfer window.
Kisumu All-Stars are the other team I feel will drop into the second tier at the season's end. They have been promoted alongside Wazito FC, but are yet to recruit top-level quality, instead adding players from the lower leagues.
Others may have Zoo Kericho FC among their relegation favourites, but my view is they have learned from their past mistakes, and I'm confident that can stave off relegation.