Kaizer Chiefs have not beaten Orlando Pirates in a league match since 2014, but with both teams seemingly hitting form, who will walk away with the bragging rights after the 164th edition of the Soweto derby? DEAN WORKMAN reports.
The Buccaneers come into the highly anticipated clash sitting second on the Absa Premiership log after Milutin Sredojevic’s side have endured an inconsistent start to the league and could have amassed more than their 16 points from 10 games.
Pirates could have easily topped the current standings had they showed better game management this season, as they threw away leads against Cape Town City and AmaZulu, while also failing to beat Highlands Park, courtesy of ‘that’ Wayne Sandilands howler.
In total, the Sea Robbers have won four, drawn four and lost two and Sredojevic will be encouraged by their room for improvement coupled with their current league position, which bodes well for a serious title challenge.
However, this is a Soweto derby and the form book is often thrown out the window in these special matches, something that is not lost on Micho.
‘The 164th football story of South Africa. The biggest derby on the continent, the biggest in the world for me. When you have that in mind, it’s a big one,’ Sredojevic said during a pre-match press conference.
‘The preparation has been going well. You could taste, you could smell, you could feel that we want to do our best on Saturday,’ he continued clearly giving the match of this magnitude the respect it deserves.
Micho played the respect card ahead of the game, but the same could not be said of his assistant coach Rulani Mokwena who got the mind games going early in the week when he said that Chiefs miss Steve Komphela, suggesting that new coach Giovanni Solinas lacked the tactical aptitude of his predecessor.
Chiefs, on the other hand, have recovered from an abysmal start and now sit just two points behind their neighbours in third position on the log.
After not winning any of their opening five games, Solinas finally picked up his first league win with the Amakhosi in the 4-1 rout of Cape Town City. They followed that up with two 2-0 wins against Free State Stars and AmaZulu but were brought back to earth after a 0-0 draw with Highlands Park and a 1-0 loss to Polokwane City which sees them sit with a record of won three, drawn five and lost two.
Speaking ahead of the game, Solinas refused to be drawn into a war of words with the Pirates assistant, ‘My colleague is Micho, and he is professional and I am also professional. Me, I respect my colleague. Full stop,’ said the Italian.
‘Maybe these are mind games. But the derby needs everyone to be calm, without extra pressure.
‘We need to be focused on the details and tactics, not this. I don’t know him [Mokwena], but maybe the journalists created this. It’s a surprise, normally the coaches don’t talk in this manner.
‘I want to enjoy this game, very, very beautiful game. It’s good for South Africa, it’s good for the supporters. This game I hope please no violence. We respect each other. Chiefs try to win, Pirates try to win, but please respect. To win the derby psychologically is big, the impact is massive.
‘In this football, players and coaches need balance, mentality balance to keep strong mentally,’ said Solinas in the buildup.
The winner of Saturday’s encounter will end the day in second position on the log but coming into the match, Pirates may feel an added advantage due to the long injury list plaguing Solinas.
Chiefs could be without a host of first-team regulars including Leonardo Castro, Khama Billiat, Lebogang Manyama, Dumisani Zuma, Siyabonga Ngezana and Daniel Cardoso.
Billiat and Castro’s absences could prove vital, but Solinas admitted that he will give the duo until the last possible minute to prove their fitness. However, he does not know if they will recover in time.
Pirates face no such issues with Sredojevic claiming that his players would be willing to play through the pain in a derby.
The Buccaneers were victorious when the two sides met in March, winning 3-1 towards the end of the 2017-18 campaign. However, before that victory, these two sides played out to four consecutive draws between 2015 and 2018. As stated earlier, Chiefs last won a league derby in 2014 but then drew the next encounter and lost the one after that before that long run of draws.
With a sold-out FNB Stadium awaiting these two giants of South African football on Saturday, both teams will be looking to perform come the 3:30pm kick-off.