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WEEKEND PLAY

All to play for in the final round of the Absa Premiership

All to play for in the final round of the Absa Premiership
Bernard Parker of Kaizer Chiefs challenged by Andile Jali of Mamelodi Sundowns during the Absa Premiership 2019/20 match between Kaizer Chiefs and Mamelodi Sundowns at the Orlando Stadium, Soweto on the 27 August 2020 ©Muzi Ntombela/BackpagePix

As the Absa Premiership draws to a close, teams and their supporters will be watching the final games of the season with calculators on hand, this as margins for glory and survival could come down to factors such as goal difference and goals scored.

After 13 months of prolonged action, including a four-month interjection due to Covid-19, the Absa Premiership is finally set for an exciting conclusion this weekend. There is still much to play for at the top, middle and the bottom of the table.  

Two-Horse Race

The league race is set to culminate with one of the most exciting scenarios in recent memory. The contenders, Kaizer Chiefs and Mamelodi Sundowns, head into their final games level on 56 points apiece. The only thing that separates them is goal difference, with Chiefs boasting a difference of +21 in comparison to Sundowns’ +18.

So, what do Amakhosi need to do to ensure they win their first piece of silverware in five years? Well, firstly and most importantly, they have to win. A simple 1-0 win may be enough to see them home, but they will want to score as many goals as possible against their opponents, just to be on the safe side.

This is because they are competing against a Sundowns side which can turn up the tempo when required, as they showed when they humbled Polokwane City 3-0 on Wednesday. As such, it is not impossible to imagine Chiefs winning by a single goal, only for Sundowns to net four against Black Leopards. Such a happening would see the duo locked on points and a goal difference of +22 each.

It would still be advantage Amakhosi, though, as they are superior to Pisto Mosimane’s men on the next barometer which decides the destination of the title – goals scored. So, even if the above scenario were to play out, Chiefs would edge their rivals to the crown because they would finish the season with 48 goals, to Sundowns’ 44.

The only hope for Masandawana is that they win against Leopards; and that Baroka, who are Chiefs’ opponents on the Saturday, beat or hold Ernst Middendorp’s team to a draw. Come what may, it promises to be a nail-biting final push for glory from both teams.  

Centre of attention

The push for a top eight finish, and thus a spot in the MTN 8 next season is also an enterprising one. Mathematically, there are two spots remaining and four teams with a realistic chance of benefiting or losing out.

Cape Town City and Highlands Park sit in 7th and 8th place, with 39 and 38 points respectively. They are closely followed by Bloemfontein Celtic and Stellenbosch, who have accumulated 36 points apiece so far this season.

For City, the maths is simple – a win or a draw will be enough to guarantee their spot in the MTN 8. But a final fixture against the imposing Supersport United is less than ideal for the Capetonians. Highlands lock horns with AmaZulu, who have struggled this season and are still trying to fend off the relegation/promotion playoffs. With a goal difference of -4 and Celtic in particular breathing down their necks, Owen Da Gama’s men will know that a win is their best bet on Saturday.

For Celtic, who have played with passion and commitment, in spite of financial struggles, a win is the only thing that will suffice. Anything less will mean irrespective of how Highlands perform; they will hold on to their spot in the top half. Celtic clash with Maritzburg United in their final game, while outsiders Stellenbosch will go up against Orlando Pirates, also knowing that a win is the only result that will keep their faint hopes alive.  

Battle for survival

Polokwane City’s heavy loss against Sundowns on Wednesday all but condemned them to the GladAfrica Championship. On points, Rise and Shine can still match 15th-placed Baroka if they win their game. The problem, however, is their negative goal difference, which is -17, compared with Baroka’s -9. To survive they will need Baroka to lose dismally against Chiefs on Saturday and then to run riot themselves in their clash with Bidvest Wits. It is a highly unlikely scenario.

Things become more interesting for the teams just above Rise and Shine. Baroka in 15th, Leopards in 14th, AmaZulu in 13th, right up until 12th-placed Chippa United – all these teams can still find themselves playing for survival in the playoffs.

Lehlohonolo Seema’s Chilli Boys will be the most confident of the four teams. They have more points than their rivals (31) and are facing Golden Arrows, which has been one of the worst performing teams since the restart in the ‘bio-bubble’. AmaZulu will also go for the jugular versus Highlands, as a win will guarantee their safety, while a draw might be good enough, depending on other results.

The two Limpopo sides in Baroka and Leopards are the most vulnerable. Leopards go into their final fixture level on 29 points with AmaZulu, while Baroka have picked up one point fewer than their rivals. The danger for the two Limpopo sides is that they each face the title contenders in their final games, knowing that a win is the only result that will make sure they avoid the playoffs. This is truer for Baroka than it is for Leopards. Should they both lose, it’ll be Baroka joining Ajax Cape Town and Tshakhuma Tsha Madzivhandila (TTM) in the playoffs. DM

 

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