The season has barely ended but this weekend sees the restart of the MTN8.
What will the scriptwriters of the new season have in store for the masses? The first opportunity for silverware this season will give spectators a feel for what they can expect to see over the next eight months, even if it’s just from last season’s top eight teams.
We know that PSL giant Pitso Mosimane, who had been responsible for many exhilarating and exciting moments on the show, has departed Mamelodi Sundowns.
Others in his supporting cast have stepped up to try to fill his shoes. Through the experience of Manqoba Mngqithi and the fearlessness of Rulani Mokwena, Sundowns are hoping it’s more of the same – despite Mosimane’s exit.
Masandawana’s joint-coaches will face the first obstacle of their tenure when they tackle Bloemfontein Celtic in what will be a repeat of last season’s Nedbank Cup final, which Sundowns won to seal a historic treble.
It’ll be the fifth time that Sundowns and Celtic clash in the season curtain raiser. The other four meetings have all come in the quarterfinals as well, with Sundowns leading the head-to-head 3-0 and one game drawn. That tied fixture came in 2015 when Celtic ran out 4-2 winners on penalties after a 1-1 draw.
For all their success in recent years, this is the one trophy that Masandawana have failed to win, having last won it 13 years ago. Mngqithi is aware of the fact, but hopeful that they can break the hoodoo, starting with a victory against Celtic on Sunday evening.
“We have done well in the past and this trophy kept eluding us, so we will try and give it our best shot and see what we get out of it. Rest assured we will not bow down without a big fight, it is one trophy that everybody is yearning for – the Yellow Nation, the players, management, the president and the board. We are in the same boat and we want it and we ask the gods of football to be with us so we can win this,” said Mngqithi.
The heroes turned villains of last season, Kaizer Chiefs, are out for redemption. They finished outside the top eight in the 2018/2019, so missed out of the competition last season. But after finishing in second place last time around, they are back in the fold.
They have brought on board a highly successful character in Gavin Hunt, to finally end a trophy drought which is fast approaching its sixth year. Amakhosi last won silverware in 2015, while Staurt Baxter was at the helm. With the recruitment of Hunt, they are out to end this run.
Hunt found himself jobless after the sale of Bidvest Wits to Limpopo-based outfit Tshakhuma Tsha Madzivhandila (TTM). But after sacking Ernst Middendorp, who brought them to cusp of glory last season, Amakhosi brought in the four-time Coach of the Year.
They would’ve been hopeful that he would bring some of his former Wits stars over to Naturena with him. However, a Fifa-imposed transfer ban relating to the signing of Andriamirado Andrianarimanana in 2018 has frustrated them up to this point.
At this stage, the outcome of their appeal at the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) is still pending, so they are unable to register any new players.
Even if they do not bolster their ranks in this transfer window, Hunt has proven to be resourceful with limited resources throughout his career. And he will look to use their quarterfinal match against Maritzburg United to assess his options for the rest of the season.
Chiefs have been fairly dominant over their Sunday opponents in years gone by. In 33 past meetings in all competitions, Amakhosi have won 16. There have also been 10 draws and seven wins for Maritzburg. Hunt is hopeful they can put aside the disappointment of last season.
“We just need to make sure we improve on last year. Ernst and Shaun [Bartlett] were very unfortunate,” he said.
“I need to try and get a team that suits my eye, plays a brand of football but wins as well. It’s all good trying to play a brand of football, but we also need to win. The club is really hungry for success, there have been a few barren years and we need to turn it around,” added Hunt.
Then there are Chiefs’ bitter rivals, Orlando Pirates. They have had even more of a barren run than Chiefs.
As is routine, the Buccaneers have gone on a spending spree to bolster their squad. They’ve acquired the services of former Wits stars, Thulani Hlatshwayo, Deon Hotto and Thabang Monare, among others. Maritzburg goalkeeper Richard Ofori will be arriving imminently.
Josef Zinnbauer’s charges face a tricky opponent in Cape Town City. The Citizens have enjoyed more success in the sides’ previous encounters. Nine previous meetings between the sides, in all competitions, have seen City win three to Pirates’ singular victory – with five draws. Come Saturday evening, the Buccaneers will be hopeful of boosting their win ratio, and setting the tone for what they hope will be a fruitful season.
The competition will kick off with new boys on the block TTM going toe-to-toe with defending champions Supersport United on Saturday afternoon. SuperSport are the only team to appear in every season of this competition since the launch of the Premier Soccer League (PSL) in the 1996/97 campaign, and have won it twice over the last three seasons.
Under lockdown Level 1, spectators are still prohibited from attending sports events. As such, games will still be played behind closed doors, but not in the bio-bubble environment during last season. DM
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