Challenge of clinching the league unbeaten is the perfect stimulant for Sundowns
It won’t be an easy task. But if there is a South African side that can navigate a whole DStv Premiership campaign undefeated it is Mamelodi Sundowns.
The Mamelodi Sundowns juggernaut keeps rolling on. A 3-0 win over bottom-of-the-log Cape Town Spurs on Wednesday, 13 December, extended the team’s winning run in the first half of the current campaign to 11 victories from as many games.
A second-string Sundowns side, still stacked with quality that many DStv Premiership sides can only dream of, made light work of Spurs at Loftus Versfeld in Tshwane. It was the Cape Town-based side’s 13th defeat from 14 games played to date.
The Brazilians’ blistering start to the season has inevitably brought about murmurs of whether the Tshwane giants can record an “invincible season” and claim their seventh league title on the trot without suffering a single defeat.
It’s a feat that only a select group of clubs have managed in the history of the game. Of those, the most popular “Invincibles” story is the one scribed by French manager Arsene Wenger and his talented Arsenal squad during the 2003/2004 season.
Other European teams that have achieved this rare milestone include Italian heavyweights Juventus and AC Milan. Portuguese club Porto, the “original invincibles” Preston North End, plus Scotland’s Celtic and Rangers. Just to name a few.
In Africa, the honour belongs to teams such as Al Ahly, who have reached the landmark a few times in their decorated history. Fellow Egyptian club Zamalek did it in the same season as Arsenal.
Tunisia’s Espérance have also managed the feat a few times. The most recent African heavyweight to win their domestic league title undefeated was Young Africans of Tanzania, during the 2021/2022 season.
Considering their brilliant start to the Premiership, it’s a realistic prospect that Sundowns could finish the 2023/2024 campaign undefeated. Even if they drop points through draws along the way.
However, there are still many matches to be played, despite the type of form that sees Rulani Mokwena and his band of magnificent men currently undefeated in 35 league games.
The streak dates back to September 2022, when they were edged 2-1 by neighbours SuperSport United.
“We take each game as it comes and we prepare with a winning mentality. We don’t check the log standings. We just play to win,” said Masandawana midfielder Lesiba Nku.
Last season, with a number of records in sight if they carried on winning, Sundowns played to four draws in their final seven matches. It was a case of the team relaxing the pressure on the accelerator as the league was already safely secured.
Sundowns head coach Mokwena pinpointed rotation as one of the reasons his side dropped points at the tail-end of what was otherwise an exceptional campaign.
“There are three things I spoke to the team about. One of them was rotation,” said Mokwena in November.
“I’m not so sure whether rotation is the right thing at big clubs. Because of cohesion, chemistry and fluidity. And also, last season we dropped points when we rotated a lot,” the 36-year-old tactician added.
As Sundowns chase their first Caf Champions League crown since a maiden success in 2016, as well as try to preserve their unbeaten streak in the domestic league, rotation will be crucial.
Certainly, how his fringe players performed against Spurs will encourage Mokwena to rethink his stance on utilising as many of his players as possible. Though not every opponent they encounter will roll over and play dead like Spurs did on Wednesday night.
Their next league encounter is against second-placed Cape Town City. They will prove a tougher nut to crack, even though on the Premiership standings the Capetonians trail the Brazilians by eight points and have played three more games than Masandawana.
That mouthwatering clash, scheduled for 24 December as things stand, will allow Sundowns to break another record. Their own record. They are the only South African team to win 11 league games on the spin, achieving this honour three times before.
Against City, they can stretch this streak to 12 and take another step towards becoming South Africa’s first Invincibles. DM