Can Pirates win the PSL title?

Orlado Pirates

Victory for Orlando Pirates in the Soweto derby against Kaizer Chiefs can take them one step closer to the PSL title which has eluded them since the infamous double treble, writes MARSHALL GOUTS.

In less than one full season under the guidance of Milutin Sredojevic and Rhulani Mokwena, the Parktown-based outfit have managed to turn their fortunes around completely – not only bringing back the ‘Happy People’, but more importantly, challenging for silverware this season with a brand of football that resonates with the Ghost.

Indicative of their giant strides in growth from last season, Pirates have collected more points this season (36 points) with eight matches left to be played in the league than they had in the whole campaign last season (33 points).

According to Mokwena, uniting the dressing room has been key to the Buccaneers’ resurgence this season.

‘Squad management is very important. When you look at what happened previously, a lot of our players didn’t have a sense of belonging,’ he told the media at the Soweto Derby press conference on Monday.

‘We have worked to get them back to feeling like they are part of a big team,’ he added.

Not only did Mokwena reveal the secret to his side’s success, but the former Sundowns assistant, in no uncertain terms, claimed that his side do not form part of the teams vying for the title and that they are focused on their own objectives instead.

Sure, coach. Sure.

‘We are a smaller horse that is in a competitive stage, so as a smaller horse, we need to continue to be fed.

‘We are facing bigger horses that have been growing over a longer period. We are a work in progress.

‘We are also aware that while we are building, we also have a responsibility to our fans who want results.

‘But in all of that, we need to be aware of the process that we are on. This is the bigger picture,’ he added.

While I don’t agree with Mokwena dismissing his team as potential title-candidates, nor do I think the fans do either, I can only imagine this being a strategy on management’s behalf to limit any sort of expectations and pressure placed on the players by the fans.

In assessing the Buccaneers’ chances of securing the league title, I found that their squad depth, squad management and their title run-in could prove to be the three contributing factors in them clinching their first league title since the 2011-12 season.

Squad Management:

One of the most striking features of the current Pirates squad is how Micho and Mokwena have managed to integrate lesser known players into the squad at the expense of so-called big-name players.

The likes of Innocent Maela and Mthokozisi Dube have slotted in seamlessly for Marc van Heerden and Happy Jele respectively.

Looking at the list of players which have been loaned out or released, one gets a sense that the Pirates’ technical team have clearly identified which players fit the bill for their footballing philosophy, with some needing a season out on loan to prove themselves.

Squad Depth:

Pirates find themselves competing in two competitions this season, namely the Absa Premiership title and the Nedbank Cup title. In this regard, they hold an advantage over table-toppers Mamelodi Sundowns who participate in the CAF Champions League.

Having won the title in 2016, Pitso Mosimane’s side are by no means looking to fill up numbers at the tournament. Masandawana’s quest to conquer Africa again could derail their chances of winning an eighth league title this season.

Micho has a number of injured players in the casualty room, but what may now seem like a burden, could later be a blessing. Once Pirates get their full complement of players, who knows? Maybe we could see them raising the bar in the PSL like they did under the helms of Ruud Krol and Julio Leal. They certainly have the personnel for it.

Title run-in:

Looking at the top three teams’ final eight games, it could come down to the wire, with Sundowns, Pirates and Chiefs each playing four games at home and four games away.

It is believed that the worst teams to face in a title run-in are those that are fighting the relegation battle.

Masandawana are unbeaten in their last five PSL matches, having collected nine points from a possible 15.

Sundowns’ only top-eight opposition is Maritzburg United and Baroka, two teams that they got the better of in the first round of the league, while they come up against AmaZulu, Chippa United, Golden Arrows, Bidvest Wits, Ajax Cape Town and Bloemfontein Celtic.

Pirates arguably have the toughest run-ins of the three title-chasers as they face three top-eight sides in Chiefs, Cape Town City and Free State Stars, while they also come up against Arrows, Celtic, SuperSport, Amazulu and Bidvest Wits.

Micho’s side, too, collected nine points from a possible 15 in their last five games in the PSL, but head into the Soweto Derby on the back of a morale-boosting 4-2 win against Chippa which came after going behind early.

Despite collecting a mere six points out of a possible 15, the Naturena-based outfit are on the back of a nine-match unbeaten streak in the PSL.

To quote Chiefs coach Steve Komphela: ‘Statistics are like a bikini, they don’t reveal everything.’

Ultimately, it will depend on which team wants the title most and, following years of underachieving, don’t be surprised if one of the Soweto giants (the one in black and white) can pull something out of the hat.

Photo: Backpagepix

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