While indications are that Kaizer Chiefs are steadily catching up on lost ground under new coach Ernst Middendorp, Orlando Pirates still show the right credentials to challenge for the league title.
Middendorp marked his return to the Amakhosi hot seat with two straight wins after taking over from Giovanni Solinas, who was sacked after 22 matches into his tenure.
The 1-0 victory over SuperSport United in an Absa Premiership fixture and the 3-0 triumph against Elgeco Plus of Madagascar in the CAF Confederation Cup lifted off a cloud of uncertainty after Chiefs suffered back-to-back defeats in Solinas’ last games in charge early this month.
Amakhosi – who were placed sixth on the log going into this weekend – are done for the year with regards to their domestic programme but a big test awaits Middendorp in the new year.
The German will face defending champions Mamelodi Sundowns in their 2019 league opener on January 5 and Bidvest Wits four days later.
In fact the second round of the Premiership will tell if Amakhosi have the quality to drag themselves off the bottom half of the standings.
There have been more questions than answers about Chiefs’s recruitment policy.
Inevitably, Chiefs’ football manager, Bobby Motaung, bore the brunt as the main man in charge of the signing of players and coaches at the club.
Some club fans questioned the involvement of big boss Kaizer Motaung, particularly in the final decision on the recruitment of players and technical staff.
The combination of Solinas and assistant Parick Mabedi did not win over Amakhosi supporters.
Except for Khama Billiat, Lebogang Manyama and goalkeeper Virgil Vries, Chiefs’ other new signings have not made any significant difference in the team.
Madagascan midfielder Andriamirado “Dax” Andrianarimanana and defender Letlhogonolo Mirwa are yet to justify their places.
Left-back Mirwa was signed from ABC Motsepe league side Buya Msuthu on a three-year deal but he has not featured in any official game so far.
In contrast, Chiefs’s rivals Pirates have assembled a squad capable of mounting a serious onslaught in the championship race where current leaders Bidvest Wits have also shown flashes of intent.
The Buccaneers laid a rather solid foundation from the previous season with a runners-up spot but they endured a stuttering start in their opening five matches, accumulating as many points.
The reconstruction job on the Pirates ship started after the shambles of two seasons ago when the team ended the season 11th, the same campaign in which they suffered record losses to Mamelodi Sundowns (6-0) and SuperSport United (6-1).
At the time Pirates supporters did not only go on a rampage on match days but they went as far as accusing club boss Irvin Khoza of neglecting the team.
Khoza eventually turned to Milutin “Micho” Sredojevic in August last year after little-known Swedish coach Kjell Jonevret lasted less than six months with results barely coming.
Since the arrival of Micho, Pirates have seen a change in fortunes as the team continues with their entertaining football that has attracted plaudits from Bucs’ followers and opposition alike.
Pirates finished the first round with 11 games unbeaten and headed into the festive break within touching distance of Wits at the summit of the log.
In fact Pirates have alternated the top spot with Wits.
Pirates have thrived on a balanced structure.
The driving forces have been players such as Vincent Pule, Thembinkosi Lorch, Xola Mlambo, Justin Shonga, Musa Nyatama, Ben Motshwari and Augustine Mulenga.
However, Bucs’s defeat to Baroka FC in the Telkom Knockout final early this month prompted the question on whether they would be able to showcase the beautiful game and have nothing to show in the end.
The Buccaneers resume their league programme against Highlands Park on January 5.
By virtue of their rich culture and tradition, it has always been said that a competitive Chiefs and Pirates is good for local football.
Only time will tell if Amakhosi will follow their rivals to the top.