Saturday, 6 December 2014

SOWETO DERBY PREVIEW: Tinkler can tinker but Kaizer Chiefs have to be favourites today

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ASSAULT AND WINNER: Willard Katsande celebrates his goal in March
LET'S get this straight. I hold no particular candle for Kaizer Chiefs or Orlando Pirates. But when South Africa comes to a grinding halt to witness the umpteenth Soweto Derby at 3.30pm (Eskom load-shedding permitting) you simply CANNOT envisage the AmaKhosi's 14th PSL game this season ending in defeat.

What is not in question is THIS: the Buccaneers, 15 points behind their arch-rivals, will be significantly improved by the departure of Vladimir Vermecovic. Since the Serbian's return to South Africa in February, I have questioned his talent, his attitude and his suitability for the job, given the way he left Chiefs two years before (see original post HERE

Eric Tinkler, a nuggety little midfielder who strutted his stuff in Portugal, Italy and 78 times for England's unfashionable Barnsley, is no mug. His stint as caretaker at Pirates after Roger de Sa's departure a year ago was by no means a disaster. He will make the Sea Robbers tough to plunder today.

Tinkler could even manage to snatch the fourth draw this season against Chiefs. He knows he enjoyed Dr Irvin Khoza's backing before and after VV's arrival; he has sat in silent support of the Serbian despite erratic selection and questionable results for nine pregnable months.

But Stuart Baxter is becoming something of an expert when it comes to South Africa's biggest game of football. The largest crowd in the world (unless somebody spots an attendance of over 85,000 elsewhere this weekend) are far more likely to witness another Chiefs victory.

Wolverhampton-born Baxter was thrown to the wolves when he arrived back in South Africa, a decade after his stint with the national team. But he won the PSL title in his opening season - the first foreign coach ever to do so - and finished second to Mamelodi Sundowns last term after a worrying end-of-season collapse.

After their opening winning streak - which also featured an emphatic MTN8 triumph - steam is once more leaking from the AmaKhosi Express. Baxter is well aware of that. With the African Champions League just around the corner, he knows beating the old foe today is vital. They could end up needing every point come May, 2015 if they are to be crowned champions.

And he knows the departure of VV at Pirates could easily work against him. Baxter says: "Change can work both ways. On the one hand, it can cause instability. One the other, it can motivate them, they could gain courage."

Derby day: How the Collins household looks today
To do that, Tinkler needs to Tinker. I've said all season Pirates looked best early on when they threw former Chief Lehlohonolo Majoro up front with Kermit Erasmus in the two-pronged assault force. Lennox Bacela is not the answer, though VV seemed to think so in recent, poor efforts.

I'd be thinking about Vieira Masalesa in the midfield too and a rocket up the bottom for captain Oupa Manyisa. There was a time when I thought the pair of them worked well together under Roger De Sa on the African campaign long months ago.

At the back, with the shadow of Senzo Meyiwa's still-unsolved murder receding, Brighton Mhlongo needs help. The best four defenders in Orlando? Rooi Mahamutsa, Siya Sangweni, Happy Jele and Patrick Phungwayo, axed by VV last week. I say: play them all. A quality quartet. Thabo Matlaba can come on from the bench and run all over the place if necessary.

For Chiefs, I'd go with both Georges - Lebese and Maluleka are both capable of goals - rather than Mandla Masango, who is looking weary of late. And I wouldn't bring back Itumeleng Khune just yet, Brilliant Khuzwayo can take the heat today.

It's up front where things changed dramatically this week. Bernard Parker, who won last season's golden boot with the ten goals he scored before March this year, finally got back on the score-sheet in an impressive 3-0 triumph over a surprisingly poor Bidvest Wits in midweek.

Those two goals could just decide this derby. A confident Parker scoring means the world to club and country. This could be just the beginning, And with Tokelo Rantie diagnosed with a "partial shoulder dislocation" at Bournemouth, perhaps Bernard will enter Shakes Mashaba's thinking before January if he carries on sniffing out the goals rather than playing deep behind the much-maligned Kingston Nkhatha.

All set: Willard Katsande via SMS this morning
But there's another option. Willard Katsande. South Africa's best defensive midfielder remains the destroyer-in-chief for Baxter. Orlando Pirates fans will remember he scored his ONLY goal in a Soweto Derby in March.

Today, via SMS, he says he'll try to score another. The 28-year-old Zimbabwean is a lesson to youngsters. His work-rate, durability and improvement - he has learned to intercept rather than fly in to the tackle so effectively as Chiefs surged ahead of the pack this season - cannot be ignored.

Perhaps Salt 'n Vinegar is the difference between Chiefs and the rest this season. I believe he'll be the difference in El Kasico today. Derby's can ALWAYS go either way, but I've got to go for unbeaten Kaizer Chiefs today.

My fun team predictions? Orlando Pirates must bring back Phungwayo, loving Issa Sarr, go with TWO up... Vieira Masalesa is a big call, but here's hoping...


Kaizer Chiefs should stick with Khuzawayo one more time, and stop booing Kingston Nkhatha, given their record so far this season...


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