The PSL title race could rest on Thursday’s clash between the top two sides in the league, Kaizer Chiefs and Mamelodi Sundowns, at Orlando Stadium at 6 pm on Thursday.
For Sundowns, victory is vital to keep them within touching distance of the Glamour Boys. Pitso Mosimane’s men currently sit on 50 points from 26 games with a goal difference of 15, while Chiefs have 53 from 26 with a goal difference of 22.
The match between Chiefs and Sundowns would have been even more crucial to the title race had Lazarous Kambole not netted in the 69th minute for Amakhosi to salvage a 1-1 draw against Stellenbosch on Sunday.
Chiefs’ big lead over Sundowns in the goal difference category means it is likely they will maintain their advantage on the table even if the defending champions beat them.
In the event that the two teams finish the season level on points, goal difference will be the first tiebreaker. Goals scored would be next in line in the event of identical goal difference between the top two.
Sundowns have scored just 36 goals this season, while Chiefs have netted 46, but a big win for the Brazilians could be almost as good as an extra point.
In the unlikely event that Chiefs and Sundowns had identical tallies in the points, goals scored, and goals conceded categories, head-to-head records would be used to decide the league champion.
Chiefs beat Sundowns 2-0 at Loftus Versfeld in the reverse fixture on 27 October, with Samir Nurkovic bagging a brace.
If Sundowns were to beat Chiefs 2-0 on Thursday and the teams were to finish the season with identical points, goals scored, and goals conceded, there would be a playoff to decide the title winner at a neutral venue.
But all of this is a mere theory for the time being, as Chiefs are best-placed to snatch the crown.
At least the Sundowns defence can breathe a sigh of relief, as they will not have to come up against Nurkovic, their chief tormentor 10 months ago.
The Serbian striker picked up a fourth yellow card of the season against Stellenbosch and now has to serve a one-match ban.
He came on in that game as an early substitute for former Sundowns attacker Leonardo Castro, who limped off a quarter of the way through.
Castro missed the 3-2 win over Polokwane City on 15 August through an injury sustained in the 1-1 draw with Bidvest Wits three days prior. These niggles for the Colombian could be of concern to Ernst Middendorp.
Cometh the hour, cometh the man. Kambole’s first league goal for Chiefs came at the ideal moment, and it is worth bearing in mind that he is a striker with a solid reputation in Africa. His poor form leading up to the Stellies game has not been forgotten, but the old adage goes that form is temporary and class is permanent.
There is also the threat of Khama Billiat, who tends to play well against his former employers.
Chiefs deserves these 2/10’s from Khama Billiat. The man submitted a transfer request and they refused to let him come back to Sundowns.— Khensani (@bhutikhens) August 23, 2020
He must milk them dry and fake injuries again like he did at the beginning of the season.
Lebogang Manyama was nursing a minor injury heading into the Stellies game. He and Erick Mathoho — both of whom were one yellow card away from suspension — were rested.
It is likely that the pair will add quality to Amakhosi, who have admittedly struggled of late — particularly in defence.
Chiefs have conceded seven goals in four games since the restart, resuscitating the age-old debate over whether to start Itumeleng Khune in goal or stick with Daniel Akpeyi.
The Nigerian international has been rock solid for the majority of the season, and it is unlikely that Middendorp will change his mind over his preferred choice for such a crucial game.
Bet: Kaizer Chiefs to win
Chiefs can take solace in the fact that Sundowns head into this game in inconsistent form too. They have won one, lost one, and drawn three of their five league games since the restart.
Chief among Mosimane’s concerns will be a Sjundowns defence which has leaked five goals in their last three games — three against Cape Town City and two against Maritzburg United.
Brazilian centre-back Ricardo Nascimento was sent off against the latter, meaning he will miss the Chiefs clash through suspension.
Sundowns kept a clean sheet in the 1-0 Monday night win over Golden Arrows, which came courtesy of Themba Zwane’s goal.
Motjeka Madisha has struggled in recent weeks, but his partnership with Mosa Lebusa did the required job. It remains to be seen who starts in goal for Masandawana on Monday. Kenny Mweene filled in during the last game with Denis Onyango injured.
Bet: Mamelodi Sundowns to win
Prediction: A cagey encounter will favour Chiefs more than Sundowns, and Amakhosi are likely to come away with a 1-1 draw.