However, this Kaizer Chiefs outfit looks like a side that at the very least will be in the race until the death. Simply put, what sets them apart from previous seasons is that they have finally learned to grind out wins without playing well.
Far more than most would have guessed a month ago. For starters, Amakhosi have recruited well. Samir Nurković and Kearyn Baccus were not illustrious high-profile signings, but they have found their feet quickly in the Absa Premiership.
In addition, the likes of Daniel Akpeyi, Reeve Frosler and Lebogang Manyama have found their feet after joining last season. Veteran centre-back Erick Mathoho, meanwhile, has returned to top form.
Ernst Middendorp deserves his share of credit for Amakhosi’s turnaround. His mid-season appointment last term was not the most popular and last season’s ninth-place finish and Nedbank Cup final defeat did little to help his cause.
Now, having had the chance to prepare his troops from the start of the campaign, Middendorp appears to have rectified much of what was lacking last season.
Chiefs did not always play poor football in 2018/19. Under Solinas, there were often quality performances followed up by underwhelming ones. Even after Middendorp took over, they paid the price on many occasions for creating chances but not finishing them.
This campaign, however, Chiefs have responded well to high-pressure situations and found ways to grind out results.
From showing faith in Daniel Akpeyi to making astute substitutions with his team 1-0 down against Cape Town City, Middendorp has had a hand to play in this turnaround.
Amakhosi are still not quite as clinical as they could be. For all Samir Nurković’s clever runs to unlock defences, he doesn’t convert as many chances as he could.
At the back, Chiefs are prone to brief moments of sloppiness, with Daniel Cardoso, in particular, having a few blips against SuperSport United and Cape Town City.
Reminders of the depths to which they sunk last season have not been totally eliminated from Chiefs’ game. Furthermore, the Glamour Boys still face stiff competition for the title.
Mamelodi Sundowns look as strong as they did last season and should have less juggling to do after a format change to the CAF Champions League. Orlando Pirates, meanwhile bought well in the off-season and are likely to bounce back from a period of turbulence at some stage.
These two trump Middendorp’s men in terms of squad depth, while 2016/17 champions Bidvest Wits have got the season off to a good start. SuperSport United, meanwhile, are the dark horses.
The Absa Premiership is a highly competitive league and any team that picks up 10 points from their opening four matches should be taken seriously.
It often takes top players a year or two to settle at their clubs. Chiefs are fortunate that many of last season’s and this season’s signings appear to be finding their feet all at the same time.
Great teams find ways to grind out results. Mamelodi Sundowns did so on many occasions last season, picking up 12 one-goal league wins. Chiefs have three from four matches this season after picking up five out of 30 in 2018/19.
Amakhosi will face stiff competition in the title race, but with no MTN8 or CAF commitments, they will have plenty of time to focus on the league.
Whether or not Chiefs win the league remains to be seen, but at the very least, it appears they are genuinely in the race.
Leonard Solms is a sports journalist who features regularly on various local and international platforms including ESPN, New Frame, FARPost, Tagged Online and Careers Magazine, as well as this one. He enjoys the occasional bet and the most important tip he can give you is to bet within your means.