If all the hype surrounding the Absa Premiership match between Kaizer Chiefs and Maritzburg United is anything to go by, then expect some fireworks at FNB Stadium this evening (6pm kick-off).
The stakes are so high that if it’s not old friends turning into foes, then it’s two teams going head-to-head in their quest to bring prosperity to their headquarters, while both have different goals in mind.
Ernst Middendorp has his back against the wall
The German tactician, who boasts an impressive CV, has coached all over the world but to date there are only three teams that he calls home – Kaizer Chiefs, Maritzburg United and Arminia Bielefeld.
Currently, he occupies the hot seat at Chiefs, returning last December after his last spell from 2005-2007. He resurfaced to rejuvenate a club that has endured a three-and-a-half-year trophy drought.
But with their league title aspirations also far-fetched this season, his primary target is to finish in a respectable position in the log standings. And that would come at the expense of his other “home”, Maritzburg, who have relegation staring them in the eye as they are rooted at the bottom of the table.
Rewind to three seasons ago, and it was also Middendorp who rescued them from that relegation quagmire on the last day of the season.
But today, and with eight games before the season comes to an end, he holds part of the guillotine that could make the Team of Choice kiss their Premiership status goodbye.
Chiefs still fancy their chances
With eight games to go and eight points adrift of log leaders Orlando Pirates and Mamelodi Sundowns, Chiefs’ aspirations of winning the championship could still be turned into a reality.
But that will need a mammoth effort and loads of favours from the rest of the 15 teams as it won’t be an easy ride to the summit.
Realistically, Amakhosi do not have the power to ensure that they can bag eight successive wins, especially with the reign of Middendorp yet to hit full stride.
There is, however, a lot more to play for. Middendorp and his troops still have to protect the pride of the biggest club in the country, while a top-three finish will enable them to return to continental football, joining fellow rivals Pirates and Sundowns, who are the country’s flag bearers on the continent.
Tinkler effect gains momentum
After falling from grace this season due to becoming big-headed by setting absurd targets and enduring the departure of integral players such as Bevan Fransman and Lebohang Maboe, the Team of Choice have been forced to eat humble pie and occupy the foot of the log.
But having bagged two wins in the last three matches, surely that has given Maritzburg room to dream about the improbable becoming possible. And it’s thanks to Eric Tinkler, who’s the third coach to sit at the helm this season following the unsuccessful stints of Fadlu Davids and Muhsin Ertugral.
With eight games to go before the curtain comes down on the league season, Tinkler will be hoping his men have got enough fuel in their tank to collect a bunch of points.
And newbies such as Judas Moseamedi and Thabiso Kutumela are proving to be the real deal for the Pietermaritzburg-based club in these trying times.