The Soweto derby of firsts

The Soweto derby on the 29th of October 2022, will be match number 40 in a calendar year for the Buccaneers, and one person that looks forward to it from the Pirates camp is none other than the head coach Jose Riveiro. Amakhosi claimed a rare league double on Pirates, a third league double in the PSL era last season, with both matches ending 2-1, and Jose would love to stop the dominance as he has done with Sundowns.

Riviero joined Orlando Pirates from the Finnish League, and is working in Africa for the first time in his career. Welcomed with doubt from the media at large, and being an unknown profile, was not going to be easy for the Spaniard to come to African soil, and be at the helm of an African giant from Soweto. By now, he has surely learnt the importance of the Soweto derby in South African football history, and in particular, to the Orlando Pirates fans. Jose Riviero will be part of the derby for the first time. “I have learned about this game [Soweto derby] from the first time I landed in the country” soft-spoken Riviero told the media. This is one match Riviero will not wish to lose, no matter what it takes.

In the 2022/23 season, Riviero has overseen 12 league games, winning 5, drawing 4, losing 3. The defeats Orlando Pirates have suffered, could be the ones Riviero focuses on, because they inform him of his side’s weaknesses. Although form means nothing when it comes to the Soweto derby, one can’t hide from the information that these games do present. Pirates are not high scorers, having managed to score only 9 goals in 12 games. In all the matches they have won, both league and cup competitions, Orlando Pirates have surrendered ball possession, but played a positional game. They have been economical in the league games, in the sense that they have scored all their goals in the first half, and managed the lead in the second half, preserving energy. Pirates have not scored a single goal in the second half in all their league games. This means for coach Jose Riviero to win his first Soweto derby, he must decide on whether he approaches this game the league way or the MTN 8 way. In the MTN 8, Pirates have scored 5 goals in 3 games, 3 of the 5 being scored in the second half.

Riveiro Jose coach of Orlando Pirates during the DStv Premiership 2022/23 match between Sekhukhune United and Olando Pirates held at Peter Mokaba Stadium in Polokwane on 4 October 2022 © Kabelo/BackpagePix

Pirates top scorer so far is Monnapule Saleng, a loan-returnee from Swallows FC, signed at the end of 2020/21 season from Free State Stars, where he had finished as top scorer in the NFD with 14 goals. Saleng is currently top scorer at Pirates, having scored four times in all competitions. In the league, Saleng is a leading goal scorer with 2 goals. Fellow strikers Lepasa and Eva Nga are on one goal apiece. “Saleng is enjoying the benefits of the environment he finds himself in” Riviero said, talking about the form the nippy player is enjoying at the moment.

Prodigal son, Kermit Erasmus, brought a breath of fresh air for the Buccaneers up front. His combination with Saleng has produced goals so far for Jose’s man. Erasmus’ last goal for Pirates against Chiefs, was in October 2013, in a 1-1 draw. His last career goal against Chiefs was on his debut match for Sundowns in 2020/21, with a 3-0 win. Erasmus will be on the urge to impress the Bucs faithful yet again, having crushed his former team Sundowns 3-0 in the MTN 8 second leg of the semifinal, with his partner-in-crime, Saleng.

Kaizer Chiefs won the last PSL meeting between the sides, coming out on top 2-1 at Orlando Stadium last season. Goals from Reeve Frosler and Erick Mathoho were enough for Amakhosi, while Kwame Peprah scored the only goal for Orlando Pirates. Lately, Kaizer Chiefs have got the better of Pirates with wins in three straight encounters, dating back to March 2021.

Riviero’s counterpart, Arthur Zwane, is on a different path altogether. Zwane is in his first ever senior coaching job on a fulltime basis, and will be coaching in his first derby. Zwane played in the derby before; first for Orlando Pirates and later in his career for Kaizer Chiefs. His record thus far reads, 5 wins, 3 draws, and 4 losses. Exiting the MTN 8 thanks to AmaZulu, has not eased the pressure on Mangethe himself, and has escalated the pressure on senior players. He has asked for divine intervention, prayers and support from those close to the club, to help him change the fortunes. The fans want results now. They want trophies now, and they are losing patience with the “building or rebuilding” theory that they are being fed by the management.

Zwane will be sweating over the fitness of striker Bonfilis-Caleb, who seemed to be a shadow of himself in the MTN 8 2nd leg semifinal in Durban. Caleb is currently a joint top scorer in the league with 6 goals, 4 of which came from penalties. Dolly, Billiat, Sekgota will be crucial to help Mangethe win his first derby. Another player who will be key, is striker Ashley Du Preez, signed from Stellenbosch FC. Du Preez has scored 2 goals so far, and his pace upfront has given Chiefs plenty of firepower in the final third, but his Achilles heel has been his decision making. There was a bit of tension in the crowd in Durban as Du Preez was constantly losing possession. Emotion seems to take over Du Preez every time he makes a mistake, or misses a chance. He seems to be more concerned about the reaction from the crowd than what he needs to do next after a miss. Du Preez quickly drops his head after a miss, but this is where senior players like Keegan Dolly need to come through for him in the derby, so that when he misses, or misplaces a pass, he must believe that he can get another chance and do better. Of course, playing in a packed 90 000 seater stadium, will be intimidating for any footballer, but Du Preez will be one player who will need a good performance for the sake of his confidence.

Arthur Zwane head coach of Kaizer Chiefs during DStv Premiership 2022/23 match between Kaizer Chiefs and Supersport United FC at FNB Stadium on the 17 September 2022 © Sydney Mahlangu/BackpagePix

The goalkeeping department has been a real struggle and headache for both these coaches, particularly Mangethe. Chiefs have used Bruce Bvuma, Brendon Petersen and captain Itumeleng Khune in the league thus far. Zwane seem to be indecisive concerning his first choice. Though Khune has missed the last two games due to injury, Petersen has not disappointed whenever he has been given a chance. Neither Bvuma nor Petersen has the charisma and leadership quality Khune possesses, nor commands the same respect as the skipper. It is undoubtedly true that whoever plays the derby will definitely feel the pressure to perform.

Having scored 15 goals in 12 games is a title challenger’s dream, but conceding 15 goals in 12 games, with a goal difference of zero, spells disaster for Mangethe. Leaking of goals is the difference between these two men going to the derby. Jose found solutions for his defence, Zwane is still looking for his right combination. Will it be Ngcobo & Dove, Kwinika & Ngcobo, Kwinika & Dove or Ngezana & Dove? Changing centre back pairings has been consistent at Kaizer Chiefs, and has made it difficult for them to settle for one combination. Zitha Kwinika has the most appearances at the back, as he has appeared 11 times in Chiefs defence this season. In those 11 matches in which he has played, Chiefs conceded 13 goals. He is the most frequently booked player, and has already served suspension. In a Soweto derby, Kwinika will need to remain calm, so that he gives Chiefs sufficient strength at the back.

Changing center backs influences the goalkeeping selection, and one wonders if goalkeepers’ coach, Aubrey Mothiba, will recommend Brandon Petersen or Bruce Bvuma, if Itumeleng Khune is still out injured. Away from home, Chiefs are yet to keep a clean sheet. Their heaviest away defeat in the league is 4-0 which was inflicted by title rivals and defending champions, Sundowns, at Loftus.

Itumeleng Khune has featured in 6 league games this season. He has conceded 6 goals and kept only 1 clean sheet. Brandon Petersen has played 3 games, conceded 4 goals, and kept one clean sheet. Bruce Bvuma has played 3 games, conceded 5, and kept 1 clean sheet. Whether Chiefs will miss the presence of Akpeyi or not, remains to be seen, but there is no doubt that the goalkeeping department keeps Mangethe awake at night.

From a Pirates perspective, Richard Ofori has been the club’s first choice. Siyabonga Mpontshane has been a reliable deputy for the Ghanaian international. The consistency in the center back positions has been Pirates’ strength. Oliseh Ndah, Innocent Maela and Nkosinathi Sibisi has been a rock solid partnership for the Buccaneers. Throw Thapelo Xoki in the mix, and you will see how it has become easy for Richard Ofori and Siyabonga Mpontshane to keep clean sheets. Richard Ofori has conceded 6 goals in 10 appearances, whilst Mpontshane is yet to concede, having played just 2 games. If Richard Ofori is not declared fit to play on Saturday, Jose will be confident Mpontshane will do the job for him.

The Soweto derby of today needs new heroes. The late Patrick Ace Ntsoelengoe is the leading scorer with 19 goals. Leonardo Castro is a foreigner with the most goals of 4 in 11 appearances.      

Ace, All Time Highest Derby Scorer – Credit Kaizer Chiefs FC