Kaizer Chiefs went into the FIFA World Cup-enforced break with a thumping Soweto Derby victory courtesy of a Yusuf Maart wonder goal and coach Arthur Zwane is hoping Amakhosi can quickly regain that spirit and momentum as they resume league action.
Amakhosi return to PSL action against Golden Arrows when they travel to KwaZulu-Natal on Saturday for a New Year’s Eve fixture at Moses Mabhida Stadium, sitting in fourth position on the DStv Premiership table and seven points off the league summit.
“We are coming back from a long recess, an unusual one at this time of the season. So, it will be a case of adaptation and a change of mindset from our players,” Zwane says, as his team prepares for a return to action.
Having finished the first half of the season “on a high, against a team that is currently on a high, in Orlando Pirates” Zwane knows regaining momentum quickly won’t be easy.
“We just want to continue where we left off in terms of the performance, with the hope that we still have the same rhythm, as we are starting to get to know each other very well. The chemistry is also getting better, as is the approach of the players, which has also been key. We were building up good momentum and we now have to start afresh. What is key right now is to try and grind out the results, in terms of getting to go back to how we played our last game. It’s not going to be easy,” says Zwane.
The Chiefs mentor says his team played quite a few practice matches during the league break, which will stand them in good stead, though he knows the return to official league action will be a different proposition.
“We played quite a few games behind closed doors and we did quite well, that might have helped. But it is only until you start playing official games, that’s when you see where you are, where you need to make changes and improve. Those games are practice matches, because the atmosphere is not the same as at the stadiums. What will be important now is how the players will respond when the crowds are cheering them on… and sometimes when things are not going our way, when they will be a little bit against us, which is something we understand,” says Zwane.
While largely beneficial, Zwane also says the practice games came at a cost, with a number of first-choice players set to be unavailable when the league resumes, due to injuries picked up in those games.
One notable absentee is, of course, midfielder Njabulo Blom, who has completed his move to Major League Soccer side, St. Louis City.
“I’ve known Njabulo since he was 15 years old. He’s a hard-working player, a focused player. Given the opportunity, he grabbed it with both hands. We are glad for him that he is going to another level, where he believes he will be taking his game to another level. It’s high time we as a nation export our players. Njabulo got the opportunity and we wish him well. We know he is going to represent the brand very well in America at his new team. More than anything we wish him well in his future endeavours. We know he is not going to let us down, because he is a soldier of note,” Zwane says, paying warm tribute to the departing Chiefs academy graduate.
The departure of Blom and the short-term loss of key players at a crucial stage of the season means Zwane “will have to juggle around the team and get to our best eleven to keep the momentum going”.
He is confident, though, there is plenty of quality within the Chiefs ranks to restart the season well, mindful that they face strong opposition in Abafana Bes’thende this weekend.
“Golden Arrows are a difficult team to play against. They are very strong in their build up, and can vary their game and play long and short. They have very mobile players in their squad and have tactical flexibility in their final third entry. They are very good in one versus one situations, as well. They’re clinical. We are playing against a team who are very good going forward and who also have a very good defence. It’s going to be a mountain to climb for us, but we will be ready come the game on Saturday,” Zwane says as he gives a quick assessment of the potential threat posed by Arrows.
The Chiefs coach, though, is upbeat and as always is relishing the challenge.
“We also have our weapons, and our strong points and weaknesses as well, but we try and make sure our strong points cover our weaknesses. We just hope the players who are available right now will grab their opportunity given to them. I see no problem or worries at the moment. We have good players who will go out there and represent the team very well,” Zwane concludes.
Kick off on Saturday is at 15h30 at Moses Mabhida stadium in Durban.