MAMELODI Sundowns and Kaizer Chiefs have forged an intense rivalry between themselves. But everything will be decided on the pitch when they cross paths this afternoon for the last time in the domestic league this season.
We take a look at the duels between goalie Itumeleng Khune and striker Peter Shalulile, striker Samir Nurkovic and defender Rushine De Reuck, and midfielder Nkosingiphile Ngcobo and counterpart Siphelele Mkhulise which could impact today’s result.
KHUNE (CHIEFS) V SHALULILE (SUNDOWNS)
Khune has had an underwhelming outing for Chiefs between the sticks. He conceded in almost all the matches, and that was partly due to his mistakes. Nonetheless, he remains a vital cog of the team, given that Chiefs’ defensive wall still trusts him.
The 33-year-old has been playing at the highest level for almost a decade and a half. His reflexes may not be as sharp as they used to be, but his analysis of one-on-one duels is still commendable, given his ability to close the tight angles.
But while he may not be as quick off his line as he used to be, he made some last-gasp saves to save Chiefs from further embarrassment. But against Shalulile, Khune will have to ensure that he brings his A-game, overall.
The Sundowns talisman is quick on and off the ball, and he’s a threat aerially as well. He did, after all, open his Sundowns account with a glancing header against Chiefs – and Khune – the last time these teams met in the league early this season.
Shalulile has fitted like a glove at Sundowns this season. He’s part of an impressive trio up front, including Themba Zwane and Kermit Erasmus. He stands head and shoulders above the rest after scoring 16 goals in 31 appearances.
NURKOVIC (CHIEFS) V DE REUCK (SUNDOWNS)
Nurkovic has been far from his best this season. He’s only scored two league goals, compared to the 14 he racked up in the league last season. But there’s no doubt that he remains a colossal figure of the team, considering his strengths around the penalty area.
The big Serb has an incredible aerial prowess, while he can bulldoze his way through a traffic of defenders. His ability to hold up play will come in handy against the Brazilians who like to play on the ground, instead of long balls.
The person who will be responsible for keeping Nurkovic in check is De Reuck. The former Maritzburg United defender is slowly cementing his place in the heart of Sundowns’ defence with his quick and fresh legs.
Being a good reader of the game has ensured that De Reuck has made a seamless adaptation. That, moreover, has led to him being a good judge of character – thinking ahead of the striker – and subsequently made him pull off timely and clean tackles.
NGCOBO (CHIEFS) V MKHULISE (SUNDOWNS)
Ngcobo is, arguably, the breakthrough player of the season. After a long-term injury forced him to spend more time in the medical room than on the pitch during his debut season three years ago, Ngcobo is enjoying his football again under Gavin Hunt.
His ability to find pocket spaces is second to none. He’s a good passer of the ball, showing the ability to consolidate possession – knowing when to exert pressure against the opposition and calm down proceedings when his team is on defence mode.
Ngcobo plays behind the strikers and he’s notched four goals and one assist this season.
The 21-year-old midfielder will have to match the temperament of Sundowns’ darling Mkhulise at the Loftus Versfeld Stadium this afternoon.
Mkhulise is slightly different compared to Ngcobo. He’s explosive. He creates and continues to follow the second ball. He’s also good in aerial duels, and he’s scored some wonderful goals with his head for Sundowns.
What completes Mkhulise, though, is that he’s surrounded with players such as Rivaldo Coetzee and Themba Zwane, who know how to complement him when he decides to increase or lower the tempo of the game from the midfield going forward.