The good start to the 2023 Castle Premier Soccer League season by the tradition giants of Zimbabwean football —Dynamos, Highlanders and CAPS United, has led to many predicting an enthralling tittle race.
CAPS lead to the race after five matches, while DeMbare and Bosso are third and fourth respectively, having played a game less, after the postponement of their eagerly-awaited league match in Bulawayo.
Defending champions FC Platinum, occupy second position, one point adrift of Makepekepe.
The platinum miners, for the third time this season, came back from behind to collect at least a point, when they played out a 1-1 stalemate with the Green Machine at the National Sports Stadium on Sunday.
William Manondo had thrust Makepekepe ahead on the stroke of half time when he headed home Godknows Murwira’s corner kick, before substitute Perfect Chikwende leveled matters in the 82nd minute.
Norman Mapeza’s charges showed great character, in what was a very difficult week for them, following the death of their netball team’s player Sibekezele Ncube.
That being said, there is something about the platinum miners this term, which is different compared to last season.
During arguably their most productive period on their way to a record-equalling fourth league title last year, the Zvishavane-based side played more than 15 hours of football without conceding.
In ten consecutive games, they scored 19 goals and conceded none.
But this term, they have conceded five goals already and kept a clean sheet only once.
They have also conceded first in four of the five games they played so far —against Premiership debutants Simba Bhora, as well as against Highlanders, Bulawayo Chiefs and CAPS United.
Even though the season is still in its infancy, Mapeza is worried, naturally.
“It was a great come back for us but you get worried at the end of the day when you are always coming back from behind. It’s not good at all,” Mapeza said after the 1-1 draw with CAPS United.
Despite the defensive challenges being faced by the platinum miners, performance analyst Kudzai Chitima, insists they are still the best team in the league, by some distance.
“FC Platinum are still the team to beat because they have been together for a long time and you can see some of their moves are now automated,” Chitima told Soccer24.
“The stability will obviously work in their favour, also coupled with a more stable financial back up, because as we all know, some teams will find it difficult as the season progresses,” he added.
Chitima reckons even tactically, Mapeza’s charges will likely outwit everyone.
“Tactically, in the past 5 games, it also looks like they have evolved from their usual way of playing. During build-up, they are employing a three versus two setup to beat the press and push into the middle phase,” explained Chitima.
“In the middle phase, (Gift) Mbweti, their right back, is now inverting to become a d-link, while Brian Banda the original holding midfielder, pushes forward to have numerical superiority, at the same time controlling depth.
Added Chitima: “This increases numbers upfront and increases the chance to score goals. Also, having a new set of equally good wingers in Jarisson Selemani and Perfect Chikwende makes it difficult to predict what the team would do. But we are braced for a tougher season than before.”
Platinum host Triange United next, at Mandava on Saturday.