Mamelodi Sundowns remain the team to beat as the 2016-17 season nears kick-off, writes HENRY FAGAN.
Sundowns looked unstoppable for large portions of last season as they ran away with the title, eventually finishing a mammoth 14 points clear of their closest challengers Bidvest Wits.
The club set all sorts of records along the way as they reached an unprecedented haul of 71 points for a 16-game season, extended their PSL-era title record to seven wins and set a 23-game unbeaten run, the longest ever run to take place across a single campaign.
The reason the side look primed to repeat that success is, first and foremost, down to the player’s the Brazilians have at their disposal. In this respect, Sundowns arguably have a monopoly on the best players the Premiership has to offer. Boasting the likes of Hlompho Kekana, Khama Billiat and Keagan Dolly among their ranks, the three Sundowns stars were all recognised as finalists for the PSL Player of the Season award, having dominated the midfield battle and proved unrivalled in their creativity. Furthermore, while the top talents in the Premiership have typically been snapped up by European sides after a breakthrough season, the Brazilians have thus far managed to keep hold of their talismanic trio.
While the side has lost of the likes regulars Bongani Zungu and Ramahlwe Mphahlele to Vitoria de Guimaraes and Kaizer Chiefs respectively, Sundowns have also looked to add to their squad by bringing in the likes of marquee signing Sibusiso Vilakazi and replaced Mphahlele by bringing Brazilian Ricardo Nascimento to Chloorkop.
Vilakazi – who was Wits’ best player last season – should add yet another attacking dimension to Downs’ play, while the signing also served to weaken the Brazilians’ closest rivals Wits. Meanwhile, the loss of fringe players in the squad have been supplemented by the additions of prospects Percy Tau, Lucky Mohomi, and Thapelo Morena.
Sundowns’ stability gives them an additional advantage in their bid to repeat their title heroics. With traditional rivals Orlando Pirates and Kaizer Chiefs both currently in a process of major upheaval and renewal, it will likely take the pair some time before they hit their stride. Sundowns, by contrast, are well settled and look more stable than ever following their tying down of coach Pitso Mosimane to a new long-term contract.
Though the likes of Chiefs, Pirates and Wits are all likely to improve over the coming campaign, expect Sundowns to lift the title with some room to breathe.