Without openly acknowledging that Kaizer Chiefs were below par in the last three meetings with old rivals Orlando Pirates, George Maluleka suggested that a better Amakhosi side will take to the field at FNB Stadium when the two Soweto giants do battle in an Absa Premiership match on Saturday afternoon.
The Buccaneers have dominated the Glamour Boys in the last four Soweto Derbies, beating Chiefs three times and drawing one last year. But Maluleka believes that time is over now under Ernst Middendorp.
“With the new coach comes new tactics and new formations and I think it has worked for us. We are playing attacking football. Going into this one it is going to be closely contested because we play quite differently now,” said Maluleka.
The 30-year-old central midfielder did however admit that the Sea Robbers might be mentally fitter than Chiefs going into Saturday’s game because of their Caf Champions League campaigns where nerves of steel are needed for a successful run.
“Pirates are playing a lot of games and getting a lot of momentum. They are getting challenged mentally in the Caf competition they play in. I won’t say they have the upper hand but we are aware and we have to make sure we are up there (mentally) as well,” he said.
Having gone three full seasons without any silverware, Chiefs are under pressure to add something to their once shining trophy cabinet which has been gathering dust in recent years. The side are currently sixth in the Premiership standings, trailing pace-setters Bidvest Wits by 10 points but Maluleka said they are still in the race.
“We don’t focus on negativity but it is a reality. We try not to focus on it. For us to redeem ourselves is by trying to get silverware. We always remind ourselves that we are the ones who put us in this situation and we can dig ourselves out of it. The thing to do is stick together because that is the only way we can get ourselves out of this situation.
“We are still in with a chance. We are not writing ourselves off. We have turned the corner and with the new style under the new coach we have adapted well. Looking at the games we lost you can see we could have easily won them.
“I have faith that we can come out with something this season. Three points will ensure we stay with the hunting pack and keep us up there,” he said.
Maluleka remains one of Chiefs’ hardest workers and consistent performers but he is prone to injuries that constantly disrupt his form and rhythm and he says it takes a strong mentality to get back to form.
“I have been in the situation a couple times. I think coming back has a lot more to do with mental strength than anything else,” he said.
And how does one cope with playing in the continent’s biggest derby? “You have to give it your all and try to avoid mistakes.”