When the final whistle blows on Kaizer Chiefs’ DStv Premiership clash with AmaZulu in Durban on Wednesday, Amakhosi will be exactly a third of the way through their league campaign.
Win or lose, Chiefs will remain right on target for a worst-ever points tally in the Premier Soccer League era, the club threatening to dip well below the 39 points they picked up in the 2018/19 season, when they finished outside the top eight for the first time ever.
At this stage, it is even time to discuss the possibility that Chiefs will find themselves in the relegation zone at the end of the campaign. After all, Gavin Hunt’s side currently sit just one point ahead of both bottom side Black Leopards and 15th-placed Chippa United, with just one win in nine league games the form of a team in danger of the dreaded drop.
‘Too good to go down’ is a well-worn phrase turned out about sides like Chiefs, and with the star names in their team, they should be able to mount a recovery, even in the face of a transfer ban that does not allow Hunt to bring in any reinforcements.
Hunt is an experienced coach and has been here before. With Bidvest Wits in the 2017/18 campaign, just one season after winning the Absa Premiership title, Hunt found his team bottom of the table at Christmas. The Clever Boys managed to haul themselves out of the danger zone in the end, but it was a severe warning that a club packed with abundant talent can still be dragged into a right old scrap.
And that is where Chiefs find themselves now, a place where they need to find their fight, the kind of heart for the battle domestically that got them past Primeiro De Agosto last week and into the group stages of the Caf Champions League.
Ironically, participation in the Champions League does not really help Chiefs on the home front – a thin squad, with no more signings available, had a long trip back from Luanda, and could not field a full strength team against Maritzburg United on Saturday.
A tired Chiefs – a fact acknowledged by their former head coach and current Maritzburg mentor Ernst Middendorp – lost 2-0 to the Team of Choice, to plunge them further down the table.
With more games to come in the Champions League group stages, Chiefs are likely to find themselves in many similar situations this season, and will have to find a way of keeping themselves on track domestically. Given their league position right now, there could even come a time when Chiefs will simply have to sacrifice their continental ambitions for the sake of staying in the DStv Premiership. The situations is getting that serious.
It is up to Hunt and his team to find a balance when continental and domestic competition runs in tandem, and for now, at least, there is a brief period where Chiefs can concentrate only on the DStv Premiership, starting with Wednesday’s trip to AmaZulu. After that, Chiefs will play Cape Town City, Tshakhuma FC, Stellenbosch FC, Baroka and Orlando Pirates, all before their Caf Champions League meeting with Wydad Casablanca in Morocco on February 12.
A healthy points tally from those six games, and Hunt’s side will be able to go to Casablanca in far better spirits. If they continue their poor run of domestic form, however, Amakhosi will surely find themselves having to put aside any continental dream, to focus on a relegation battle.