IT’S only a week before the start of the new Castle Lager Premier Soccer League (PSL) season and champions FC Platinum will begin their title defence in Harare against Harare City in a mouth-watering week one fixture.
In another big match, Triangle host Ngezi Platinum, while Caps United clash with newly-promoted moneybags Manica Diamonds and Highlanders have a tricky tie against army side Black Rhinos in the capital city.
Dynamos kick off their campaign against debutants Mushowani, Chicken Inn welcome ZPC Kariba, Yadah FC travel to Hwange, and Chapungu have a home tie against Bulawayo Chiefs as Herentals get a TelOne test.
And at the end of eight months there will be one champion while four teams will wave goodbye to top-flight football.
Who will dethrone FC Platinum?
FC Platinum have won the last two championships and are odds-on favourites to bag a third one on the trot.
The Zvishavane-based side have been competing in the Caf Champions League throughout the off-season break and certainly have a headstart in terms of match fitness.
Although FC Platinum struggled in their maiden dance in the CAF Champions League group stages, Mapeza looks to have built a strong squad for another title assault after strengthening the team that won the league with relative ease last season.
Last season’s golden boot runner-up Lameck Nhamo joined the champions from Triangle as well as Godknows Murwira from Ngezi Platinum Stars and Bulawayo Chiefs’ Perfect Chikwende.
However, it looks set to be an interesting season as traditional football giants and other title contenders have been working round the clock to build teams that can end FC Platinum’s dominance in local football.
Can Chicken Inn spring a surprise?
Judging by their transfer activity during the off-season, 2015 champions Chicken Inn appear to have built a formidable side capable of challenging any of the top sides in the top-flight league.
Last season, the Bulawayo-based side finished third in the league, to mark coach Joey Antipas’ return to Zimbabwean football after a stint in South Africa.
Antipas, who led the Bulawayo-based side to their solitary title success four years ago, has made the best business during the transfer window making six notable signings.
The Gamecocks brought in highly-rated goalkeeper Donovan Bernard, midfielder Tichaona Chipunza and striker Clive Agosto from Ngezi Platinum Stars, winger Marlvin Gaki from Harare City and Sipho Ndlovu from Bulawayo City.
Chicken Inn also acquired former Dynamos star winger Valentine Kadonzvo as well as Phakamani Dube, who was also released by the Glamour Boys, and Brett Amidu from FC Platinum.
Will DeMbare rise again?
Many will be quick to dismiss the Harare giants based on their relegation struggles last season, but the record Zimbabwean champions look set to be among the title contenders this season.
The Glamour Boys are on a rebuilding exercise after releasing all but five of the players that represented the club last season.
Coached by veteran Lloyd Chigowe, Dynamos have made the headlines for signing four foreigners — two Cameroonians, Vincent Mbega and Ngahan Claude Junior, as well as Ngandu Mangala from DR Congo and Ghanaian Robert Sackey.
Former Warriors winger Edward Sadomba has returned to his boyhood club and will lead a team virtually made up of unknown players. Munyaradzi Diya, Stephen Chimusoro and Edgar Mhungu are the only reputable signings.
The Harare giants made a statement of intent two weeks ago after beating CAPS United in a pre-season charity match and although both teams played down the significance of the result, Dynamos look re-galvanised under Chigowe.
Akbay’s daunting Ngezi test
Had they kept Tonderai Ndiraya as coach, the Mhondoro-Ngezi-based team would have easily been one of the favourites.
One cannot help, but feel the platinum miners have taken a couple of steps back since Ndiraya left, having been third and second in the last two years respectively.
The club has demanded nothing short of the title from Dutch coach Erol Akbay, but it’s difficult to see the gaffer achieving such a target considering the calibre of players that have left the club.
The talented quintet of Bernard, Chipunza, Murwira, Walter Mukanga and Agosto departed, but Ngezi have not made any big signings.
Like he showed during his stint at Highlanders, Akbay is no doubt a very good coach, but he would have done extremely well to make the top four, but you never know with football.
Re-energised CAPS United dream again
CAPS United had a forgettable last season and coach Lloyd Chitembwe is keen to improve on that performance after adding more attacking options to his squad ahead of the 2019 campaign.
Makepekepe captured former Highlanders vice-captain Gabriel Nyoni, Newman Sianchali and former Chapungu forward Clive Rupiya, and Chitembwe believes the squad he has assembled this season has the pedigree to challenge for the championship.
Bosso battle off-field distractions
Bulawayo giants Highlanders have not inspired much confidence considering the fact their pre-season preps have been adversely affected by strikes by senior players.
Last year technical manager Madinda Ndlovu embarked on an ambitious project to bring back the Bosso culture and it seemed to work in the first half of the season.
According to the timeline of the project, Highlanders are supposed to compete this year and go for the championship next year.
Newcomers Manica Diamonds have come in with a lot of money and made some good transfer business.
A lot of people believe that this team coached by Luke Masomere has what it takes to win the league title.
Warriors Under-23 captain Peace Makaha joined the Mutare-based side as well as veteran goalkeeper Tafadzwa Dube, Benjamin Marere, Marshall Mudehwe, Charlton Munzabwa, Wisdom Mutasa and Pritchard Mpelele.
Chibuku Cup holders Triangle may not be able to replicate their form from last season, but will certainly have a say on the destination of the league title.
Taurayi Mangwiro has assembled a strong team that is set to represent the country in the Confederations Cup later this year.
Apart from signing Black Rhinos star player Donald Mudadi, Mangwiro has not made any top signings for the Sugar Boys.
Harare City cannot be ruled out of the title equation after finishing ninth last season in a year they should have been playing Division One football.
In Mark Harrison, the Sunshine City has a coach capable of making wine out of water.
Black Rhinos also look set to have another strong campaign this season having been very active on the transfer market.
Promoted teams look really strong this season with a firm financial base and three out of four could remain compared to an average three that sink after a season.
The battle at the bottom end of the log standings could be very fierce this season.
The league welcomes four new sides — Mushowani, TelOne, Hwange and Manica Diamonds — to the 18-team competition.
Can any of these teams, save for Hwange, who have been here before, spring a surprise and win the league title at the first attempt? While that looks highly unlikely, what is certain is this could be one of the most unpredictable seasons in the PSL in recent years. – The Standard