Julio Leal has said he does not expect to make radical alterations to his side between local competitions and the African Champions League, as the Buccaneers attempt to compete on both fronts in 2012.
A hectic fixture schedule is set to greet the Buccaneers, as they look to make up a seven- point deficit to Mamelodi Sundowns at the top of the Absa Premiership, charge towards the group stages of the African Champions League, and take down a fourth domestic knockout trophy in 12 months in the form of the Nedbank Cup.
It all starts on Wednesday evening, as Pirates host a league encounter with Black Leopards, before going to Port Elizabeth this weekend to take on Angola’s Recreativo Do Libolo in the first preliminary round, first leg of the Champions League.
Pirates added five players to their roster in the January transfer window – Luis Boa Morte, Sifiso Myeni, Thandani Ntshumayelo, Thabo Matlaba and Njabulo Manqana – none of whom are eligible to compete in the Champions League.
This does appear to give Leal space to seriously mix up his side in the league, and keep fresh a 23-man Champions League squad, with Pirates desperate to add a second star to the continental title they won back in 1995.
Leal, however, denied that we would be seeing two very different sides across the two competitions. “I don’t think this is the way. We are thinking to field in every game the best possible formation,” he said.
“… with the capacity to communicate, to hold onto results when necessary, to not expend energy. It will be impossible to do this with this strategy (of different sides for different competitions).”
It will be interesting to see if Leal completely resists the temptation to field his new signings tomorrow night, particularly Boa Morte.
According to Leal, he wanted to see the former Fulham and West Ham winger in a reserve game on Monday afternoon, before deciding whether to include him in the match day squad for Wednesday.
“Eleven players have already been told to come tomorrow, and the others will be selected after the reserve game,” he said “If he (Luis) has done well, we will take the decision after the game.”
Pirates had a fantastic first half of the season in knock-out competitions, winning the MTN8 and Telkom Knockout, to add to their domestic treble from the previous campaign.
The defence of their league title, however, has not gone so well, with the Buccaneers only in fifth, and needing to find an extra gear in the next few weeks.
“We have one gap that is not small, considering Sundowns, and less of a gap to the other contenders. We play them all in six-pointers, and one in the fifth game of the (second half of the) league (Kaizer Chiefs in the Soweto derby on March 17).
“We can do well. Last season at a certain point Sundowns were 10 points ahead and in the second part of the season the team came back.”
Leal even suggested that rather than looking at the Champions League as adding congestion to their fixtures, the team could look at their participation as inspiration on the domestic front.
“We have to be aware that between some of the games we will have Champions League games, but let’s be positive – the world belongs to optimists,” he said. “We must use the international experience to improve ourselves for the next league game.”
Pirates have slight injury worries over defender Rooi Mahamutsa and Moeneeb Josephs for the Leopards game, while Oupa Manyisa and Rueben Cloete are suspended.
Leal added that he was still not sure whether Isaac Chansa, fresh from his Nations Cup glory with Zambia, would be available for the weekend’s Champions League game. – The Star