Quote of the week

“To be a great champion you must believe you are the best. If you're not, pretend you are.” – Muhammad Ali

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Vodacom Premier League Power Rankings - Lioli the team to beat

In three weeks the 2016/17 Vodacom Premier League season kicks off.

After three months of patient waiting, the new campaign will get started on August 27 when champions Lioli face LMPS.

With the season so close, teams are stepping up preparations and finalising their squads.

It is therefore a good time for the first ever edition of the Vodacom Premier League rankings, a rating comparing the strength of all 14 clubs. Enjoy.
Lioli remain the powerhouse to beat
1. Lioli
Last season: Champions
Lioli remain head and shoulders above the competition. Even if the champions don’t make any signings before the season starts, they would still start the 2016/17 campaign as clear favourites, that is how strong Lioli’s squad is.

As it is, Tse Nala are chasing Sundawana striker Roboama Koloti who they believe would be the final piece to their imposing squad especially as the club towards the CAF Champions League next year.

However, Lioli’s interest in Koloti has cooled since Tse Bo Yellow slapped a M2 million price tag on the striker. As things stand, the champions seem likely to go into battle with the same squad that claimed the league and LNIG Top 8 cup double last season, and it should still be enough to keep Lioli as the team to beat.

2. Matlama
Last season: 2nd
Last season’s title challenge has revived Matlama and it has given the club credibility after four directionless years. Those years of wondering appear behind them. Under Moses Maliehe, Matlama look to be headed in the right direction.
Leading Matlama's youth charge... Motebang Sera
Tse Putsoa have plenty of young and exciting pieces led by high-scoring midfielder Jane Thaba-Ntšo and last season’s top scorer Motebang Sera. Matlama also haven’t given up on Bantu’s Lesotho international Hlompho Kalake. He would be a major boost, especially if no key players leave Pitso Ground before the season starts. Kalake is the kind of player that can elevate Matlama into Lioli’s stratosphere.

3. LCS
Last season: 3rd
In a similar way to Matlama, last season’s performance has validated LCS again. After winning the league in 2012, Masheshena had fallen to an after-thought in the title conversation. They finished fourth in 2013, 11 points off the top and seventh in 2014, 18 points adrift of first place.

LCS were not a threat. But since Mpitsa Marai took over last year things have changed and last season they were in the title hunt until April before eventually finishing third.

Mpitsa has great tactical nous and he was able to extract the maximum from his squad. With another year to build on, Mpitsa’s LCS will surely be even better. Another positive side is club captain Moitheri Ntobo is returning for another season. The 37 year-old has been an example at Masheshena for over a decade.

His leadership combined with the talents of stars such as Ralekoti Mokhahlane, Lieta Lehloka, Daniel Jousse, Thabo Seakhoa and Mosiuoa Boseka, not to mention the addition of Sepiriti Malefane from Bantu, makes LCS a serious contender this season. Their victory in last weekend’s Alliance Winter Challenge proved that.

4. Kick4Life
Last season: 6th
There is so much promise and expectation with Kick4Life that the noise is difficult to ignore. They have former Lesotho coach Leslie Notši in charge and they are strengthening their squad to match their ambitions. The promise of stability and steadiness under Notši is their main calling card.

Under Notši last season Kick4Life transformed into one of the hardest teams to beat in the Vodacom Premier League and that trend should continue this term. After Notši arrived as coach last November, only the top three sides (Lioli, Matlama and LCS) collected more points than Kick4Life. In that time the Old Europa club only lost four times in 15 games.

Most points since Leslie Notši’s appointment in 2015/16

The addition of Bokang Mothoana is also a major coup. It is not out of the question that his experience and quality can thrust Kick4Life into the top four. Who knows? Maybe even higher.

5. Bantu
Last season: 7th
There are a lot of doubt over Bantu and because of that it is difficult to rate them in the top four in these Power Rankings. There is still an abundance of quality in the 2014 champions’ squad. A Matšo Matebele also made their intention clear with their hiring of South African James Madidilane as coach.
Bantu kingpin... Hlompho Kalake
But it remains to be seen how everything gels and if there are any lingering effects from last season’s disastrous seventh-place finish.

Much also depends on whether or not Hlompho Kalake stays in Mafeteng. Bantu have already lost Sepiriti Malefane to LCS.

6. Sundawana
Last season: 4th
Sundawana are a conundrum heading into the new season. On one side, it is extremely difficult to see Sundawana repeating their heroics from last season where they finished fourth. For a start, they have lost their miracle coach Bob Mafoso who has left to become Bantu’s assistant coach. Their best players from last season Roboama Koloti and Motlomelo Mkhwanazi are wanted men and it remains to be seen if they will remain at the club (even if Koloti has signed a new contract).

Even if their star players stay, history is against Sundawana. Recent history is filled with examples of Butha-Buthe teams that fell off after good seasons. Maduma and Likila United are such cases. Both fell away and ultimately got relegated the season after they enjoyed success – Maduma finished ninth in 2011 and were relegated in 2012, Likila were sixth in 2015 and went down this year.

However, on the other side, Sundawana are not resting on their laurels. They have already signed Ghanaian pair Norman Kumatse and Ernest Antwi and, by giving Koloti a new and improved contract, Tse Bo Yellow have shown they are determined to make sure 2015/16 is not a one season wonder.

Ultimately though, as the Alliance Winter Challenge showed (where Sundawana finished behind LCS, Matlama and Lioli), Tse Bo Yellow are still a few steps behind the elite.

7. Likhopo
Last season: 5th
Likhopo are a club in transition. Veteran campaigners Bokang Mothoana, Tefo Maipato, Sefoli Ntoi and Nyakhane Nyakhane have all left the club. Likhopo also still have to confirm who their coach will be for the 2016/17 campaign after Shalane Lehohla was sacked towards the end of last season.

However, as always, the Red Army showed last season that they have plenty of young stars ready to take over the show. Top striker Thapelo Tale should also be back from the start of the season which should make a difference after his standoff with the club last year.

8. LDF
Last season: 8th
LDF are the second most successful club in Lesotho having won eight league titles. They are also the only side to ever win three titles in a row. But that was back in 1999 and their last league triumph was in 2005. In fact, Sohle-Sohle haven’t won a single piece of silverware since the former Buddie Top 4 in 2008. Another worry is LDF have pretty much been the same side for the past five years. Their tactics are not inspiring and they don’t score enough goals, the most they have registered in the league since 2011 is 31 in the 2014/15 campaign.
Ever-green midfield maestro Molefe Lekoekoe (centre)
Instead, LDF rely on striker Mojela Letsie and midfielder Molefe Lekoekoe. Letsie, 31, has been one of the country’s best strikers for almost a decade now and last season he notched eight goals. He remains a constant goal-threat and Lekoekoe is still one of Lesotho’s best midfield generals. However, LDF will not be a contender unless they get some quality around Letsie and Lekoekoe.

Last season: 9th
Headed by Nkau Lerotholi who is still arguably the best defender in Lesotho and Tšepo Seturumane, who is arguably the country’s best finisher, LMPS have serious quality in their squad.

However, the question, as always, is if their collection of talent will be motivated for the whole season. The fact Simunye have escaped relegation battles in each of the last two seasons shows their quality only shows up when it is forced to.

10. Linare
Last season: 10th
Linare are yet to add any new players to their squad and, from their dismal performance last season, it is clear that Linare have to improve their team if they are to be competitive. Linare coach Motlatsi Shale has insisted the twice times champions will be a stronger unit this season. Former Likhopo player Tefo Maipato has also been training with Tse Tala and his addition would be welcome. At the moment Linare’s main bright spot is last season’s Vodacom Premier League young player of year nominee Khubetsoana Kamela.

11. Sky Battalion
Last season: A-Division South Stream champions
Sky Battalion are the new boys in the league and everyone wants to see how they will fare. They are bankrolled by Chinese construction businessman Hua Gao who has overseen the club’s rapid rise from being in the second division just three years ago. 
Will Sky Battalion survive the step up?
The positive for Sky Battalion is they have the resources to strengthen their squad for the transfer window closes and give coach Molebatsi Mothobi something to work with in their debut Vodacom premiership campaign.

12. Liphakoe
Last season: 11th
Liphakoe have many holes to fill if they are to remain in the Vodacom Premier League. Right now too much depends on midfielder Tšepo Toloane, scorer of seven of the club’s 19 goals in last season’s debut campaign. The Lesotho Under-20 captain is a rising star but he will be a marked man this season. Another survival would be a successful campaign for Liphakoe.

13. Rovers
Last season: 12th
Rovers survived relegation by the skin of their teeth last season and will be hoping to use that experience to their advantage this term. However, the odds are against the National University of Lesotho side prolonging their stay in the top-flight.

14. Butha-Buthe Warriors
Last season: A-Division North Stream champions
Newly-promoted Butha-Buthe Warriors are odds on favourites to go straight back down. As shown by their disappointing performance in May’s end of season A-Division Top 8 (where they were knocked out in their first game) Warriors are lacking in quality. There is no question they have to improve their squad if they are to compete this season. Coach Motlatsi Thibinyane has a lot of work on his hands if Warriors are to survive relegation.

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