Now that the dust has settled and the Fifa World Cup has been completed, it is back to local football for South African fans.

Normally at this time of the year, footballers would be on a break as the DStv Premiership goes into recess. However, this time around, the family gatherings, endless festive braais and bottomless beverages will be paired with some local football.

Phakaaathi delves into the exciting fixtures and all Premier League matters to look forward to as the league returns on December 30. First up are Mamelodi Sundowns and Orlando Pirates.

Sundowns versus Pirates blockbuster

This tie was initially scheduled for New Years’ Eve, but seeing that it would cause potential chaos at the Loftus Versfeld Stadium — given that this tie is usually a sold out affair — sanity prevailed from the organizers who decided to move the fixture a day forward.

Clash of the titans. Rulani Mokwena and Jose Riveiro. Picture: Lee Warren/Gallo Images.

When these two rivals meet, fans are always guaranteed a great display of football and what adds to the excitement this time around is that both teams have each other’s number this season.

The Buccaneers completely outclassed Masandawana in the semifinals of the MTN8 — which they went on to win — when they beat them 3-0 in the second-leg. Downs got their revenge, although it was a friendly match, when they drowned the Sea Robbers four times in the Carling Black Label Cup to beat them 4-0.

Will Pirates be Happy People again?

The Buccaneers have lifted their second trophy in three years after edging AmaZulu in the MTN8 last month. While that was enough to turn frowns into smiles, what the Happy People really want is the league crown. Over the past few seasons, no one has been able to wrestle the title out of the firm grip of Masandawana.

Jose Riveiro looking to build on cup success. Picture: Lefty Shivambu/Gallo Images.

But with nine points separating Downs and Pirates, Jose Riveiro will feel his team has a chance and could use December 30 as an opportunity to narrow the gap to six points.

Their league drought is in its 10th season. Given Sundowns’ comfort in the DStv Premiership, Pirates (and all else) will have to dig a lot deeper if they are mount a challenge to the Brazilians  

Will Zwane ever get it right at Chiefs?

There is an emergency at Amakhosi and the call has been made to “10111” to help Chiefs return to their glory days. But head coach Arthur Zwane, nicknamed after the South African Police Services’ short dial 10111, seems to be finding the going hard at Naturena.

As one who spent about a decade in the club as a player and a few years as an academy coach, it was befitting for Zwane to take over from Gavin Hunt.

Zwane needs to find a new strategy at Chiefs. Picture: Lefty Shivambu/Gallo Images.

He knows the culture of the club and understands the demands of the gold and black jersey, so naturally, he was a good fit. But as you may know, there is no ‘therefore’ in football and umbuzo usamile (loosely translated to: this begs the question) Can Zwane steer Chiefs to any kind of success this season? Time will tell.

Can Richards Bay keep it up?

The Natal Rich Boys have shown some rich form in their maiden season in the DStv Premiership. With 23 points, Bay are five steps behind defending champions Sundowns, although they’ve got Pirates, Kaizer Chiefs and SuperSport United hot on their heels. The question is, can they sustain what has been a great first half of the season?

Pitso Dladla needs seven points to reach cloud nine. Picture: Darren Stewart/Gallo Images.

Richards Bay have only lost twice, like Downs, and are in pole position to participate in Confederation of African Football competitions next season if they maintain the second spot or finish higher.

It is safe to say that they have already secured their top flight status for the coming season as the KwaZulu-Natal side need only seven points to hit the 30-point mark, which has been the benchmark for survival over the years.

Will The Birds fly higher?

After a number of shenanigans, with their financial problems being the most potent, Swallows FC have seen their wings clipped this season and they are struggling to find their feet.

It appears as though last season’s episode is replaying because The Dube Birds are once again flirting with relegation.

Nyatama running out of time to save The Birds. Picture: Lefty Shivambu/Gallo Images.

Swallows find themselves sitting in position 14 after collecting a total tally of 13 points. This is not indicative of a side that learnt its lesson.

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The continuous changing of coaches does not help. Club chairman David Mogashoa, might have to consider tweeting less and focus on getting his side back on track or else they will find themselves in the relegation/promotion playoffs like last season.

Does Hunt have an ace up his sleeve?

As far as the PSL is concerned, you can underestimate the SuperSport mentor at your own peril. Gavin Hunt has been somewhat of a magician in his second spell with Matsatsantsa A Pitori.

Can Hunt come in-between Sundowns and the league title again? Picture: Lefty Shivambu/Gallo Images.

One may argue that Hunt moans a lot about the lack of support from management as far as the transfer market is concerned, but having led the team’s to its only league crowns, you would get the sense that Hunt has the privilege to sulk as much as he wants. After all, he and Stuart Baxter are the only coaches that managed to win the league – once and twice respectively – outside of Sundowns in the last 10 years.

SuperSport are enjoying a good vein of form and are unbeaten in their last four games. It remains to be seen whether they can chase Sundowns all the way. The Spartans and TS Galaxy are the only teams that managed to take all three points from Masandawana this season.

By editor