FCB Nyasa Big Bullets return to TNM Super League action with the biggest game of the year, the Blantyre derby, against our crosstown rivals Mighty Mukuru Wanderers at Kamuzu Stadium on Sunday afternoon.
With the two teams tied at 53 points, this reverse fixture promises to be a cracker as the Nomads will seek to stop the defending champions from collecting all three points in the top-of-the-table clash.
Ahead of the showdown, we look at how our opponents have performed this season as they eye their first league title in five years.
Wanderers started the 2023 league campaign on a very high note, winning their first three matches against Civil Service United, Red Lions and Ekwendeni Hammers.
But in the third and fourth weeks, the Nomads played out to a 1-all draw against Mighty Tigers and a goalless stalemate away to Moyale Barracks.
Then they had a rude awakening when they registered their first defeat of the season, going down 1-0 at home to Chitipa United, before recording another 1-0 loss away to the relegation-bound Extreme FC at the Bingu National Stadium.
The Nomads went on to record four home draws to Kamuzu Barracks, Dedza Dynamos, Red Lions and Moyale Barracks, results that saw them slowly moving down the standings before gaining ground again to move back into the top four.
In the last five league fixtures, Mark Harrison’s charges have collected 10 points out of the possible 15, moving into second position in the standings despite their defeat away to fellow contenders, Silver Strikers.
Their first highest-scoring win of the season was the 3-0 triumph over Extreme FC. A brace from defender Lawrence Chaziya and a lone strike from Francisco Madinga secured all the points for the blue side of the town.
Wanderers’ next home assignment was against Moyale Barracks and had their early lead through Stanley Sanudi’s strike cancelled out by a late goal from Hassan Upindi to drop two important points in the title race.
They travelled to Lilongwe for another important clash against the Central Bankers at BNS, where with seven minutes left to play, Chimwemwe Idana pierced through Miracle Gabeya and Chaziya’s led defence before firing at goal to inspire the Area 47-based side to a 1-0 victory.
Wanderers’ next opposition was Dedza Dynamos at Dedza Stadium. Madinga scored an important goal to keep his side within Bullets, who on the same day defeated Chitipa United to cement their lead at the top of the table.
The Lali Lubani boys had an easy task against Bangwe All Stars when they hammered them 3-0 courtesy of a strike each from Peter Cholopi, Christopher Kumwembe and Wisdom Mpinganjira to go level on points with the defending champions, who have played three games less.
Impact of the derby on the title race
Kalisto Pasuwa’s charges are currently leading the standings on goal difference as the points level with Wanderers.
A win for Bullets on Sunday will officially put to an end an exciting season in which the title contenders have raced for points as none of them made the position number one permanent.
At the start of the season, it was the Nomads who occupied the top position for some weeks until The People’s Team took over from them. Weeks later, Silver took control of the position when Bullets lost 1-0 away to Chitipa United.
Pieter de Jhong’s charges enjoyed a winning run and kept the position before their first home defeat to Civil.
Bullets returned to the summit again, but due to their Champions League games, they were behind in terms of the number of domestic league games played, and this allowed Chitipa to have their turn at the top of the table.
Chitipa were dethroned again by Wanderers, who enjoyed the number one position for a few weeks before surrendering it to the defending champions.
A loss for Bullets and a win for Wanderers will keep the championship race wide open even though The People’s Team will still have an upper hand due to their games in hand.
This means Wanderers have to stop Bullets on Sunday if they want to keep their title hopes alive and possibly take the race to the wire against a side that has always dominated at home.
Ironically, it was Wanderers who ended Bullets’ eight-year unbeaten home run in the TNM Super League in September of the 2020/21 season, but Bullets went on to win the title.
Two years down the line, the two teams find themselves in a similar situation, but the only difference is the games in hand that Bullets have over our rivals.
In the first round, they played out to a goalless draw in which Wanderers dominated but failed to score from the chances they created.
Wanderers’ style of play
They have stature and physical advantage over the majority of top-flight teams. As such, they mostly score their goals through secondary balls. 70 per cent of Wanderers’ goals are from set pieces and lateral balls.
Sunday’s opponents have wingers who, if given a chance to deliver dangerous balls into the box, waste no time and once they are allowed to do this, they will either force the opposition to commit unnecessary errors or use their strikers to pounce.
Against us, they will play with structure because Bullets play with structure and allow other teams to play. Wanderers will not sit back; they will attack knowing they need all the points to stop the defending champions from early celebrations.
Their attacking threats
They have Gaddie Chirwa, who is one of the most dangerous wingers on the domestic scene. His ability to press from the right with aggressiveness gives him the grounds to send dangerous crosses into the box. He has contributed to the majority of goals scored by Wanderers since moving to Blantyre from Blue Eagles during pre-season. When he advances into the transition, he finds spaces in between the defensive zone and creates chances for either Kumwembwe or Vincent Nyangulu to punish the opposition.
The Nomads also have Sanudi. The wingback leads the ranking on the number of assists, 10, in the current season.
He is more than a fullback as he can attack from the line of defence into the other half by making dangerous runs to the opposition. He is a master of freekicks and corner kicks, hence Wanderers have more goals from set pieces than any other team in the league.
The coming back of Madinga also improved their attacking prowess, especially from the central midfield to the opposition’s goal area.
With Balikinho Mwakanyango acting as the destroyer, Harrison sets his team up in a 4-3-3 shape, with the Wanderers no.23 guarding the midfield and allowing Madinga and Felix Zulu to play as two number 10s behind Kumwembe and sometimes Nyangulu.
By adding more numbers, Madinga is the link between the midfield and the strikers, and with his forward runs, he is more deadly if left unattended.
Injuries and suspensions
Unlike Pasuwa, who has more injuries to his squad and Ephraim Kondowe suspended, Harrison has every player on board, including Miracle Gabeya and Nyangulu, who missed last week’s win over Bangwe due to a suspension.