Cape Town — Mamelodi Sundowns are gearing up for what, on the surface, looks like a fixture programme from hell: The champions travel to Stellenbosch on Saturday before then hosting Royal AM in midweek.
After which they have a derby encounter against SuperSport United before meeting Baroka, Orlando Pirates, AmaZulu and Marumo Gallants ahead of a seven-week break until February.
"One must look at our program very closely to see the challenges we are facing," Sundowns co-coach Manqoba Mngqithi said.
These challenges have been compunded with the champions suffering a "flu-bug" within the team ruling out a few players including midfielder Sphelele Mkhulise.
However, Mngqithi is more concerned with a Stellenbosch team that has shown great improvement this season. Although the home team have just lost two consecutive matches, Steve Barker's side begun the season like a house on fire with an 11-game unbeaten run.
There were signs last season already that they could pose a genuine threat when they pushed the champions all the way to the last minute at the Danie Craven Stadium and Mngqithi remembers that game very well.
"They are very difficult team to break down. Although in the build-up they look like they are playing with two centre backs, which was (Sibusiso) Mthethwa and (Alan) Robertson or Robyn Johannes, and Zitha Macheke who starts more as a No 6 in attack, but in defence he is one of the three centre backs, which gives them three centre backs and two wing backs," Mngqithi said.
"But the speed is always what they will be looking for against us. They have (Ashley) Du Preez, (Stanley) Dimgba and (Junior) Mendietta. Those players will cause us plenty of problems. We saw in the last game there they gave us very good run for our money."
Meanwhile, Stellenbosch FC coach Steve Barker is preparing his team for the biggest challenge in South African football.
"Sundowns are the benchmark in South African football. They have achieved a great deal. Unbeaten this season again. Only lost one game last season. Definitely a formidable opponent," Barker said.
"But it is also an opportunity for us to guage where we at. We have had a couple of disappointing results of late and we looking to bounce back and get back to winning ways. It is important that we go into the game and have belief that we can get a positive result even if won't be easy."
He also reflected on the mood in the camp after the successive defeats to Orlando Pirates and Royal AM.
"There is a bit of anger. We felt that we let ourselves down against Pirates. I was quite happy with the game against Royal AM and I thought we deserved to get more from the game," he said.
It is a big task ahead but everyone is raring to go. Everyone is available except for captain Lee Langeveldt through injury and Mogamat de Goede through suspension otherwise we have a full squad to select from."