THE 2016/17 Vodacom Premier League (VPL) soccer season is now in full swing and after two rounds of action-packed matches, Kick4Life is on top the table for the first time in their history.
In this preview, the Lesotho Times analyses the prospects of each of the league’s 14 teams.
Lioli: Tse Nala remain the team to beat after winning back to back titles in the last two seasons.
After an opening 1-0 loss to LMPS, the Teyateyaneng-based outfit bounced back with a 1-0 win over LDF on Saturday to put the defence of their title back on track.
Changes to the technical team could play a big role in how Lioli perform this season. Mosholu “Shoes” Mokhothu, who led the club to back to back league titles, was forced to give up his position after failing to meet the new requirement for premier league club coaches to be holders of a B coaching license.
There has undoubtedly opened a big gap at the club as Mokhothu had a good understanding with the players and understood the culture of the club very well.
He has however been replaced by Halemakale Mahlaha, who has been part of the Lioli technical team and comes with an impressive curriculum vitae.
Mahlaha’s big challenge will be to maintain the standards that were set by Mokhothu.
Star players: Tšoanelo Koetle, Jerry Kamela and Tumelo Khutlang
New signings: Thapelo Tale and Setho Moshoeshoe
Prediction: Based on the quality Lioli boasts in their squad, they remain among the favourites for the league title.
Matlama: Tse Putsoa’s inconsistency in the opening two matches will certainly worry their supporters as the club seeks to end their long trophy drought.
Just like Lioli, the country’s most successful side is blessed with quality in all departments especially after the arrival of experienced campaigners such as Dyke Tšiu who was previously in Linare’s books.
A lot will also be expected of head coach Moses Maliehe after he led the club to second position, losing the title on the last day of the 2015/16 season to Lioli.
He has had to reinforce his squad especially the defence where former Sundawana defender Michael Mireku looks to be a long-term replacement for former captain Nkau Lerotholi who joined LMPS.
The club will also expect the duo of Jane Thaba-Ntšo and Motebang Sera to continue their exploits of last season which saw them score a combined 30 goals.
For Tse Putsoa to win a historic 10th league title, Maliehe needs to ensure harmony among his players which has not been the case in the opening matches as well as the pre-season.
Star players: Phafa Tšosane, Jane Thaba-Ntšo and Mabuti Potloane.
New players: Michael Mireku and Dyke Tšiu
Prediction: Competition will be very stiff and but Tse Putsoa are likely to finish in the top three.
LCS: The correctional service side have made a slow start to the new campaign when so much was expected after they won the pre-season Alliance Winter Challenge.
Masheshena suffered a surprise 1-0 defeat away to Liphakoe in their opening fixture before recovering from a goal down to beat Linare in their second match.
The Mpitsa Marai-mentored side will have to improve from their opening games if they are to compete for the title.
LCS were in the title race for much of last season but failed to sustain their challenge alongside Lioli and Matlama. Consistency is something their coach must work on because they have a balanced team good enough to compete for honours.
Key players: Thabo Seakhoa, Daniel Jousse and Lieta Lehloka.
New players: Leboneng Moqecho and Hopolang Mohlalefi.
Prediction: The problem with LCS is lack of consistency which has seen them drop points against Liphakoe in the opening match. While this could haunt them, they are likely to be among the top five teams.
Sundawana: The Butha-Buthe side owned by popular traditional healer Thato “Sundawana” Nkone have had a slow start to the 2016/17 season getting just a point from their first two matches.
The departure of their former head coach Bob Mafoso — now assistant coach at Bantu — appears to have left a void in the technical department after he led the team to fourth place last season.
The club has also lost two of their Ghanaian-born players Michael Mireku and Samson Yapipi who joined Matlama.
On the basis of their performances so far, it will take something special for them to be as good as they were in the previous campaign where at one stage they registered five back to back victories.
Star players: Mojalefa Tšoeu and Raboama Koloti
New players: Emmanuel Kudiabo and Abekah Frederick
Prediction: The rocky start to the new season could mean Sundawana may not repeat last season’s fourth place finish. Their best could be a place among the top eight teams especially after the changes to their squad.
Likhopo: Despite their potential, the Red Army failed to live up to expectations especially having topped the table at one stage last season, only to end up in seventh position.
While the chopping and changing of coaches has not done the team any favours, the appointment of former Likuena captain Tšepo Hlojeng as head coach has however brought hope the team will be more competitive and stable compared to last season.
But Hlojeng has to start from scratch after Likhopo parted ways with some of the long-serving players including Bokang Mothoana and Nyakhane Nyakhane. They are having to rely on young players.
The club have a mountain to climb after losing their opening two matches.
Star players: Lehlomela Ramabele and Thabo Mongali
New players: Mohloka Lehlokoanyane and Thaane Mokoena
Prediction: All eyes will be on Hlojeng to see if he can help his team that last won the league title when he was still playing for them. Lack of depth in their squad could work against him and he might have to contend with a place among the top six.
Kick4Life: The Leslie Notši-coached side has been the most in-form team this season, beating Likhopo 2-0 before thrashing rookies Butha Buthe Warriors 5-0.
The former Likuena coach is highly experienced and some of his best attributes are astutely managing the dressing room and getting the best out of his players.
Kick4Life also boast a talented group of players that appear to be developing in leaps and bounds.
They have also added to their squad the likes of experienced campaigners Bokang Mothoana from Likhopo and Soarel Ossal-Okoko.
The club already boasted the talents of Fidel Ntoya and Thabo Masualle who are also seasoned campaigners.
Star players: Fidel Ntoya and Morapeli Lesoetsa
New players: Bokang Mothoana, Soarel Ossal-Okoko, Sefoli Ntoi.
Prediction: If their form in the opening matches is anything to go by, Kick4Life could be the surprise package in the race for trophies this season.
Bantu: The Mafeteng-based side has looked a different side to the one that was struggling to win matches last season.
They have won their opening matches under new head coach James Madidilani and his assistant Bob Mafoso.
A Matšo Matebele have also made shrewd signings like Moloisane Ramasimong who has already scored two goals in as many matches.
The club also still have top players in Litšepe Marabe and skipper Thapelo Mokhehle who are expected to play a big role in turning the tables after a disappointing campaign last season.
The management of the club has initiated activities to raise funds which could come in handy in motivating players to go all the way and wrestle the league title from Lioli.
Star players: Thapelo Mokhehle, Hlompho Kalake and Litšepe Marabe.
New players: Moloisane Ramasimong and Thabo Selisa
Prediction: A Matšo Matebele have looked impressive under new coach Madidilani and appear ready to battle for the league title once again.
LDF: The once powerful Sohle-Sohle have failed to be the force they were in the 1990s and will need to drastically improve to stand a chance of competing for top honours this season.
The return of legendary mentor Motheo Mohapi midway through the previous campaign has given the club’s supporters hope LDF can be a force to be reckoned with again.
However, the club has once again failed to recruit top players from around the country like they used to do, and that could be their biggest undoing in their quest to bring back the glory days.
LDF will once again depend on veterans such as Mojela Letsie and Molefe Lekoekoe to grind out results.
Stars players: Melefe Lekoekoe and Mojela Letsie.
Prediction: The army side had a tough 2015/16 season and were lucky to be among the top 8 teams in the end. Mohapi will surely continue with the rebuilding process that started last season as he tries to assemble a squad that can compete for honours again.
Since they don’t splash cash on new players, it will likely take them some time to get the team at its best again.
LMPS: The police side have made a dream start to the new campaign stunning Lioli before holding Matlama to a 1-1 draw.
Simunye have also managed strengthen their squad with quality players over the past two seasons.
Nkau Lerotholi signed from Matlama last season is leading by example from the back. He has been joined by Basia Makepe who returned from a loan spell at Lioli.
The two centre-backs are among the best locally and will surely form a formidable defensive partnership.
New coach Mosito Matela seems to have brought a positive spirit to the LCS camp, and only time will tell if they will maintain the standards and finish among the top teams.
Star players: Nkau Lerotholi and Tefa Makhoane
New players: Phantši Sekoloto and Basia Makepe
Prediction: LMPS could improve on last season’s ninth position if they can maintain the standards of their opening matches this season.
Linare: Tse Tala have once again started badly. Their defeats to rookies Sky Battalion and LCS must be a worry after they were involved in the relegation dogfight last season.
This time around, the Hlotse-based side have added a few experienced players to their squad and that suggests the Motlatsi Shale-coached side could soon get it right.
Linare should get their house in order before it is too late or else there are in for another tough season fighting for survival.
Despite losing a number of quality players over the years, Shale has managed to bring the likes of Tefo Maipato and Nyakhane Nyakhane who still have a lot to offer after they were released by Likhopo.
There also boast a good goalkeeper in former Likuena shot-stopper Kholuoe Phasumane.
New players: Tefo Maipato and Nyakhane Nyakhane
Star players: Kholuoe Phasumane and Napo Sehloho
Prediction: Shale is a very experienced man and knows how to win matches having helped Bantu end their long wait for the league title a few years ago. He needs to work his magic on Linare for them to conquer their demons and at least finish in the top eight.
Liphakoe: The Quthing side were outstanding in their two matches shocking LCS 1-0 before collecting another three points against Rovers.
They have shown an eagerness to have a solid season in the premier league following their promotion last season.
They also have an experienced coach in former Likuena striker Teele Ntšonyana who has been in charge of the club for a few seasons.
The win over LCS could go a long way in motivating Liphakoe to continue improving despite the lack of big name players in their ranks.
Stars players: Mohau Rammoneng, Neo Skosana and Tšepo Toloane
New players: Bosiu Ngatane and Letuka Basia
Prediction: A top eight finish would be a bonus for Liphakoe in just their second season in the top flight after years in the doldrums.
Rovers: Like Liphakoe, the university side will be eying a place among the top eight teams in the league having survived relegation in the late stages of last season.
The club has made a number of changes to their management as well as the technical team and only time will tell if that is what the club needed to compete better this season.
Back to back defeats to Bantu and Liphakoe could worry the team which started well on their return to the premier league last season.
Star players: Maime Rapaulina, Tšeole Ranthimo and Motlalepula Matli
New players: Pule Moloi
Prediction: Two losses in the opening matches indicate another tough season ahead for the National University of Lesotho side. They are likely to be involved in the relegation dogfight having made a number of changes to their squad and the technical team.
Sky Battalion: The premier league rookies have been the surprise packages so far with victories over Linare and Sundawana respectively.
Battalion is coached by former Lioli assistant coach Thabile Secker who has acquired experience in winning a lot of trophies at Tse Nala.
That experience seems to have helped him settle quickly.
They also have a number of exciting youngsters who are enjoying playing on the country’s biggest stage.
Star players: Bonang Mohapi and Tsotang Mokhothu
New players: Thejane Thejane and Thabang Malane
Prediction: A bright start to life in the premier league has given the club hope they will survive the chop, but there is still a long way to go. They could survive if they maintain the standards of their opening matches.
Butha-Buthe Warriors: Life has not been easy for the premier league newcomers who have lost their two matches. That could be due to lack of experience at this stage.
Coach Motlatsi Thilinyane does have premier league experience having mentored the now defunct Joy FC a few years ago. He could still find the going tough due to lack of experienced players in the team.
Warriors must be fearless and stand their own against the premier league big guns. Unfortunately that has not been the case with defeats like the 5-0 drubbing by Kick4Life in their second match.
Star players: Tau Qobose
Prediction: After their 5-0 demolition at the hands of Kick4Life, the VPL new boys could be in for a long season. They need to improve fast or they will make a swift return to the first division at the end of the campaign.