Giovanni Solinas believes his Kaizer Chiefs side is in better shape to face bitter rivals Orlando Pirates this weekend as the pair square off in a Telkom Knockout semifinal at the Moses Mabhida Stadium in Durban.
Chiefs were well beaten when the teams met in the league last month, something not evidenced by the 2-1 scoreline.
But Pirates missed a penalty in that game and a number of other chances as they comfortably held the Chiefs attack at bay.
Solinas can ill afford another high-profile loss but whether he has the tools in his kit to conjure a victory will only become clear on Saturday.
Under pressure and with the rumour-mill suggesting his job is on the line, Solinas was in a positive mood in the pre-match press conference on Thursday as he suggested he would have a fitter squad with more options to choose from.
“Chiefs against Pirates is ‘The Game’. It is a very important game,” Solinas said. “We arrive in this game much better than last time. Because last time we had players injured‚ we had players not training for five or six days.
“For example, Khama [Billiat] – we had a problem with Khama‚ who had not trained for six days. He trained only on the day before the derby. In the last derby we did not have Lebogang Manyama.
”But generally the condition in the last derby was not good. Now it’s much better because all players are available. The fitness of the players is okay. This for me is a very big positive.”
Solinas knows that for the fans a Derby defeat is the worst possible result, but it would be a double blow as the side seek to win their first piece of silverware since May 2015.
“You know we are Kaizer Chiefs. Kaizer Chiefs need to play to win,” he said.
Chiefs are winless in their last 10 games against Pirates and if that is extended to 11 matches, it will be the longest barren run of either side in Soweto Derby history.
It is already the first time in 30 years that a team has had such a poor run of games and the problem for anxious Chiefs fans ahead of the weekend is how do they go about kick-starting what has been a mediocre season.
The side has won six of their 18 games in all competitions, and largely with a full-strength squad as they have managed to avoid injuries.
So where will the inspiration come from for success? There is only really one place and that is Billiat, who has been head and shoulders above the rest of the attackers for Amakhosi in this campaign.
But Pirates will certainly know that and have a plan to counter his threat, as they did successfully in the last game, with Billiat’s goal coming from a goalkeeper error by Siyabonga Mpontshane in a fixture in which he was otherwise contained.
Counting against Chiefs too is that a number of their key players have been away on international duty, including stalwart midfielder Katsande and Billiat, and have only returned to the club in the last 24 hours.
“We don’t have a lot of time because the international players only came back yesterday, and some players today. So, we have two days for the Derby,” Solinas said.
“It’s very difficult at Kaizer Chiefs as there are a lot of international players, and we have to manage this. We are trying to improve the system of our play, and have a quick integration with the international players when they come back.
“We need to focus quickly and have understanding, because the timing is not too much.”