Nurkovic, not Billiat, is now the most important player at Chiefs

Serbian striker, Samir Nurkovic, took his season tally to eight goals in 11 games with a hattrick against Bloemfontein Celtic. He is now Kaizer Chiefs’ most important player, even if Khama Billiat remains the best all-round footballer on their books.

Aerial dominance

The biggest reason for Nurkovic’s growing influence is the difference in style of play at Chiefs this season. Instead of a game focused on playing out from the back and pressing high up the pitch, Ernst Middendorp moved to a more rudimentary, and certainly more effective, long-ball game.

You will no longer see Amakhosi’s goalkeeper or central defenders looking for intricate passing in deeper areas – they now hit Nurkovic and his regular strike partner, Leonardo Castro as early and as often as possible.

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Samir Nurkovic of Kaizer Chiefs and Sera Motebang of Bloemfontein Celtic during the Absa Premiership 2019/20 game between Kaizer Chiefs and Bloemfontein Celtic at Moses Mabhida Stadium in Durban the on 07 December 2019 ©/BackpagePix

This could have been prompted by two different factors. Firstly, none of Chiefs’ deeper players are adept at playing out from the back so the risk-to-reward ratio is not worth it. A direct game is safer and suits the defensive players and goalkeeper better. Secondly, the two target men are outstanding in the air and the new style is what most plays to their strengths.

Arguably, no single defender in the league this season has managed to win their aerial battle with Nurkovic and perhaps only Maritzburg United’s Rushine de Reuck, in the Telkom Knockout semi-final, has been able to match him.

Billiat absence not felt

This season, when Billiat has been missing for Chiefs, his absence has not been particularly heavily felt. He has missed four league games this season, but that has not stopped Amakhosi from winning all of them.

When Nurkovic missed two games with a head injury earlier this season, Chiefs also notched two wins but the 1-0 victory against Baroka came courtesy of an offside goal, and the 2-0 win against Golden Arrows saw a penalty and own goal needed to score. In both games, Chiefs struggled to create chances even with Billiat on the field.

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Khama Billiat of Kaizer Chiefs during the Absa Premiership 2018/19 match between Kaizer Chiefs and Supersport United at the Mbombela Stadium, Nelspruit on 12 December 2018 ©Muzi Ntombela/BackpagePix

Nurkovic ban looming

The worry for Chiefs is that Nurkovic sits on three yellow cards and his next booking will lead to a one-match suspension. The Nedbank Cup only starts in early February, meaning a full eight league games before then – so any attempt to wait to get booked and serve a suspension in the cup seems unlikely to be successful. When that caution is forthcoming, it will be a huge blow to Chiefs.

Middendorp may need to already be thinking of an effective plan B for that match, whilst any injury to Nurkovic which could rule him out for longer is simply too bleak a proposition to think about. If Amakhosi are to lift the title in May, their Serbian hit-man’s availability is arguably going to be the single biggest factor.

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