The 2017 SportPesa Premier League season kicks off this weekend with six enticing matches on the cards.
Usual suspects Gor Mahia, Tusker, Ulinzi Stars and AFC Leopards will fancy their chances at a title shot, on paper and from the bombastic talk of their fans.
Leopards and Ulinzi though will not be in action over the weekend. The two sides were scheduled to play each other in the first round of matches but Ulinzi Stars are away on continental club football duty necessitating a postponement.
The Zoo Kericho versus Posta Rangers clash, originally scheduled for Kericho Green Stadium on Saturday, March 11, has been moved to Afraha Stadium on Sunday, March 12. This is because Kericho Green Stadium has failed to meet the minimum safety requirements imposed by the League on venues to host a match of this level.
Tusker vs Nzoia United (Afraha, 2pm)
For the first time in 14 years, Nzoia will feature in the Premier League, albeit as a team sponsored by the well known sugar company as opposed to one owned by the millers. They face a tough first outing in top flight against defending the league champions.
Tusker are reeling from the disappointments of an early ouster from the CAF Champions League as well as a 1-0 loss to Gor Mahia in last weekend’s Kenyan Premier League Super Cup.
Tusker’s new signings Vincent Omumbo, Samuel Olwande, Marlone Tangauzi, Victor Ndinya and Moses Ndawula will be the players to watch, although coach George Nsimbe is likely to rely on the tried and tested Allan Wanga, Humphrey Mieno and Eugene Asike.
Bandari vs Nakumatt (Mbaraki, 3pm)
Winger Shaban Kenga, striker Edwin Lavatsa and midfielder Musa Mude collected injuries during the lengthy preseason and are therefore unavailable for Bandari in this match.
Nakumatt, even though newly promoted, will put together a team of experienced players such as former AFC Leopards stars Kepha Aswani and Jack Bruno, Boniface Akenga formerly of Kariobangi Sharks and ex-Liberty Professionals prodigy Clinton Chisiavuki.
Mathare United vs Thika United (Thika, 2pm)
Mathare United will begin life without nine established players who were central to the team last season including midfielder Eric Johanna, lanky defender Robinson Kamura, forward Obadiah Ndege and Eric Mata.
Former Kenya coach Francis Kimanzi, who is in his second year with the slum boys, has said that he will focus on rebuilding the team this season. Read, he will certainly be gunning for a podium finish.
Kariobangi Sharks vs Gor Mahia (Thika, 4.15pm)
K’Ogalo have not lost any competitive match at the Thika Municipal Stadium since 2012, and will be looking to keep this record intact on Sunday.
The title contenders will also be looking to get their perfect record in 2017 going, as they have already beaten defending champions Tusker in the season opening Super Cup.
Seventeen-year-old Sharks have flirted with promotion for the last three years, and their chance to prove themselves worthy of Premiership status has finally arrived.
Sony Sugar vs Chemelil Sugar (Awendo, 3pm)
This will be the first sugar derby of the season, and it will be against the two teams desperate to step onto the top echelons of club football.
Both sides have assembled modest squads comprising mostly youthful players with little top flight experience, and fans will be looking to see which new youngster will light up the sugar belt.
Zoo Kericho vs Posta Rangers (Afraha, 3pm)
When they returned to the top league last season, Posta Rangers went on to finish at a prestigious fourth position.
The spotlight will be on Zoo Kericho, who are making their first ever appearance at this level.
Experienced coach Sammy Omolo, now with Rangers, is also making a return to top flight football having been in the cold for two years.