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Eye on the prize as 2014 league begins

As the Kenyan Premier League kicks off tomorrow, teams will be hoping to start their title campaign on a high note.

The clubs will looking to build on their strengths of last season and from the pre-season preparations, fans got a feeling of what to expect.

Each team will be eager to show off their shiny, new players acquired during the transfer window. No doubt, the high profile signings by league champions Gor Mahia, AFC Leopards, Tusker and Sofapaka have caught attention.

Gor got the signatures of Uganda Cranes’ two Geoffreys, Walusimbi and Kizito. Shaban Kenga also joined the team from Bandari. Leopards lured the 2013 Footballer of the Year Jacob Keli, alongside wingback James Situma (Sofapaka), and controversial custodian Wycliffe Kasaya (Sony) to the den.

However, league dark horses Thika United, Bandari and KCB got the best bargains. Thika were perhaps the biggest beneficiaries of the shake-up at K’Ogalo as they got quality players free of charge.

Former Gor players Anthony Gathu and Moses Odhiambo joined former Tusker midfielder Michael Olunga at Thika. The latter was voted runners-up in the New Player of the Season category and will boost the midfield that already boasts of the services of highly-rated David King’atua.

The 2008 league champions Mathare United also made some great deals, securing the services of former Gor midfielder Joseph Pablo Njuguna who was sacked by Gor. The team also signed Noah Abich from relegated Kakamega Homeboyz.

When the then Harambee Stars coach Zedekiah Zico Otieno axed Abich from the national team in 2011, his form dropped. But he has since made a remarkable recovery, and last season this dead ball specialist was an asset to Homeboyz.  He will be a thorn in the flesh for opponents.

KCB has been reinforced by the return of Paul Kiongera who was on loan at Gor Mahia last season. The bankers have also secured the services of former Harambee Stars striker Francis Ouma who led Mathare United to their maiden title in 2008. If these players get their combination right, they will be a force to reckon with. Bandari’s acquisition of Patillah Omotto from Kariobangi Sharks is also a significant catch. The Kenya U-20 midfielder had a brilliant season on loan at AFC Leopards last year. He may be the  replacement for Kenga.

Football fans will be checking on the high-fliers of 2013 to see if they will keep their form.

KCB, who finished fourth, were the most dangerous team at home. They had nine wins at their Kasarani Stadium home ground and four draws that earned them 31 points. Sixth-placed Bandari flexed their muscles at their Mbaraki Stadium backyard and bagged 30 points.

KCB scored the most goals – 40 – out of which 17 were netted by former player Keli. They also scored the most goals at home, finding the back of the net 27 times in 15 games.

KCB’s league opener against Leopards that was set for today (Saturday) was postponed. Ingwe will be away in Ethiopia for their return leg Confederations Cup match against Defence.  Leopards won the first leg 2-0 in Nairobi.

In the away performance, Gor were rated the most successful with nine wins. Their first match against City Stars was postponed because they will be away in Gabon for their second leg Champions League match against US Bitam. They managed a shaky 1-0 win at home last weekend.

Leopards were the most productive away with 24 goals from seven wins in 15 games. They scored the overall second highest goals – at 39  last season.

The run-up to the 2014 league has made one thing clear – there will be at least four serious title contenders Gor, AFC, Tusker and Sofapaka. Those with a remote chance are Thika, KCB, Bandari and Mathare.

Sofapaka, who blew hot and cold last season, have fired a warning shot. They recovered from a false start to hammer Gor 3-1 and retain the Charity Cup.

KCB are a difficult side, and coach Juma Abdalla has vowed to give competitors – especially the big shots – a run for their money.

With Kiongera and Ezekiel Odera back in the fold, KCB now boast of a decent attack. Kiongera appears to be Keli’s replacement while Odera, who regained his form at Thika, could fill Clifford Alwanga’s boots.

Tusker’s signings cannot  be underrated, they had quality training during their pre-season preparations. The arrival of Francis Kimanzi seems to have given them a much-needed new lease of life.

Gor coach Bobby Williamson knows they are a marked side as they fight to keep the cup. Will it be AFC Leopard’s coach James Nandwa’s turn to walk away with honours after coming second last season?

KCB coach Juma Abdalla is an ambitious man.

“KCB is a good team. I rarely sign established players because I prefer building my own. It doesn’t matter that we lost Keli to AFC, Alwanga and Brian Osumba to Tusker. We shall surprise people more than we did last season,” said Abdalla.