Preview - Day 04 Valletta vs Balzan Published on: 17-09-2016

The 2016/17 BoV Premier League is still in its infancy but the first duel between Valletta and Balzan has the feel of an early showdown between two title candidates.
Together with Birkirkara, Valletta, the reigning champions, and Balzan have a flawless record after
three games but something has to give in today’s clash at the National Stadium.
Argentine striker Federico Falcone capped his return from injury with a brace to inspire Valletta to a
5-1 rout of Pembroke Athleta last weekend but the Citizens’ joy was tempered by the news that Malta
midfielder Roderick Briffa faces a long spell on the sidelines after rupturing his cruciate ligaments.
Valletta coach Paul Zammit expressed his sadness at Briffa’s injury.
“Losing a player to an injury of that kind is difficult for the whole group,” Zammit told Times of Malta
“it’s hard to deal with these situations, moreso if you lose a player like Roderick Briffa who has given a
lot to Valletta FC and Maltese football in general.
“We know we’re going to be without a key player for a long period of time and we’re all very sorry for
“it’s a setback but i have a lot of faith in the strength and attitude of my squad as, until now, we have
shown that we can cope with all the ups and downs during the championship.”
Briffa’s absence has put a further strain on Zammit’s midfield resources as italian Claudio Pani is
out, suspended, and Malta U-21 international Llywelyn Cremona has just recovered from a hamstring
The dearth of midfielders is a concern for Zammit but he believes that Valletta’s tactical versatility will
help them overcome this hurdle.
“it’s always a headache when important players are out with suspension or injury,” Zammit said.
“one of the things i’ve been emphasising, even before we embarked on this project, was the
importance of creating a squad that can be versatile, tactical-wise.
“By changing systems and tactical situations, I believe that we can offset certain problems.”
With Balzan now firmly established as one of the leading teams in the country, Zammit views
today’s match as a useful test for the champions.
“in the first round, teams measure themselves up against each other,” the Valletta coach said.
“Although it’s still early in the season, the indications are that teams can drop points against anyone.
“Balzan are one of those clubs who continued to invest in their squad this summer, sticking to their
plan to become one of the top teams in the country, and they are succeeding.

“We expect a difficult game but this is an important test for us as we have a chance to gauge ourselves
against one of the most ambitious clubs in the Premier League.”
Having steered Balzan to three hard-fought victories, coach oliver Spiteri knows that his team face
their toughest challenge yet in this campaign.
“it’s too early to talk of title clashes but our priority is to gain a positive result,” Spiteri said.
“Everyone is aware of Valletta’s pedigree. They have a lot of valid players and further strengthened
their ranks this summer with the signings of Steve Borg, Leandro Aguirre and Santiago Malano.
“it’s true that they have suffered a setback with Briffa’s injury, and I take the opportunity to wish him a
speedy recovery, but Valletta have a strong squad.”
Valletta’s formidable attack is back on song after Falcone’s return but Spiteri insisted that it’s not only
the forward line that makes the Whites one of the most feared sides in the league.
“Valletta are a very compact side,” Spiteri said. “They are very solid at the back with Jonathan
Caruana, Steve Borg, Juan Cruz Gill and Romeu Romao.
“You can say that Valletta have no major weaknesses but this is a game between two fine teams and
anything can happen.”
Balzan are expected to improve on their fourth-place finish last season after reinforcing an already
strong squad in the off-season.
Spiteri can bank on an array of creative, attacking players after bolstering his forward line with the
arrivals of Tunisian winger Abdelkarim Nafti, who will be relishing the prospect of facing Valletta
for the first time after his threeyear spell with the club came to an end this summer, Matteo Piciollo,
signed on loan from Floriana, and Alan Da Silva, who rejoined the club late last month.
“We have brought in players to increase the depth of our squad,” Spiteri said.
“Last season, we struggled when we were missing key players through suspension or injury but
now we have several options. I believe that we have closed the gap on teams like Valletta.”
Brazilian midfielder Anderson Francisco de Barros is out of the equation for Balzan after picking up
a foot injury in the 1-0 victory over Floriana but otherwise Spiteri has no selection problems.
Despite gleaning maximum points from their opening three games, Balzan have hardly sparkled
but Spiteri declared himself pleased with his side’s progress.
“in each of our three league games, we raised our level of performance and that’s very important,”
Spiteri said.
“At this early stage of the season, it’s all about winning points. “The last match was very difficult
but we managed to overcome a tough hurdle that is Floriana. i’m confident that we will improve further
as the season progresses but, until now, we have had more positives than negatives.

Source - Times of Malta