Preview - Day 32 Valletta vs Balzan Published on: 23-04-2016
Long-time leaders Valletta could theoretically be crowned champions this weekend but the way things have gone for them in the last two weeks, their priority will be to recapture their best form in what promises to be another delicate clash with Balzan this evening.
A 2-0 defeat to rivals Floriana and a goalless draw against Birkirkara trimmed Valletta’s lead over Hibs from six points to one but coach Paul Zammit has knocked down the notion that their recent slump has augmented the pressure on his team.
“I want to emphasise this point,” Zammit told Times of Malta. “I don’t want to beat around the bush by saying that we’re not aware that, until two weeks ago, we had a six-point advantage and now we are leading by only one point, but the pressure is the same as before. “We knew that, heading into the final three games of the season, we would remain under pressure because we’ve been leading for a long time and the other teams have been chasing us hard.
“That pressure is still there but the reality is that, until now, we still have a one-point lead at the top.”
Balzan are out of the title hunt after their 3-1 reverse against Hibs left them six points off the top with two games left but Zammit is bracing himself for a taxing encounter.
“I have always said that Balzan are one of the top teams in the country and their position in the table proves this,” the Valletta coach said.
“They have already reached their target of qualifying for Europe and also have a chance of winning the Trophy after reaching the semifinals.
“Balzan have consolidated the base they had last season but their January signings have given them a different dimension.”
Victory over Balzan coupled with a Hibs defeat against Birkirkara tomorrow would give Valletta an unassailable lead but the prevalent feeling is that the race will be decided in the final-day showdown between the leading duo.
“We are not looking beyond the Balzan match,” Zammit said. “Whatever happens to our title rivals is not our job.
“Our priority is to try and gain three points as that would help our team regain the confidence that has been threatened rather than lost in our last two outings.”
Captain Jonathan Caruana, back from suspension, is expected to replace defender Juan Cruz Gill who must serve a one-match ban.
Argentine striker Federico Falcone has made good progress in his recovery from a calf injury.
Balzan coach Oliver Spiteri wants his team to end their league campaign with a flourish.
“We are out of contention for the league title but we want to finish on a high,” Spiteri said.
“Our aim is to hold on to third place.”
Until last week, Balzan, level with Birkirkara in third place on 43 points, were seen as dark horses for the title but their tame display against Hibs killed their hopes. They did well to put that setback behind them as Balzan advanced to the cup semi-finals last Tuesday after beating Tarxien 1-0 in extra-time.
“The players rose to the occasion,” Spiteri said of his team’s performance in midweek.
“We came up short in the previous game and Hibs deserved the points because they were the better team on the day. “We had to make a reaction in the cup tie against Tarxien which came only three days after the Hibs game.
“I’m pleased that my players channeled their anger into a determined effort that sent Balzan into the semi-finals of the FA Trophy.”
Valletta may have been far from their best in their last two outings but that will not make Balzan’s task any easier, Spiteri warned.
“Our games against Valletta are usually balanced,” Spiteri said. “I hope that we produce a good performance.
“It’s true that Valletta have dropped five points in their last two games but they are familiar with the pressures of a title race.
“We have to be careful in the way we approach this game because Valletta are always a dangerous team and know how to rise to the challenge.”
Defender Samir Arab is out after pulling his hamstring last weekend but otherwise Spiteri has no selection issues.
Previous results: Valletta vs Balzan 0-1, 2-1.
Source - Times of Malta