Sec­ond round of Pre­mier League starts at week­end

● Val­letta face tough­est test of the top four ● Balzan, Hiber­ni­ans and Birkirkara favourites to win their matches ● Tarx­ien and Gzira meet in rel­e­ga­tion clash

Malta Independent - - SPORT -

The sec­ond round of the Bank of Val­letta Pre­mier League starts this week­end with four matches to­day and an­other two to­mor­row.

Of the top four clubs, Val­letta seem to have the tough­est ob­sta­cle as they have what looks like a tricky en­counter against sixth placed Sliema who lie four points be­hind their ri­vals.

The oth­ers – lead­ers Balzan, third placed Hibs and fourth placed Birkirkara - are favourites to win their clashes against Mosta, Ham­run and St Andrews re­spec­tively.

The Sliema-Val­letta match is cer­tainly the top clash this week­end and it puts some ex­tra pres­sure on the cit­i­zens af­ter their re­cent an­nounce­ment of a new spon­sor­ship.

Val­letta showed some progress in their last match when they did well to beat Ham­run Spar­tans 3-0 af­ter hav­ing fig­ured in a dis­ap­point­ing goal­less draw with St Andrews.

Val­letta, how­ever, will have to be con­sis­tent in the hope of re­main­ing among the ti­tle con­tenders. They also hope that striker Fal­cone will soon re­turn to his best form af­ter a dis­ap­point­ing start to the sea­son fol­low­ing an in­jury.

Sliema are ex­pected to be strong op­po­nents for Val­letta. In fact, they have been the most con­sis­tent side in the last seven matches.

In this pe­riod, the Wan­der­ers won five matches and fig­ured in two draws which pushed them from 10th in the stand­ings to the present sixth on 17 points, seven be­hind lead­ers Balzan.

The lat­ter should be con­sid­ered firm favourites to beat rel­e­ga­tion-haunted Mosta.

Balzan have also shown some in­con­sis­tency in their last four matches although they still main­tained their lead­ing po­si­tion in the stand­ings. Af­ter los­ing 3-0 to Birkirkara they re­turned with a bang to beat Ham­run 3-1, but then fig­ured in two draws against Tarx­ien Rain­bows and Sliema W.

For Mosta, it has been an up­hill strug­gle from the start of the sea­son.

On cer­tain oc­ca­sions, they were un­lucky to have left the venues empty handed, but on most oc­ca­sions, they were un­con­vinc­ing and un­less they steady their de­fence, they can­not re­ally hope to keep two strik­ers like Kal­je­vic and Ef­fiong at bay this af­ter­noon.

Hiber­ni­ans will be in ac­tion to­mor­row as they face midtable placed Ham­run Spar­tans.

The Pao­lites have been some­what im­pres­sive in a run of six un­beaten matches from which they col­lected 14 points from a pos­si­ble 18.

Their last de­feat was at the hands of lead­ers Balzan on 22 Septem­ber.

The Spar­tans had shocked the Pao­lites in their open­ing clash as Ham­run ran out 3-1 win­ners in that match.

To­mor­row, they will be hop­ing to re­peat the dose to earn three pre­cious points which will see them mov­ing to a health­ier place in the stand­ings.

Also to­day, Birkirkara should be con­sid­ered firm favourites to beat mid-ta­ble St Andrews to re­main close to the lead­ers.

The Stripes, af­ter hav­ing won eas­ily against Balzan and Gzira show­ing im­pres­sive form, were un­lucky to lose against Hiber­ni­ans through a hotly con­tested (and in­vented) penalty and then went on to get only a point from the match against Flo­ri­ana.

The Saints are the reve­la­tion side this sea­son. Hav­ing just sur­vived through a play­off last sea­son, they are now a much im­proved side.

So much, that they beat neigh­bours Pem­broke com­fort­ably in the derby, lost nar­rowly to Hibs and then held Val­letta to a goal­less draw be­fore beat­ing Gzira in their last en­counter.

An­other in­ter­est­ing clash to­day is that be­tween Tarx­ien and Gzira which can be la­belled as a rel­e­ga­tion en­counter.

The two sides have passed through some ‘tur­bu­lence’ dur­ing the last few days with first coach Branko Ni­se­vic of Gzira and then Jac­ques Scerri of Tarx­ien leav­ing their re­spec­tive clubs.

The two sides will cer­tainly be go­ing all out to col­lect three im­por­tant points to­day, es­pe­cially the Ma­roons who have been through a long neg­a­tive patch.

Also to­mor­row, Flo­ri­ana should be able to beat bot­tom placed Pem­broke to re­main in a favourable po­si­tion not very far away from the lead­ers.

The Greens showed im­pres­sive form as they held the strong Birkirkara to a 1-1 draw in their last en­counter.

If they main­tain such form, they will cer­tainly have too many guns for the un­lucky Pem­broke side.

The lat­ter have lost vet­eran goalie Mario Mus­cat and de­fender Clif­ford Gauci, but are hop­ing to be luck­ier in the sec­ond round, dur­ing which they will be do­ing a bold ef­fort to re­main as close as pos­si­ble to the teams above them. Balzan Hiber­ni­ans Val­letta Birkirkara Flo­ri­ana Sliema Ham­run St. Andrews Tarx­ien Gzira Mosta Pem­broke 11 11 11 11 11 11 11 11 11 11 11 11 7 7 6 6 5 5 4 4 2 2 2 2 3 2 3 2 3 2 2 1 4 3 2 1

Stand­ings

1 22 13 24 2 14 9 23 2 18 10 21 3 26 9 20 3 12 9 18 4 14 12 17 5 18 20 14 6 11 16 13 5 11 17 10 6 11 20 9 7 10 21 8 8 13 24 7

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