The BOV Premier League 2016/17 kicks-off on Friday with four matches – two at the Victor Tedesco Stadium and two at the Hibernians Stadium. The last season with the current format of three rounds but with no halving of points. Only one team will be relegated with the team finishing second from bottom taking part in the play-off against the team placing fourth in the BOV First Division.
Champions Valletta take on FA Trophy winners Sliema Wanderers, last season’s runners-up Hibernians host newly-promoted Hamrun Spartans, First Division champions Gzira United face Tarxien Rainbows while Birkirkara meet St. Andrews.
Birkirkara vs St. Andrews, kick-off 18:30 at Hibernians Stadium
After remaining empty-handed last season, Birkirkara start as one of the main favourites for the title, along with Valletta, after being the first team to reach the third qualifying round of the UEFA Europa League, eliminating Siroki Brijeg of Bosnia-Herzegovina and Scottish side Heart of Midlothian. The team has been strengthened with the signing of a number of players including foreigners Predrag Jovic, Bruno Marotti, Srdjan Dimitrov and Dejan Djordjevic, Shaun Bajada and youngsters Matteo Desira Buttigieg, Andreas Vella and James Brincat from Qormi and Mosta respectively.
The Saints managed to retain their Premier League status after a good comeback in the latter part of the season and a win in the play-off against Senglea Athletic. Coach Jose Borg has a revamped squad at his disposal following the arrival of Ryan Darmanin from Birkirkara and Godwin Mackay and foreigners Ivan Edgardo Paz, Nenad Belacevic, Daniel Bradle, Ante Bakhmaz, Karlo Kesinovic, Felix Udoh Okon and Valerio Ponzo. Bong Won Che is the only foreigner to be retained from last season. Retaining Premier League status will be once again their objective.
Hibernians vs Hamrun Spartans, kick-off 20:30 at Hibernians Stadium
After engaging Mark Miller as their new coach, the Paolites signed Andrew Hogg and foreigners Renan Pimenta Telles and Juan Manuel Varea but they need to deal with the loss of Brazilians Jorginho, Jorge Santos Silva and Gilmar. Goalkeeper Justin Haber left the club to join Floriana while Jurgen Borg joined Gzira United. Jean Paul Farrugia re-joined Sliema after a successful spell with the Blues but Johann Bezzina is back with the club.
After back-to-back promotions from the Second Division to the Premier League, the Spartans secured the services of experienced players like Luke Sciberras, Daren Falzon and Jean Pierre Mifsud Triganza and five new foreigners, namely Raphael, Luis Miguel Vergara Rodríguez, Jorge Mesqueu Neto, Leandro Motta Dos Santos and Patrick Jean Teixeira Maia. Led by coach Steve D’Amato, Hamrun will be aiming at retaining their Premier League status.
Gzira United vs Tarxien Rainbows, kick-off 18:30 at Victor Tedesco Stadium
Ambitious Gzira were one of the most active teams in the transfer market with the signing of goalkeepers Jamie Azzopardi and Jurgen Borg, Malta international defender Clifford Gatt Baldacchino and foreigners Souleymane Diamoutene, Rafael Ledesma, Robert de Pinto Souza, Joseano de Silva Santos, Antonio Orlando de Queiroz Macedo Neto and Gianmarco Conti. Branko Nisevic took over as the new coach of the Maroons with Darren Abdilla, who led the team to promotion, set to work hand in hand with him this season.
Tarxien signed Philip Schranz, Daniel Zerafa and Kurt Zammit on loan from Birkirkara and Dylan Micallef while their new foreigners include Rogélio Antonio Van Horn Ávila, Daniel ‘Dani’ Ponce de León García and Rodrigo Gonçalves Garcia. Brandon Muscat and Luke Montebello are no longer with the club after the expiry of their loan spells.
Valletta vs Sliema Wanderers, kick-off 20:45 at Victor Tedesco Stadium
After a fine performance despite elimination from the second qualifying round of the UEFA Champions League to Red Star Belgrade, Valletta start off their defence of the BOV Premier League title with a clash with FA Trophy winners Sliema Wanderers. A repeat of the Evolution Gaming Summer Cup final which the Blues won 2-0 two weeks ago.
Lithuanian goalkeeper Dziugas Bartkus is the only player who is yet to make his debut for Valletta as the club’s other three new signings – Steve Borg, Leandro Aguirre and Santiago Malano – have all turned out in the Champions League qualifiers.
Led by new coach John Buttigieg, the Wanderers hope to do much better than last season. Jean Paul Farrugia and Mathias Muchardi are back with the club. They also signed a number of new players including Milos Galin and Roger de Souza Vilas Boas.