Leaders Hibernians take on Balzan and eternal rivals Valletta and Floriana cross swords in what has been dubbed “Super Sunday”. Two clashes at the National Stadium which could give an indication which way honours will be going in May.
The first match puts against each other the two teams who enjoyed the top spot throughout the season at one point or another.
Hibernians are coming from a positive run of six matches in which they dropped just two points in a draw with Hamrun. Balzan, on the other hand, lost two out of the last five matches. However earlier this season, Balzan defeated Hibs twice – 2-0 and 2-1.
Addressing the media on Thursday, Balzan assistant coach Jean Paul Desira said that despite the defeat to Valletta, the players are motivated and eager to bounce back.
“It is a game we are looking at with interest also due to the fact that, with victory on Sunday, we would reclaim first place in the table. After the debacle against Valletta, the players look motivated and determined to show their capabilities and regain what they had been working for throughout the season,” said Desira.
On the other hand, Hibernians assistant coach Josef Mansueto pointed out that this game could give a clear indication on the title.
“We have reached a phase of the championship where, every win or defeat, could give you a clear direction as to how this league is going to finish. At the end of the day, the objective of the club remains to build a team for the future but obviously we are now in a position where we are also challenging for the title, which is very healthy,” said Mansueto.
Balzan midfielder Paul Fenech said “We know that this is a do-or-die match and as coach Josef Mansueto rightly pointed out, these kind of matches offer a direction where the league is heading for. As players, we are looking at this match as a very important fixture. We will be doing our best to put the defeat against Valletta behind us. We are aware of the potential of Hibernians and will be going all out to give our hundred per cent.”
Hibernians captain Clayton Failla said “Our main objective was to qualify for Europe. The target has not changed, even though we are on top but now that we are up there, we are going to challenge for the main honour. As for the game against Balzan, it’s an important match. We know that Balzan have one of the strongest teams in the championship. The time has also come to gain sporting revenge over Balzan as we haven’t won against them this season.”
Hibs are expected to be in full strength as even Rui da Gracia Gomes has resumed training after a long-term injury. Balzan, on the other hand, could not count on Anderson Francisco de Barros as he serves a one-match ban.
Meanwhile in the second match, Floriana take on Valletta in the derby.
The Citizens, unbeaten in nine matches, moved to just one point behind Balzan and three behind Hibernians following their win over Balzan two weeks ago. Floriana, on the other hand, are currently fifth – two points behind Birkirkara and seven behind Valletta.
Valletta coach Paul Zammit is well aware of the importance of this game which could put them in second place in case of a win.
“The closer we get to the end of the championship, the significance and weight of the games rise. We are a team that this season, despite encountering a lot of difficulties and a lot of hard work, especially by the players, we are still challenging for the principal honour,” said Zammit
On the other hand, Floriana coach Giovanni Tedesco said that Valletta were a very strong team.
“They have several national team players and a coach who, in Malta, has won practically everything. About Valletta, there is very little to say in this aspect. We are aware that this is a very important game which, for us, could mean a place in Europe. Therefore, the motivation is very high. Just as we have a lot of respect for Valletta, we also believe in our strength and confident that we can have a good game,” said Tedesco.
Floriana captain Nicolas Chiesa said “These are the kind of nice games that we, the players, want to be involved in. We are preparing for the game in the right way and proud to have been given the opportunity to play important games. We will continue on our league path and we still have seven finals to play … we have the first one in a couple of days and we are ready to face this challenge.”
Valletta defender Steve Borg said “Sunday’s game is very important. After the win over Balzan, we believe more that we can win the championship but it’s not just about winning the game against Floriana. Every game has its story. We need to take it step-by-step and, before every fixture, remind ourselves that we can’t afford to slip up.”
Both coaches are unable to field their best formation as Ryan Camilleri and Rowen Muscat are nursing injuries for Valletta while Jurgen Pisani and Maurizio Vella are ruled out injured and Andre Scicluna is suspended for Floriana.
Floriana defeated Valletta 2-0 in the first round with the second round clash ending in a goalless draw.