The BOV Premier League 2022/23 kicks-off on Friday with two matches at the Centenary Stadium as Birkirkara take on Sirens and Balzan face newly-promoted Zebbug Rangers.
The first match, kick-off at 18:30, puts against each other two teams who went through considerable changes this summer.
After finishing fifth last season, the Stripes have appointed Giovanni Tedesco as their new coach. They signed a number of foreign players, namely goalkeeper Giacomo Nava, Osvaldo Iorio Forestero, Diego Pires Dall’Oca, Denis Custodio Ribeiro, Enzo Daniel Cabrera, Alessandro Coppola and two foreign players who have been playing in Malta for a number of years, namely Kevin Tulimieri and Alex da Paixao Alves.
Results in friendly matches were far from impressive as they lost 1-2 to Pieta’, drew 1-1 with Marsaxlokk, losing the other matches against Sirens (1-2), Balzan (0-3) and Sliema Wanderers (0-1).
For a team used to challenge for honours, there still seems to be a long way to go and Tedesco’s task will be to put the Stripes immediately on track.
Sirens also went through a number of changes in their squad but coach Winston Muscat will lead the team once again.
They signed goalkeepers Matthew Grech and Andrea Cassar from Pembroke and Marsa respectively, Promise Oluwatobi Emmanuel David Akinpelu from Valletta, Sean Cipriott from Balzan, Wellington Petinha from Tarxien Rainbows and Kei Sano from St. Andrews together with other new foreigners, namely Marcelo Muniz, Gabriel Ventura, Paulo Vyctor, Ivan Kolev and Weder Soares da Silva.
In the pre-season, they defeated Gudja United 2-0 and following a 0-2 defeat to Valletta, they registered wins over Santa Lucia (5-1) and Birkirkara (2-1) which were followed by draws with Zebbug Rangers (3-3) and Zejtun Corinthians (1-1). In their last outing, they lost 1-2 to Mosta.
After finishing second in the Play-Out final round last season, retaining Premier League status will be once again the main objective for the St. Paul’s Bay side.
Meanwhile in the second match, Balzan take on Zebbug Rangers.
After enjoying a number of years among those challenging for honours, in the last four years, Balzan were a mid-table side which last season had to battle against relegation. This summer, Oliver Spiteri was appointed coach of Balzan – his second spell at the club after serving for three years between 2014 and 2017.
New arrivals at the club include goalkeeper Jonathan Debono who joined the club from Sirens, Aidan Friggieri from Gudja United, Christian Mercieca from Hamrun, Ivan Bozovic, Matheus de Sousa, Momcilo Raso, Nikola Braunovic, Duvan Torres, Angel Torres, Luca Mallia and Benjamin Hili.
In the pre-season friendlies, following a 2-2 draw with Mtarfa, they defeated St. Andrews 5-1, drew 2-2 with Marsaxlokk, beat Zebbug Rangers 5-0, Pieta’ Hotspurs 1-0 and Birkirkara 3-0 with the last game against Zurrieq ending in a 2-2 draw.
Moving to a more comfortable mid-table position and maybe challenge for a spot in the UEFA Europa Conference League will be the main objective for Balzan this season.
On the other hand, newly-promoted Zebbug Rangers will be aiming at retaining their Premier League status after winning the BOV Challenge League championship last season.
Coach Brian Spiteri was confirmed along most of the players who formed part of last season’s squad. They also managed to secure the services of Charles Lokoli Ngoy, Ričards Žaldovskis, Wilker Rocha Santos, Roberto Enrique Sanchez, Almir de Jesús Soto Maldonado together with former Hibernians defender Leandro Almeida, Stefan Jankovic from Pembroke, Antheos Spiteri from Valletta and goalkeeper Miguel Chetcuti from Pieta’ Hotspurs.
In the pre-season, they lost 0-1 to Valletta, defeated Attard 3-0, lost 1-2 to Pieta’ and 0-5 to Balzan before two draws – 3-3 with Sirens and 1-1 with Santa Lucia.