Six teams will be in action on Saturday as Gzira United take on Santa Lucia and Floriana face Pieta’ Hotspurs at the Tony Bezzina Stadium while Mosta and Gudja United cross swords at the Centenary Stadium.
In the first match at the Tony Bezzina Stadium, Gzira United start as favourites to collect the three points as they take on Santa Lucia.
The Maroons had a fine run in the UEFA Europa League this summer, eliminating Atletic Escaldes and Radnicki, bowing out of the competition after losing to Wolfsberger. With their focus shifting to the Premier League, Gzira will be aiming at challenging for honours, hoping for a first championship in the history of the club.
This summer, changes to the squad were minimal. They signed Marcelo Dias, young promising duo Andy Borg and Brooklyn Borg and goalkeeper David Cassar while Luis Riascos returns to the club after a spell on loan with Mosta.
Santa Lucia, on the other hand, went through a number of changes after being re-admitted to the Premier League after a shock relegation to the Challenge League at the end of last season following Pembroke Athleta’s decision not to play in the top division.
Following the arrival of Spanish coach Pablo Cortes Sanchez, Santa Lucia signed Matthew Calleja Cremona from Hibernians, Michael Johnson from Balzan, Dylan Ciappara from Mosta, while new foreigners include Miguel Angel Alba, Robert Bairam, Liam Ayad, Erick Andres Moreno Serna, Thomas Rier, Francisco Eliomar Rodrigues Farias and goalkeeper Makoto Kikushima while Lorenzo Soares Fonseca returns with the club on loan from Hibernians.
Retaining Premier League status will definitely be the number one objective for Santa Lucia. In the pre-season, they lost 0-1 to Qrendi, 1-5 to Sirens and 1-3 to Valletta, holding Zebbug Rangers in a 1-1 draw in their last outing.
In the second match at the Tony Bezzina Stadium, Floriana face newly-promoted Pieta’ Hotspurs.
The Greens will be hoping to do better than last season after having to settle for the runner-up spot behind champions Hibernians although they managed to win the Izibet FA Trophy. In the UEFA Europa Conference League this summer, they were eliminated 0-1 on aggregate by Petrocub Hincesti of Moldova.
Before the European matches, they defeated Hibernians 1-0 and 2-1 in two friendly matches and Hamrun Spartans 3-1 and more recently they defeated San Gwann 4-0, Zabbar St. Patrick 5-0 and Gudja United 1-0.
With Gianluca Atzori confirmed as coach, the only new arrivals were those of goalkeeper Duncan Formosa from Gudja, James Scicluna from Pieta’, Carlo Zammit Lonardelli from Sirens and foreigners Lorenzo Trillo and Eden Hershkovich.
The Hotspurs, on the other hand, appointed Rodney Bugeja as their new coach and signed a number of players including Terence Agius from Zabbar, Alan Schembri Wismayer from Swieqi, Gabriel Xuereb from Naxxar, Ito Yasukaze from Qrendi along with Ange Belibi, Sekou Camara, Clinton Bangura, Ganiu Atanda Ogungbe, Takuma Yamaguchi and goalkeeper Dele Alampasu.
In the pre-season friendlies, they lost 0-1 to Balzan, defeated Qrendi 3-1, drew 0-0 with Gudja and lost 1-2 to Valletta. Retaining Premier League status should be their main objective.
Meanwhile at the Centenary Stadium, Mosta and Gudja United cross swords in a clash between two teams who will be aiming for a comfortable mid-table position. Last season, Gudja secured a historic sixth place in the Premier League while Mosta finished fourth from bottom.
Gudja replaced coach Thane Micallef with Andrea Agostinelli and revamped their squad with the signing of Vito Plut and Andre Prates from Santa Lucia, John Mintoff from Sliema, goalkeeper Manuel Bartolo from Floriana, Johann Bezzina who was on loan from Birkirkara with Mosta, Ayrton Azzopardi from San Gwann, Joshua Micallef from Luqa, Luke Grech from Mgarr, goalkeeper Matthew Farrugia from Tarxien and Joseph Attard from Mqabba together with two new foreigners Nicolas Navarrete and Samuel Gomes da Mata.
In the pre-season, Gudja lost 0-2 to Sirens, 1-2 to Marsaxlokk, 2-4 to Mosta, 2-3 to Swieqi and following a goalless draw with Pieta’, lost 0-1 to Floriana.
Mosta, on the other hand, confirmed coach Joseph Grech and technical director Mario Muscat, signed a number of new foreigners, namely Jacob Akrong, Lucky Opara, Steve Kingue, Tobi Akiti, Patrick Mensah, Victor Mbata, Glamour Eziefule Chibueze and Chidera Michael Okoh, welcoming back Duane Bonnici after his loan spell with Naxxar.
In the pre-season friendlies, they lost 1-3 to Valletta but defeated Gudja 4-2, Pieta’ 5-3, Marsa 3-2, Melita 3-1 and Sirens 2-1
|Gzira United FC vs Santa Lucia FC
|Tony Bezzina Stadium
|Mosta FC vs Gudja United FC
|Floriana FC vs Pieta’ Hotspurs FC
|Tony Bezzina Stadium