Title rivals Balzan, Valletta go head to head
The stakes are high for Balzan and Valletta as the two title candidates will be on collision course on Friday evening in the main match of the weekend ahead of the international break. For pace-setters Balzan, at the summit of the table with 54 points, and Valletta, four lengths behind, this clash could be a defining moment as they seek to extend their sequence of victories.
Expectations of a hard-fought and potentially thrilling match at the National Stadium are indeed high as both teams will be hellbent on taking maximum points to boost their title hopes.
Champions Valletta can’t afford to lose as defeat on Friday would leave them seven points off the top with only seven games remaining.
On the other hand, a win for Balzan would strengthen their chances of winning their maiden top-flight title while seriously undermining those of a main rival.
Both Balzan and Valletta come into their direct clash on a high. While the Reds underlined their title intent with a 2-0 win over Floriana, Valletta proved too strong for Pembroke Athleta, beating them 4-0.
Valletta’s delight at their imperious win over Pembroke was further enhanced by the return of midfielder Roderick Briffa who had been sidelined since September due to a serious knee injury.
Briffa replaced captain Jonathan Caruana 13 minutes from the end.
Oliver Spiteri and Paul Zammit, the coaches of Balzan and Valletta respectively, are not expected to make drastic changes from their last outings.
With the exception of the Pembroke-Hibernians match, the other four on the card seem to be balanced.
Birkirkara are due to meet Sliema on Saturday in the last match of the weekend and will be eager to halt the negative results at the hands of the Wanderers.
On the other hand, the Blues will be aiming to erase their up-and-down form while maintaining their positive record against the Stripes this season.
Striker Gonzalo Malan is out, suspended, for Birkirkara who overcame Ħamrun Spartans 3-0 in their last outing to leapfrog Floriana into fourth place.
Ħamrun Spartans and St Andrews, both on 27 points, will relish victory to improve their position in the standings.
Floriana and Tarxien are involved in a potentially balanced encounter on Saturday.
The Greens will be looking to bounce back from their defeat to Birkirkara and maintain their stride for a top four placing while Tarxien are after some oxygen following their recent run of defeats.
Floriana coach Giovanni Tedesco must make do without striker Ignacio Varela and defender Enzo Ruiz after the two Argentine players were handed a one-match ban in midweek.
Second-placed Hibernians are not likely to falter against wooden-spoonists Pembroke Athleta who will be without goalkeeper Matthew Calleja Cremona.
Victory for them would mean important inroads should leaders Balzan fail to beat Valletta.
In the other game, Gżira United will be seeking to make amends for their 1-0 defeat to Sliema when they meet strugglers Mosta.
Defender Clifford Gatt Baldacchino, who has been recalled to the Malta squad for the World Cup qualifier against Slovakia on March 26, is suspended for the Maroons.