Preview - Day 12 Valletta vs Sliema W Published on: 19-11-2016

The first round has been an up-anddown ride for the bulk of the Premier League clubs, including champions Valletta who emerged from a difficult spell in October to reignite their title defence bid.
Having headed into the international break on a bright note after a 3-0 win over ─Žamrun moved them to within three points of leaders Balzan, Valletta will now look to embark on a sustained run of wins but are under no illusion about the scale of the task awaiting them this afternoon at the National Stadium (kick-off: 4pm) as they face the resurgent Sliema Wanderers.
Paul Zammit wants Valletta to show more consistency but readily admits that it won’t be easy as the first round highlighted the balance among the clubs, particularly those in the upper part of the standings.
“The first round enabled teams to gauge their potential vis-à-vis their opponents,” the City coach told Times of Malta.
“If anything, it showed that there is balance between the teams and the difference in points is minimal. “It has also demonstrated that even the so-called big teams can win or lose against anyone.
“I have already said that our priority in the first round was to give an identity to our team but our work was disrupted by injuries and suspensions in certain games.
“But, we’re settling down nicely and not just in terms of tactical systems but also in the way we want to play. Our performances in the last games have been encouraging but the second round will be more difficult.
“If your approach on the day is not right, you will have problems.” Zammit welcomes goalkeeper Henry Bonello back as he has completed a three-match ban. Captain Jonathan Caruana is also set to return after recovering from a hamstring problem.
Valletta’s attacking prowess was at the heart of their title success last season but they are struggling to replicate their scoring exploits this term with Argentine striker Federico Falcone lacking his usual sharpness since returning from a quad problem.
Zammit said he and his technical staff have been working to address the side’s profligacy in front of goal. “I don’t like to single out a particular player,” Zammit said of Falcone who only has three goals to his name this season.
“One of the problems we met in the first round was that we didn’t score enough in proportionate to the chances we created.
“We had to work on this aspect because, in certain games, it cost us points. It’s a collective issue. “Falcone is an key component in our team but the problem is that he had an injury and he’s not yet as sharp as his team-mates. I would be more concerned if we were not creating chances, but this hasn’t been the case.”
Valletta needed a late Roderick Briffa stunner to overcome Sliema in their opening game of the season. Zammit has a lot of respect for the tough-to-beat Blues. “Although Sliema didn’t start the season particularly well, they showed that some of the players they possess, both local and foreign, are among the best in the league,” he said.
“Once they found their feet, Sliema’s results improved and their performances have been in crescendo. They are one of the teams who can challenge for a topfive finish.”
John Buttigieg, the Sliema coach, is not getting carried away by his team’s improved showings. “We have now played 11 games and there’s more confidence and cohesion in the team,” he said. “Obviously, confidence comes from results and good performances. We’re unbeaten in the last six games and we are playing well but we know this won’t be an easy match against the champions.
“The most important thing is that the team give their best.” Although Sliema have clearly upped their game in the last two months, the general feeling is that their mid-table position belies their improvement as the Blues have dropped points in games they should have won. Buttigieg was philosophical about this.
“There were three games, the defeats against Valletta and Hibs, and the draw against Mosta, where we deserved to take more points,” the former Malta coach remarked.
“But there were other matches, like the one against Tarxien, when we were perhaps not the better team but won.”
At a news conference yesterday, Keith Perry, the Sliema Wanderers president, said the club’s target was
to retain the FA Trophy and challenge for qualification to the UEFA competitions.
“I believe we can,” Buttigieg replied when asked if he thought Sliema have what it takes to break into the top four.
“That said, there are six other teams fighting for the same objective and the UEFA qualifying spots are limited. It’s going to be a close fight between these teams.
“As for the FA Trophy competition, this can be very unpredictable because unfancied teams can cause a surprise.
“It’s not going to be easy but if our players maintain the same attitude and commitment, we can do well.”
The Sliema coach must make do without Beninese striker Wisdom Salomon this afternoon while captain
Alex Muscat and midfielder Mark Scerri are highly doubtful.
First round: Valletta vs Sliema 2-1.

Source - Times of Malta