Preview - Day 16 Valletta vs Floriana Published on: 17-12-2016

Derby encounters between Valletta and Floriana are usually highly-charged affairs, regardless of the two clubs’ position in the standings.
Given that the third-placed Valletta are only one point ahead of their rejuvenated rivals, their second-round showdown this afternoon at the National Stadium (16.00) has taken on an added edge as both teams will be going all out f to strengthen their title push.
Knowing that the Valletta faithful crave a win in the derby more than anything else, coach Paul Zammit has called on his players to repay their supporters’ backing with a win.
“The derby between Valletta and Floriana always evokes strong emotions, irrespective of the teams’ position in the classification,” Zammit told Times of Malta.
“For the supporters especially, this fixture has huge importance. I like my teams to be close to the fans and we have a chance to do so this weekend.
“I must say that, this season, our supporters have been very helpful, they continued to back the team even in difficult moments.”
Zammit has a lot of respect for Floriana.
“Since Riccardo Gaucci took over as club president, Floriana have improved tremendously,” Zammit observed.
“Their first priority was to establish a solid structure and I believe they have done that but, year after year, they also continued to reinforce their squad.
“At the start of the season, few talked about Floriana’s potential but they have a very competitive squad.”
Both Floriana and Valletta advanced to the last 16 of the FA Trophy in midweek but they did it in contrasting fashion.
While the Greens were never troubled in their 5-0 mauling of Birżebbuġa St Peters, Valletta looked sluggish for most of their game against Division Two side San Ġwann, relying on Umeh Calistus’s first-half goal to go through.
Although the champions have only sparkled sporadically this season, they are still on course to win the treble as they are very much in the title race, have reached the fourth round of the FA Trophy and, on Wednesday, they meet Sliema Wanderers in the Super Cup final.
Indubitably, a derby win would constitute the perfect tonic for Valletta ahead of the Super Cup as well as for the remainder of the season.
“This game will not decide our season,” Zammit said.
“This is the fourth leg of an important five-game series and there is no doubt that three points from the derby would give us a psychological boost.”
The City coach has injury concerns as the likes of Federico Falcone, Jhonnattann, Steve Borg and Valdo Alhinho are ranked doubtful.
Young winger Jurgen Suda has joined Pietà on loan until the end of the season while wing-back Ian Azzopardi left Valletta to join Gżira United, also on a loan deal.
Unbeaten in their last eight league games, Floriana have good reason to be upbeat about their chances of replicating their first-round win over Valletta but coach Giovanni Tedesco urged caution.
“There is more optimism and more confidence but at the same time we are keeping our feet firmly on the ground,” Tedesco said.
“We need to approach the game in the right manner, we certainly can’t get ahead of ourselves and always keep in mind that we are facing the champions.
“One thing that has distinguished our campaign so far is that we are taking it one game at a time and indulge in less talk.”
Tedesco knows that the level of anticipation and enthusiasm is sky-high before a derby clash but he’s relishing the occasion.
“The derby is different, it’s not like the other games,” Tedesco said.
“It’s easy to prepare for these games because the players are very motivated. I hope the rivalry translates itself into an exciting match, a feast of football for the fans.”
For many years, Floriana had failed to beat Valletta in the league but they have broken their derby jinx after winning the last two clashes.
Tedesco warned that Valletta remain a massive threat.
“They are the current champions and their coach (Paul Zammit) has won everything here,” Tedesco said.
“Valletta still have a core of national team players and in Falcone and Jhonnattann, they have two strikers who can decide a game at any time.
“They are perhaps less entertaining to watch compared to last season but Valletta are still a very strong team.”
Senegalese winger Amadou Samb is out as he must serve a one-match ban but Argentine striker Ignacio Varela is back in the frame.
Italian defender Enrico Pepe is struggling with injury.

Source - Times of Malta