Preview Day 06: Valletta vs Balzan Published on: 05-10-2018

The stage is set for an enticing battle this evening as champions Valletta and rivals Balzan go head-to-head at the National Stadium (kick-off: 7pm)

There is no love lost between the two Premier League sides who last season gave life to one of the most exciting battles for domestic honours in recent years.

Danilo Doncic’s men came from behind to pip Balzan to the league title on a dramatic final day of the season before going on to complete a memorable double when ousting the Reds in a thrilling FA Trophy semi-final and then beat Birkirkara in the final.

Five months on and Valletta and Balzan again cross each other’s path and although there is no silverware at stake a win for either side could have a telling psychological effect on their championship ambitions this season.

At present, Balzan are second in the standings, just one point adrift of leaders Gżira United who lead the way on 13 points while Valletta are fifth, four points behind top spot.

After a disastrous start to their title defence, following back-to back defeats to Sliema Wanderers and Hibernians, Valletta seemed to have finally found their groove as buoyed by the arrival of Montenegrin striker Bojan Kaljevic from Balzan, they have steamrolled past Birkirkara (3-0), Qormi (6-0) and Senglea Athletic (5-1) to put their campaign back on track.

Doncic, however, is refusing to get carried away by his team’s rude health and is expecting a very tough assignment against Balzan.

“Both teams know each other very well and it’s going to be a very difficult match,” he told the Times of Malta.

“Last year, Valletta and Balzan fought for the major honours until the last game of the season and in my eyes they are still one of the best teams in the division.

They have some excellent foreign players while they also boast a good nucleus of Maltese players so surely they will be tough to beat.

“But we are passing through a very good spell at the moment. We won the last three matches, scoring 14 goals and conceding just one and there is no doubt the arrival of Bojan Kaljevic has given us an added dimension upfront. “Hopefully we can keep up our momentum against Balzan.”

Doncic has no major selection worries for tonight’s match even though he must assess the fitness of defender Ryan Camilleri who missed the Senglea match with a small injury while Santiago Malano has only returned to training on Wednesday after picking up a knock last week.

Doncic said that Valletta’s main goal this season was to try and reconfirm themselves as the top side in the country but he admitted that this year things are far more difficult given that all teams have strengthened their ranks.

“Here at Valletta the season’s objective is alway the same – to try and win every trophy on offer,” the former City striker said. “But this year competition is far tougher than previous years as all teams have strenghtened themselves and that is mirrored by the standings where you have the top seven teams grouped in just five points.

“Apart from bring in Kaljevic we are also delighted to have an experienced player like Jonathan Caruana back in the team. He is our captain and no doubt his leadership qualities and ability as a player will be very important to us in our quest to winning honours.”

Balzan head into the match in good form as after their opening day defeat to Birkirkara (0-1), they bounced back in style by winning their next four matches in some style against Qormi (4-2), Senglea (5-0), Mosta (3-1) and Pieta Hotspurs (1-0).

Still, Vladimir Simovic, the Balzan technical director, thinks that the match against Valletta will be his team’s greatest challenge so far and reckons that Balzan will start as the underdogs this evening.

“It’s always a big challenge when you play a team like Valletta,” Simovic said.

“We have played out some highly entertaining matches in the last year and I expect Friday’s match to be no different.

“Valletta are passing through a very good spell and the acquisition of Bojan Kaljevic has provided them with the final jigsaw as they now have a recognised target man upfront. Compared to us Valletta have a deeper squad and that makes them slight favourites.

“But as always we are going out to give our 100 per cent and hopefully we can get a good result.”

Marko Micovic, the Balzan coach, cannot bank on his star player as Brazilian midfielder Kadu is out as he is recovering from a hernia operation while Serbian midfielder Nikola Sljivic and Dale Camilleri face a late fitness test.

Simovic said that the match against Valletta is the first step towards a crucial run of fixtures which will also see the Reds facing Floriana and leaders Gżira in the next few weeks and surely a positive result this evening will be a huge injection of confidence for his team.

“The match against Valletta represent the start of a tricky run of fixtures which will see us face Floriana and Gżira United when we return from the international break,” the former Red Star administrator said.

“We entered the season with a younger squad as we are trying to building our team for the future. The club decided that the way forward for us was to part ways with some veteran members, such as Kaljevic, Paul Fenech, Bruno and Ryan Fenech and bring in fresh blood.

“These are still early days to make any judgement on the team but the early indications look very positive. Surely, the match against Valletta will be a huge test and I’m sure that if we had to get a result against the champions it will be a massive confidence boost for the players.” 

Source - Times of Malta