Preview Day 10: Valletta vs Gzira U Published on: 09-11-2018

Top spot in the BOV Premier League standings will be at stake when leaders Gżira United take on Valletta in the main clash at the National Stadium this evening (kick-off 7pm).

With just eight matches played so far, these are still early days in 2018-19 title race. But still the winner of tonight’s showdown will not only take charge of this year’s championship race but more importantly will lay down a marker on their ambitions of winning silverware.

At present, just two points separate Gżira and Valletta, who are sharing second spot with Hibernians, and both teams had a somewhat contrasting build up to the match.

Last week, the Maroons an injury-time goal from Jorginho to avoid a surprising defeat to lowly Pietà Hotspurs while on the other hand Valletta made it seven wins in a row when they had the better of neighbouring rivals Floriana, courtesy of a Miguel Alba scorcher.

Darren Abdilla, the Gżira coach, said that it’s still too early to label the match as decisive but added that a win against Valletta would be a major boost for his team’s title aspirations.

“For us this is not our first direct confrontation this season,” Abdilla said.

“So far we played against four other title rivals and managed to win them all. Obviously, when you face the champions the stakes are higher but we don’t feel in anyway inferior to them.

“This season we are trying to build on our third-placing last term and if there was one thing we learnt from Valletta’s title winning campaign was the importance of having a strong defence.

“That is one area where we have shown a lot of improvement so far as we have the third meanest defence as we are currently boast the best defence in the division.

“Obviously Valletta are very strong in attack and we will have to be very focused to remain solid but we too have the players to hurt them and I’m confident that the team will do all they can to get a positive result.”

The Gżira coach can bank on a full squad with the exception of Zach Scerri who is forced to miss out with a one-match ban.

Rodolfo Soares has been one of the key reasons behind Gżira’s defensive improvements this season. The veteran Brazilian has won several major honours throughout his career in Malta with his previous club Hibernians and is keen to transfer that knowledge to his younger teammates as he looks to lead the Maroons to what it would be an historic league title.

“I have played many big matches since my arrival in Malta and it’s no secret that winning these kind of matches instils confidence that could help a team to go on and win major titles,” Soares said. “Being one of the veterans at Gżira I know that I have a responsibility to help the young players to not get caught by the occasion.

“We are blessed to have a few upcoming players in our squad who possess a great talent. In these kind of matches, my message to the younger members is always the same... try and do your job the best you can and the rest will come. Matches against Valletta will help them mature and I have no doubt that they will play a big role in the success of our club.”

Valletta go into the match in high spirits after their derby victory over Floriana that stretched their winning run to seven matches.

Coach Danilo Doncic said that he was pleased with his team’s current form he hopes that their offensive philosophy will reward them with top spot in the standings.

“The team is passing through a good run of results and is playing some great eye-catching attacking football. Hopefully we can maintain this vein against Gżira United,” the Serbian coach said.

“I have great respect for Gżira United who have built a very competitive team during the summer and are playing a very high level. For me this is a 50/50 match. Both teams know each other inside out and I don’t think there will be major surprises from either side.

“I hope that our fans will come up and big numbers because their constant support will surely help us to get the three points.”

Valletta are boosted by the return of prolific striker Bojan Kaljevic who has returned to training after an ankle injury. The Montenegrin return will provide Doncic the chance to reunite him with his striking partner Mario Fontanella with whom he scored 18 of his team’s 29 goals so far this season.

Joseph Zerafa, one of the best performers for Valletta in last Sunday’s derby victory over Floriana, said that this is a very important match to regain top spot but said that it’s still early to label this match as a title decider.

“Surely this is a very important match for us as we want to go back to the top of the standings,” Zerafa said.

“But for us the clash against Gżira is just another match where three points are at stake. I think it’s wrong to say that Valletta and Gżira are the only title challengers as for me Hibernians are well in the race while I won’t rule out Sliema Wanderers who have also built a competitive squad.

“There are still many points to be won and surely there are many twists and turns to come in this year’s title race but for us the focus is to try and beat Gżira as we won’t to take place that we deserve… top spot in the standings.”

Source - Times of Malta