Preview Day 15: Valletta vs Hibs Published on: 13-12-2014

Hibernians have been unstoppable this season, collecting a remarkable total of 40 points from 14 league games.

Sitting on a 12-point cushion at the top, the general perception is that Hibernians already have one hand on the BOV Premier League trophy but Valletta’s renaissance under Ivan Zammit has heightened hope that the title race will not descend into a procession.

In this context, tomorrow’s clash with Hibs at the National Stadium (kick-off 4pm) is a veritable do-or-die affair for the Citizens.

They need a victory to keep their flickering title hopes alive while a defeat would leave them requiring a sporting miracle to overhaul the runaway leaders.

Branko Nisevic, in his second season as Hibernians coach, acknowledged that the Paolites will make a giant stride towards the title if they avoid defeat to Valletta tomorrow.

“The way I see it, this game is make or break for Valletta but for us it’s kind of a make affair,” Nisevic told Times of Malta.

“With a positive result from this match, we will make a big step towards achieving our objective.
“We know Valletta well and they know us.”

In the first round, Hibs scored twice in the opening half to edge Valletta 2-1. That defeat came during a woeful start by the champions who lost four of their opening eight games but the Citizens have been on an upward trajectory in the last two months, winning six games on the spin.

“Valletta are going through a good period,” Nisevic said.

With a positive result from this match, we will make a big step towards achieving our objective Branko Nisevic (Hibs coach)

“Their squad looks more united and their spirits are clearly higher than when we played them in the first round.

“But we are also not lacking in confidence. Our morale is high and we believe in our abilities.”
While Hibs have scored 45 goals to Valletta’s 34, their defensive record is almost the same with the leaders having conceded a goal fewer than their rivals.

Nisevic singled out Valletta’s midfield as their strongest department.

“Defensively, we have conceded more or less the same number of goals,” Nisevic said.
“Valletta’s forte lies in midfield. They have three strong midfielders and their wingers do a lot of interchanging.”

With Luis Edison ‘Tarabai’ and Jorginho in terrific form from the start of the season, Hibernians have the most prolific attack in the Premier League but Nisevic is wary of Valletta’s scoring threat after seeing his rivals plunder 15 goals in their last three outings.

“Lately, Valletta have been scoring a lot of goals,” Nisevic said.
“They are on a hot streak but this season, we have also been strong in every department.
“Our defence is very solid.”

Having steamrollered most of their opponents, Hibs came through a difficult test last weekend. They survived some tense moments after Sliema pulled one back but Hibs showed resilience to hold out for a 2-1 win.

Nisevic believes that Saturday’s hard-earned victory will reinforce his team’s mental strength.
“During the game, we encountered some difficult moments,” Nisevic said.

This is a direct clash between two in-form sides. We have to show that we are the best team at the moment Ivan Zammit (Valletta coach).

“At 1-0, the result was not safe. We scored a second goal in the second half but it was hard to play against a Sliema team who did well in defence. They had 10 players behind the ball.

“Their goal shook our confidence but I believe that these kind of games help teams to mature.
“The players were happy and relieved to win because they really had to fight hard for the points.
“This result will help us in the long run.”

Nisevic is still concerned about the fitness of Brazilian wing-back Marcelo Dias who has missed the last two league games with a groin problem.

Valletta have a clean bill of health but Australian winger Adrian Zahra and Brazilian Alex Terra are no longer part of the squad.

Zammit, the City coach, admitted that the pressure is on Valletta to win tomorrow in order to stay in the title race.

“Last week, I heard a journalist say that Valletta can go into the game against Hibs without pressure but that is certainly not the case,” Zammit said.

“There is greater pressure on us than Hibs because they can lose three games and still be first.
“If we lose this game, the league will be as good as over for us but we, as coaches, are trying to take all the pressure on us and leave the players as tranquil as possible.

“We give instructions to the players and then it’s up to them to deliver.
“There is no escaping the importance of this match.

“For me, this is a direct clash between two in-form sides. We have to show that we are the best team at the moment.”

Sparkling football
Zammit is satisfied that Valletta, on a high after their 4-1 win over derby rivals Floriana, are back to playing flowing football after their early-season toils.

“When we faced Naxxar (in October), we won but our performance left a lot to be desired and I told the players that Valletta have a tradition of playing good football,” Zammit said.

“Gradually, we managed to improve and our fans are now happy watching the team because the quality of our football has been very good.

“What I don’t like is when my teams lose because of apathy. If the players try hard and give their all, I have no complaints.”

Valletta may have hit their stride lately but they still face a tall order to upstage a Hibs team that have an almost flawless record... 13 wins and one draw.

The Paolites have thrived in a 3-5-2 formation but Zammit insisted that every tactical strategy has its flaws.

“Hibs have been playing with this system for a long time now,” Zammit remarked.

“Like every team, they have their strengths and weaknesses. Their system is ideal when they are pushing forward and their players are very familiar with it but it also has some loopholes.”

When it was put to Zammit that Hibs have a devastating front duo in Tarabai and Jorginho, he replied: “Their two strikers are very dangerous.

“In tight games, even half-a-chance can prove crucial.

“Hibs have other strong players like Clayton Failla and Andrew Cohen but I’m sure that they are also worrying about our players because we have a lot of quality in our squad.”

Zammit is expected to pick the same team that started last weekend’s derby.

Hibs coach Nisevic might make a change or two, depending on whether Dias is available or not.

Source - Times of Malta