Preview Day 4: Valletta vs Balzan Published on: 19-09-2015

Valletta have opened the season with a flourish but coach Paul Zammit is preaching a mantra of caution ahead of what promises to be another stern test against the much-improved Balzan this evening at the Hibernians Stadium.

Sunday’s dramatic 2-1 victory over Birkirkara took Valletta’s tally to a maximum nine points from three games. Balzan have five after being held to a goalless draw by Tarxien Rainbows but Zammit is not underestimating opponents who harbour hopes of jolting the traditional order of Maltese football.

“Last season, Balzan began to reap the fruit of their work over the past few years,” Zammit told Times of Malta. “They achieved an important objective after qualifying for the Europa League and this summer
they have further strengthened their set-up.

“Balzan have been raising the bar and are now aiming for higher targets. “I’ve watched their matches and I believe that they are a team that can challenge for a top-four finish. Balzan can be a threat to any team. “I’m expecting another tough match. True, we’ve started with three wins and we’ve done many good things so far, but we can’t afford to think that we’ve already reached our aims.

“Ensuring that the squad maintains its focus after the last match has been my main challenge this week and the players know this. “We are coming from a victory against Birkirkara but we haven’t done anything out of the ordinary.

“We still have to see whether we can be consistent and, in this context, I’m still testing my team.” Last season, Zammit, then at the helm of Birkirkara, was unable to lead his side to a win over Balzan as the latter won two games while the second-round match ended goalless.

The City coach brushed off comparisons with last season but reiterated his warning that Balzan can be dangerous opponents. “You can’t compare this season with the last,” Zammit said. “But, when playing a team like Balzan, if you are not 100 per cent committed on the day, you would be asking for trouble.

“They have qualities to punish you. Balzan are a team who rely a lot on the collective aspect but in attack they are strong.” Some Valletta players, including Brazilian right-back Romeu Romao, had fatigue-related injuries this week but Zammit is confident of having a full squad at his disposal.

Balzan coach Oliver Spiteri is also hopeful of recovering some key players, including Ryan Fenech, who is in line to make the squad for the clash with his former club, captain Dylan Grima and Montenegrin striker Aleksandar Vujacic.

Describing today’s game as an important test for his side, Spiteri said Valletta have what it takes to battle for the title. “We are aware of their strength,” Spiteri said. “I’m one of the coaches who always insisted that Valletta will challenge for the honours. In the two pre-season friendlies we played against Valletta, they showed that they have the hunger to compete.

“And it’s hard to imagine a club like Valletta not winning a trophy for two years in a row. They also have top-quality players like Jhonnattann, Federico Falcone, Roderick Briffa, Jonathan Caruana and (Njongo) Priso.”

On the back of another intensive transfer campaign, Balzan started the season with high expectations of improving on their top-four finish but injuries to key players, especially powerful striker Bojan Kaljevic, have not helped their cause in the early weeks of the campaign.

“All in all, when you consider that, over the past month, our team was the most affected by injuries, we haven’t done badly,” Spiteri said. “I mean our first game was very difficult as we played Hibs but we deservedly gained a point. “In our next fixture, we beat Naxxar Lions after an improved second-half performance and, although we improved further against Tarxien, we were not clinical in front of goal.

“Tarxien look capable of taking points off the top teams this season but they didn’t create a lot of chances against us. “That shows that we are not conceding space but we have room for improvement and, hopefully, when this dark cloud (injuries) goes away, we will be back to our best. “But we need to work hard to address the weak points.”

Source - Times of Malta