Preview: Day 23 vs Sliema W Published on: 22-02-2014

The points have been halved and the teams divided into two groups according to their position at the end of the ‘qualifying’ phase.

Crunch time is upon us.

Now that the customary split has been effected, the clubs have little margin for error as the next 10 matches, often depicted as finals by the coaches, will make or break the fortunes of the majority of top-flight clubs.

For title hopefuls Valletta, their quest to overhaul champions Birkirkara in the race for the league crown will be subjected to a stiff test tomorrow as the Whites launch their Championship Pool campaign with a tricky match against the fourth-placed Sliema Wanderers at the National Stadium (kick-off 16.00).

Since their goalless draw against the Blues, Valletta have embarked on a run of four consecutive wins to stay in touch with Birkirkara who begin their elite-pool commitments with a one-point lead over their rivals.

Andre Paus, Valletta’s head coach, is backing his team to show their mettle in the Championship Pool.

“We are taking it one game at a time,” Paus told Times of Malta.

“If we can play at the level we expect and do our job properly, we can win every match. But it’s easy to say this.

“In football, you need the right ingredients to achieve success, namely a solid defence, building from the back and creating attacks.

“If we do these things right, we can win every game but it’s a step-by-step process.”

For all his optimism, the Dutchman warned that Sliema Wanderers will be no pushovers.

“I’ve seen Sliema Wanderers,” Paus said.

“They have a strong squad. They have no weak players in their team. It’s going to be a tough game and we certainly need to work hard and perform well to win on Sunday (tomorrow).

“After Sunday, we will start thinking about Wednesday (against Hibs). The good thing is that we have no injuries, all the players are available. We will try to pick the best 11.”

Paus, who is working alongside Mark Miller, has overseen three successive wins since taking charge of the team before the match against Birkirkara.

The former Vitesse reserves coach is pleased with his team’s progress in the last four weeks.

“Our approach has changed a bit as I like my teams to be well-organised,” City’s head coach said.

“We need to improve further to reach the levels I expect from the team but it takes time for players to get used to new systems.

“The signs are encouraging. In the first half of our league game against Balzan, the score was still 0-0 but we created a lot of chances and pressed very well. But, we must kill our opponents by scoring goals.”

Last weekend, Valletta reached the semi-finals of the U*Bet FA Trophy after a narrow 1-0 win over Naxxar Lions but Paus was not impressed with his side’s showing.

“It was not at the level I want to see from my team,” Paus said.

“The pitch was heavy but that is not an excuse. The positive thing was that we managed to win despite not playing particularly well. We didn’t create many chances but we didn’t give away many either.”

Despite having a full squad at his disposal, Paus is not expected to start with Lateef Elford-Alliyu as the English forward has only just recovered from injury.

For his part, Sliema Wanderers coach Alfonso Greco is expected to send out the same team that started the 2-0 FA Trophy victory over Pietá Hotspurs.

Nigerian Abubakar Bello-Osagie is still recovering from knee trouble.

Greco acknowledges that Sliema need a top-notch display to stand a chance of upsetting their more-quoted opponents.

“These games are like finals, they are very important,” Greco said.

“We know that this will be a very difficult game and we need a high-level performance to take something from it.”

With Sliema six points off the title pace, Greco believes that Birkirkara and Valletta will battle it out for the title.

“It’s between Valletta and Birkirkara,” the Italian said.

“From our side, we’re not looking too far ahead, we’re taking it one game at a time and then we will see. But, our main objective is to qualify for Europe.”

Previous results: Valletta vs Sliema Wanderers 3-0, 0-0.

Source - Times of Malta