Preview: Day 5 Valletta vs Balzan Published on: 23-09-2017

Balzan and Valletta face a must-win scenario when they go head-tohead at the National Stadium tomorrow night (kick-off: 8pm).
This year’s title race may still be in its infancy, but for Balzan tomorrow’s match takes a crucial importance
for their aspirations to stay within touching distance of their direct rivals, especially given their disappointing start to the season.
The Reds have only one win to show from their opening four matches and are already trailing early pacesetters Gżira United by seven points. Defeat against Valletta would leave Balzan with a mountain to climb and compromise their championship aspirations.
Ryan Fenech admitted that Balzan had little margin of error against Valletta.
“The match against Valletta is somewhat make or break for us,” the former City midfielder told Times of Malta yesterday.
“We are currently seven points behind the leaders and given this year’s league format we surely cannot
afford to lose further ground.
This year, we are playing seven matches less than last season and therefore it’s more difficult to bridge the gap with the teams above you.
“A match against Valletta is always difficult and this season they have started the league campaign very well as they are unbeaten and have yet to concede a goal so that says a lot about their strength.
“But we are focused on our goals and we will do everything we can to return home with three points that
would put us back in contention.”
To make matters worse for Balzan, tomorrow they will be without two key players as midfielder Paul Fenech and striker Bojan Kaljevic are both ruled out as they must serve a one-match ban after seeing red in the goalless draw against Ħamrun Spartans last week.
“The absence of Kaljevic and Paul Fenech is a blow for our team as they are two very pivotal members of our squad,” Fenech said.
“But I am confident that we have enough strength-in-depth in our squad to be able to cope with their absence. This is a very important match for us and it’s in these kind of situations that the real character of the team comes to fore.
“We know that our recent performances were not good enough and against Valletta we have a perfect opportunity to make a statement of our title credentials.”
Valletta, on their part, have enjoyed a more consistent start to the season, winning three of their opening four matches of the season, with their only blot on their copybook being a goalless draw against newly-promoted Naxxar Lions a fortnight ago.
Coach Zoran Popovic sounded pleased with his team’s solid start to the season but warned that they are expecting a very difficult test against a wounded Balzan side.
“I’m not reading too much into Balzan’s difficulties this season as they are still in my mind one of the best teams in the division,” Popovic said.
“In my opinion, one of the reasons for Balzan’s struggles could be that their players are feeling the effects of their European campaign, having started their preparation almost four months ago. But it will not be long before we see their real structure. They have a very talented squad and the absence of Kaljevic and (Paul)
Fenech will give the opportunity to other players who started the season on the bench to make a case for
themselves to get into the first XI.
“This is a very important match for us as it not only offers us the opportunity to prove that we can challenge for the league title but also a win against Balzan would all but push them out of this year’s title race.”
The City coach has not fresh injury worries with Brazilian wingback Romeo Romao set to be sidelined for the next three weeks after undergoing surgery on his meniscus while midfielder Claudio Pani is rated as doubtful after picking up a knock in the 1-0 win over Sliema.
On a more positive note, Rowen Muscat is back in training after making steady progress on a knee injury.
Serbian striker Nicola Asceric broke his duck since his move to Valletta when scoring the winner against Sliema and Popovic is hopeful the towering forward can go on a run of goals in the next few weeks.
“I was really happy for Nicola as he badly needed to finally open his account since he joined our club in
the close season,” Popovic said. “He is a very hard-working player and I felt that he was unlucky in the first three matches. The goal against Sliema surely was a great injection of confidence for him and hopefully he will no longer feel too much pressure on his shoulders and I hope that will help him go on a run of goals and help the team’s quest of challenging for the main honours.”

Source - Times of Malta