The Malta Independent 17 August 2019, Saturday

BOV Premier League: Important matches on card as competition resumes after stoppage for festivities

Henry Brincat Friday, 11 January 2019, 15:00 Last update: about 8 months ago

The Bank of Valletta Premier League resumes this weekend with the first matches of the second round being played between today and Sunday.

After the first round, Gzira and Hibernians lead the standings on 31 points each, Valletta are third on 28, Sliema and Hamrun follow in 4th place on 25. Birkirkara are 6th on 24 and Balzan 7th on 23.

In the bottom half of the table, St Andrews are 8th on 16 points, Floriana and Tarxien on 15, Mosta are on 11, Pieta have 10 points and Qormi and Senglea occupy the last two places with 4 points each.

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It is certainly a very interesting situation. Not only do we have a three-horse race (at least at present) for the title, but there is also a keen battle between four teams for a possible place in European football next season, via a 3rd or 4th place in the League.

Also, with Qormi and Senglea already considered as clear relegation candidates, there is an interesting battle raging against relegation as the clubs involved try to avoid finishing third from bottom to avoid the play-off against against the third placed club in the first division.

Leaders Gzira and Hibernians are expected to win their matches, thus retaining their lead at the top this weekend as they face clubs involved in the battle against relegation. They could also extend their lead if they win their clashes and 3rd placed Valletta falter against Sliema the following day.

Gzira will be facing Tarxien Rainbows, while the Paolites will be meeting Pieta Hotspurs.

Though they cannot take things for granted, it is unlikely that the two joint league leaders will be dropping points.

Third placed Valletta seem to have a more difficult task as they face 4th placed Sliema.

The citizens will be seeking revenge on the Blues who obtained a clearcut 3-0 win when the competition started last summer.

Valletta are lying three points behind the two joint leaders and so cannot afford to miss any points if they are to continue chasing them.

It will not be easy as Sliema are keen to continue this season's splendid run which has seen them occupying an exalted position after several years. In fact, the Blues are aiming for a place in Europe next season and, as such, they aim to repeat the first round dose against the citizens to start the second round on a top note.

Fifth placed Hamrun will be facing Floriana in a re-match following their recent FA Trophy encounter which went Spartans' way.

The latter will be trying to gain three precious points in their quest to remain firmly in the hunt for an Europa League place next season, but Floriana will certainly have other ideas.

Not only do the Greens want to taste revenge for the FA Trophy elimination, but they also need the points to start moving up the table to avoid any embarrassment in future.

The match of the weekend should be the Balzan-Birkirkara encounter to be played on Sunday.

One point separates the two sides in mid-table, but they both are aware that they need to win the three points to keep their 'European' hopes alive.

Birkirkara and Balzan were the most active clubs in the January transfer market so far.

The Stripes have a new sports director in the form of former Liverpool and Norway star left flanker John Arne Riise while they have also signed Clayton Failla from Floriana, and former Bosnia-Herzegovina international player Muamer Svraka. Earlier this week, they continued to strengthen their ranks as they also obtained the services of Johan Bezzina and Jorge Pereira from Hibernians and Gzira respectively.

The Stripes, however, lost Edward Herrera who moved to Floriana. Also, they have allowed midfielder Paul Fenech to rejoin Balzan.

The latter also signed central defender Aleksandar Kosorić, from Bosnia, to boost their defence.

The remaining two matches, that is, St Andrews-Mosta and Senglea-Qormi, are also expected to be keenly contested as the four clubs need the points to improve on their lowly positions, although the Saints seem to be in a relatively safe position so far.

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