Leaders Ħamrun Spartans face their first major test of the 2020-21 Premier League season when they take on struggling Birkirkara at the National Stadium tonight (kick-off: 9.15pm).
The rejuvenated Spartans have taken the Premier League by storm this season as the team guided by Mark Buttigieg made a fast start, winning the first four matches to lead the standings with 12 points.
After straightforward victories over Sirens (5-1), Sta Lucia (4-1) and Senglea Athletic (3-0), the Spartans found the going tough last Saturday when they needed a last-gasp goal from Marcelo Barbosa to overcome the stiff challenge of Gudja United 1-0 and remain the only team in the division with a perfect record after four matches.
It’s no surprise that after such a brisk start, pundits have been talking up the Spartans title credentials and while the Reds have been looking to keep down expectations, their first real test of their ambition is likely to arrive today when they face Birkirkara.
The Stripes have so far failed to live up to their billing as title challengers after a disastrous start to the season which saw them pick up just one point from their opening four matches and head into the match on the back of a surprising 3-2 defeat to Żejtun Corinthians.
However, given the quality the Stripes boast, such as goalkeeper Andrew Hogg, defender Enrico Pepe and attacking trio Alex Alves, Caio Henrique and Federico Falcone they can surely be a major threat for the Spartans.
“For us this is our first major test of the season,” Buttigieg told the Times of Malta.
“A lot has been said about Birkirkara’s troubles so far this season, but if you look at the quality of the squad they boast you have to admit that they have a top-quality side. Players like Caio Henrique, Federico Falcone and Alex Alves are a deadly front trio and we need to be on top of our game to be ready for them.
“Unfortunately, we didn’t have a lot of time to prepare for this match given how the fixtures were planned but we need to focused and maintain our tactical discipline if we are to take all three points.”
The Ħamrun coach said that Saturday’s dramatic win over Gudja United was a good test of character for his team and hopes the result will inject much-needed self-belief to his players in their quest for a top-placing in this season’s BOV Premier League.
“I only have words of praise for my players after the match against Gudja,” the former Birkirkara coach said.
“We were in control for much of the first hour but couldn’t find a breakthrough, then when we found ourselves with a player less, the team seemed to lose its plot and Gudja put us under a lot of pressure.
“But the players kept fighting and their perseverance was rewarded with a vital winner. Winning these kind of matches is very important and hopefully it will transmit more belief in the players that they are capable of winning tight matches.”
Buttigieg is again expected to be without Serbian midfielder Predrag Djordjevic and Brazilian forward Ailton Jorge Soares while Serbian defender Darko Gojkovic must serve a one-match ban.
The match will also see the Spartans’ marquee signing Matthew Guillaumier facing his former club Birkirkara for the first time since his move to the Reds last month.
Lija Ath. vs Gżira United 17.00
Żejtun C. vs Balzan 21.15
Tarxien R. vs Sta Lucia 17.00
Ħamrun S. vs Birkirkara 21.15
Mosta vs Hibernians 17.00
Floriana vs Senglea A. 17.00
Sliema W. vs Gudja U. 21.15