After an absence of three weeks, to make space for the Malta national team’s final commitments in the UEFA Nations League, the BOV Premier League returns with an intriguing clash between neighbour rivals Sliema Wanderers and Gżira United.
Only two points divide Sliema Wanderers, who are sharing top spot with Hibernians on 16 points, and second-placed Gżira United respectively.
In what seems to be a wide-open championship, due to the extraordinary circumstances we are currently living, this game will serve as an opportunity for these teams to remain in the top cluster of the league.
Both teams are on the back of positive results, with Sliema Wanderers defeating Balzan
3-1 while Gżira managed to snatch a point against heavy spending Ħamrun Spartans.
Consistency in performances and results is the name of the game in the dressing room of the two teams as they seek to resume where they left of almost a month ago.
In fact, that discrepancy in activity is a variable that will make the coaches’ job harder in selecting their best formations due to the physical and psychological state of their squads.
“This inactivity can affect you in both ways,” Gżira coach Darren Abdilla told the Times of Malta.
“Obviously, it makes my job harder to keep the morale of the team as high as possible as I have to prepare the players week in week out without having any fixtures on the weekend.
“At the same time, we avoided friendly matches due to the coronavirus pandemic, which is also hindering us from organising social events during this long period without games and that obviously could result in a dip in morale or concentration.”
On the other hand, the Gżira coach pointed out that during this period, they could welcome back some players who were sidelined by injury but most probably he will be without a key player for the Sliema game as besides midfielder Zack Scerri, who is still nursing a long-term injury, Steve Borg has returned with an injury from the international duty.
Asked about the controversy linking the international duties with this congestion of fixtures, Abdilla emphasised on the fact that he is not against releasing the players for the national team but he feels there should be more consideration towards the local clubs.
“I remarked this in other interviews, but I want to underline it once again. I am not against releasing players for the national team in any way.
“For me they could go for two weeks or more because the Malta technical staff is doing a great job and the positive results have become an extra incentive to let them represent our country,” he said.
“However, I criticise the planning of the league fixtures because playing a high number of games in such a short span of time creates a problem for us.
“For example, should a player get injured with the national team, the coach can easily pick someone else from other Maltese clubs whereas we cannot do that throughout the season and it puts a lot of strain on our players and becomes a handicap for the clubs as they have to deal with a number of additional injuries.”
Abdilla also pointed out to the fact that in order for the MFA to satisfy clubs who maybe do not boast a large budget or do not harbour huge objectives, the league has to end by April when after all, the top clubs have budgets that can cover the entire 12 months and for them it would beneficial to extend it to May, in particular, to have a healthier competition.
“We have 16 teams in our league, we started late, and we want to finish early which for me seems a bit unfair on the players as they will have a very restricted calendar,” the former Valletta coach added.
Meanwhile, Sliema coach Andrea Pisanu sees the congestion of fixtures as a chance to rotate more players in his system of play.
“The congestion of fixtures is something that we have to deal with it so as a coach, I try to rotate as much players as possible in my system of play,” Pisanu explained.
“I have no problems in rotating my players, because our system is not based on names but on the intensity that a player produces during the 90 minutes and therefore I can easily rely on every single member of the team.
“Our mentality is to put the collective goals before the individual objectives and that is a crucial aspect of our learning process.”
At the same time, Pisanu heaped praise on his players as their individual progress is also due to their commitment and belief in his work as a coach, which is helping Sliema to return to more competitive and earn the respect of everyone while reminding his side to remain with their feet rooted to the ground as every game is tough.
Pisanu wanted to also underline Devis Mangia’s work as he feels that these positive results shed light on what he always believed.
“There has been a massive upgrade in Malta’s displays, mentality and approach to the game,” he said.
“I’ve always believed that Malta had room for improvement, and it can become a dominant force in its category – there is a lot of enthusiasm and I hope it remains like this. This is just the starting point.”