Valletta coach Antonio Jose Cardoso Mendes is expecting a strong response from his players following their poor display against Ħamrun Spartans on Wednesday as the Citizens are set to face a second major test in the space of a few days when they take on Gżira United on Sunday at the National Stadium (kick-off: 2pm).
The Citizens woke up on Thursday still licking their wounds after suffering a heavy 3-0 defeat to Premier League leaders Ħamrun Spartans which left the team a distant ninth in the standings on 23 points, and dangerously hovering just above the relegation zone.
In fact, they are currently just four points ahead of neighbouring rivals Floriana who are currently fifth from bottom, which would mean a play-out with the fifth-placed team in the Challenge League.
“There is no hiding that our performance against Ħamrun Spartans was very disappointing,” the former Vitoria Guimaraes youth coach told The Times of Malta.
“The team can do much better than that as they showed against Balzan where we were showed great defensive organisation and were more compact at the back, displaying the right aggression to keep control of proceedings.
“Now we have another difficult match coming up and unfortunately we have little time to prepare for it. But we need to keep our high intensity in training and make sure that against Gżira we provide the right answer to everybody who is criticising us.”
Against Ħamrun one major flaw in Valletta’s game was their failure to create real danger to the Spartans goal, in fact they failed to register a single shot on target.
“The real problem was that we lacked any form of aggression even in the final third of the pitch where we could find space to hurt our opponents,” Cardoso Mendes said.
“We need to improve in all our areas as we have a very tough test coming up. Gżira is a very good side and boast quality forwards and we need to ensure that we have the right answers for their game.
“I am aware that our fans are hurt in this moment and it’s our responsibility to produce a strong reaction.”
Cardoso Mendes is set to be without Enmy Pena Beltre and Jean Borg who suffered muscle injuries against Ħamrun but on a more positive note new signing Lucas Campos could be involved after the former Botafogo winger completed his quarantine following his arrival from Brazil.
On the other hand, Gżira United head into the match in fine fettle as the Maroons have been showing great consistency in their results, winning four and drawing one of their last five matches.
“Consistency has been my biggest requirement to my players this season if we are to be successful,” coach Darren Abdilla said.
“The title race is a long journey, and we need to be aware that we can’t afford to have good and bad patches if we are to reach our targets.
“We are aware that the match against Valletta is going to be very tough particularly given the difficult time they are passing through, now. They are a team full of experienced players who know how to react, so we need to be ready.
“The most important thing is that we focus on our game and perform to the best of our ability.”
In the past three seasons, Gżira United tended to go off boil after bringing reinforcements in the January transfer window but this year they look a completely different kettle of fish.
“We definitely learnt from our past mistakes,” Abdilla said.
“Gżira have only been in the Premier League for four years and sometimes we were taken by our own enthusiasm and committed mistakes.
“This year we have analysed what went wrong in the past and have worked more diligently not to disrupt the team’s balance. Hopefully, we can keep this going.”
First round result: Gżira United vs Valletta 3-1.
Balzan vs Mosta 17.00
Sta Lucia vs Sliema 21.00
Hibernians vs Tarxien 14.00
Gudja vs Żejtun C. 18.00
Sirens vs Floriana 14.00
Senglea A. vs Ħamrun 18.00
Gżira Utd vs Valletta 14.00
Birkirkara vs Lija A. 18.00