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Hibs the team to beat, rivals need to step up their game

The first round of the 2021-2022 BOV Premier League came to a close on Sunday with Hibernians firmly in charge of this season’s title race as they are currently enjoying a five-point lead over nearest rivals Valletta.

The Times of Malta SportsDesk, presents a quick review of all 12 teams in the top flight after the first 11 games of the season.

HIBERNIANS

Hibernians have been the most consistent side after the first round of matches.

Stefano Sanderra’s men have been the stand-out performers in the opening 11 matches, boasting the most prolific attack with 20 goals and the meanest defence with only nine goals conceded.

Hibernians may not be the most pleasing team to watch at play but their efficiency in all areas of the pitch has transformed them into the leading favourites for this season’s title crown.

VALLETTA

Valletta have been one of the most improved sides this season.

Jose Antonio Cardoso Mendes’ team seemed to struggle in the first part of the season.

However, the return of midfielder Rowen Muscat and the signing of striker Harris Dilaver have completed the jigsaw for the Citizens who have shown remarkable improvement in their performances.

These may still be early days but if Valletta can maintain their level of consistency and maybe add further depth to their squad during the January transfer window, then they can surely have a say in this season’s title race.

BIRKIRKARA

Birkirkara have enjoyed a much-stronger start to the campaign when compared to previous seasons however, a blip in performances during the second part of the first round have seen them fall back in this season’s title race.

Coach Andre Paus has repeatedly warned his players about the importance of approaching every match with the same intensity or risk to fall into unexpected pitfalls.

His words proved prophetic with unexpected setbacks against Sirens and Sta Lucia.

The Stripes surely have a strong squad to challenge for the title crown but keeping their consistency levels high will be crucial for their aspirations of silverware.

ĦAMRUN SPARTANS

Ħamrun Spartans have so far struggled to replicate the form that steered them to an eighth league title last season.

Injuries to key players such as Matthew Guillaumier and Dodo Soares, among others, have hampered Mark Buttigieg’s plans this season but the most concerning factor for the Ħamrun coach is that several key members in their squad have struggled to show their best form this season.

With the Spartans trailing Hibernians by seven points they certainly need to step up their game in the second round if they are to keep alive their hopes of a successful title defence.

FLORIANA

Floriana have been one of the positive revelations of the 2021-22 season so far.

The Greens have undergone a major reshuffle in the close season with the arrival of several young players but coach Gianluca Aztori will be delighted with the performances of his team who has shown that they are capable of playing against any team this season.

Floriana have put in some bright showings this season but their biggest flaw has been their inability of putting the ball into the net and that has cost them numerous crucial points.

Should they improve their scoring rate, Floriana will be major challengers for a place in Europe.

BALZAN

Balzan have struggled for form in the first part of the season but the arrival of Paul Zammit has somewhat steadied the ship and the Reds look well poised to challenge for European football next season.

The most concerning factor for Balzan is that they are not ruthless enough to kill off their opponents and that has inevitably seen them drop some valuable points, as happened in Sunday’s 3-3 draw against Sta Lucia.

If Balzan can manage to start holding more control in their matches and be more prolific in front of goal then they are capable of a high-placing this season.

GŻIRA UNITED

Gżira United were expected to perform much better this season but their hopes of strong title challenge has been severely jolted by a string of high-profile injuries in key areas of the pitch.

Skipper Steve Borg, defender Thiago Espindola and forward Riccardo Correa have suffered long-term injuries leaving coach Darren Abdilla with a short squad this season.

Added to that, the team has been struggling to score goals and that has turned out to be their undoing in several matches.

The Maroons will hope to bring in some reinforcements next month as they look to push themselves in contention for qualification to UEFA club competitions.

Birkirkara striker Luke Montebello (left) tries to break through the Valletta defence. Photo: Domenic Aquilina

SIRENS

After overhauling their squad during the close season, Sirens had enjoyed a bright start to the season but the team struggled for consistency with the result that they slipped outside the top-six places.

Sirens have shown that they are capable of upsetting the top teams as their wins over Birkirkara and Floriana show. However, they are conceding too many goals and they must shore up their defence if they are keep themselves out of a relegation battle.

GUDJA UNITED

Gudja United had been tipped to be involved in a relegation battle this season and after the first round this scenario hasn’t changed as the southerners are facing a fight to keep themselves in the top flight.

Gudja, to their credit, have turned out to be tough opponents as their 3-0 win over Mosta last weekend have shown.

Still, the team needs to be more mentally tough in key matches if they are to retain their place in the top flight.

SANTA LUCIA

Much more was expected from Sta Lucia FC this season, particularly after stregthening their squad with a number of talented players.

Oliver Spiteri’s team are one of the most attacking-minded sides in the division, however, their poor defensive record has seen them drop a lot of points.

Sta Lucija certainly have the quality to move away from the drop zone but they need to stop conceding goals if they are to avoid a relegation battle.

MOSTA

Mosta have been one of the negative surprises of the season. Much more was expected from the Blues who this summer made their debut in UEFA competitions.

Joe Grech’s men have struggled for form throughout the season and their biggest concern is their leaky defence which puts them along with Sirens as the team who conceded most goals so far – 23.

Mosta do have the quality to turn their season around but they need to reinvent themselves quickly or risk losing their top-flight status.

SLIEMA WANDERERS 

Sliema Wanderers have a fight on their hands to retain their top-flight status after a very poor first-round has left them anchored at the bottom of the standings, six point adrift of their nearest challengers. Last season’s financial struggles left their

effect on this season’s preparations as coach Andrea Pisanu only started preparing for the season three weeks before their opening game of the campaign.

Despite the team’s valiant showings, the squad is desperate for reinforcements and unless they strengthen their ranks they might struggle to survive.

Standings provided by SofaScore LiveScore

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