Malta’s last remaining representatives in European competition Ħamrun Spartans face a tough return to play against Serbian giants Partizan Belgrade on Thursday (kick-off: 8PM).
The Spartans suffered a tough 4-1 loss away from home last week in the first leg but coach Branko Nisevic believes the result is misleading. Speaking to a pre-match press conference yesterday, the former Malta assistant coach said the result is “harsher than what we saw on the pitch”.
“I think (the result) is not realistic seeing what was happening on the pitch and I think we deserved a better result. But saying this is for nothing as the result is as is,” he told the Times of Malta.
“Tomorrow (Thursday) what we have to think about is can we score a goal, and then another and can we perform in the same way of last way but scoring this time. Hopefully they don’t score – that would be something ideal.
“If we manage to perform like last game I believe, and we are all optimistic, that we can come out of the match with a positive result – that is priority number one.”
Nisevic explained that it was Partizan who were expected to deliver better statistics during the game last week and yet it was Ħamrun who played the better football.
“Before playing against (Partizan), we saw all the matches they played, and they played more or less the same as they played against us. It is a team that is built on very good individuals especially in attack but as a team sometimes they don’t function well,” he said.
“In our case, we were a bit unlucky not to score our chances. But we managed to impose our game and if you see the data of the game, we had 60% possession to their 40, they had 14 shots and we had 13, so if you see these statistics you would never believe that the team lost 4-1.
“The result last week just demonstrates the difference in quality between the players. They had the ability to convert what we unfortunately could not. But I hope tomorrow we will manage.
“From a team like Partizan playing against us, I would expect that they have 60% possession and we are squashed and pressed but it was not the case. For them there is still a long way to go to reach how they were in the past years and I believe that if we repeat the same performance tomorrow the result should be in our favour.”
Also speaking to the press conference, Spartans match analyst Domenic Mahoney said they were going to have to be ready for the what-if scenarios.
“Partizan’s coach who recently came in is a coach whom we saw is very flexible in the systems he wants to try and use,” Mahoney said.
“We’ve seen games from when he was previously working in Slovenia, and we know he’s a coach that can change but we also have to be ready for these ‘what if’ scenarios and go into as much detail as possible to have the right outcome in the game.”
Asked about the recent insistence on match analysis across the Maltese Premier League, Mahoney told the Times of Malta that while previously the analysis used to happen because “everyone knows each other”, it was time to start digging deeper.
“I think there is already a lot of analysis that goes on in Malta – everyone knows each other, everyone knows the players and the coaches but I think we need to look even deeper into certain trends and microscopic data into individual traits of players, how we can affect the individual within the team and collectively. If you can make that 1% gain, it’s all going to add up. Hopefully, we can get the right outcome not just for the upcoming game but also for the rest of the season.
Win or lose today, Ħamrun’s European run means a number of players are set to face an extended wait for a break, particularly those who are also part of the national team. Nisevic believes it might be a problem.
“This can become a big problem because if you consider the national team players, from January 1 they had seven days of break,” Nisevic said.
“We planned that if we don’t go through to the group stages, in September we were going to have one week off, but national team players don’t get that week off. They have commitments with the National Team so their next week of holiday comes at Christmas. Their effort is harder than that of any other player. It is a bit problematic for us, and we will try some rotations but in the end, we are all committed to the results.”
Spartans assistant coach Stefano Deangelis, a new addition to the side this summer, added that the club run shows strong improvement.
“In two years, in Malta some things have changed as before teams used to lose with a lot of goals but at this point, Malta is a good situation because of coaches that came here,” the Italian coach said after sharing his coaching experience in the Italian Serie B and C.
“This adventure is new for me but I’m sure that Malta through us, Hibernians, Gzira, and others can show it is stronger after making it into an important phase of European competition.”