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Ħamrun Spartans face Floriana test as focus shifts on domestic football

Maltese football will be hoping to recover some kind of normality this weekend when the BOV Premier League returns with some bumper match-ups between today and tomorrow.

The last seven days have seen Maltese football rocked by disappointment and controversies after first the Malta national team missed out on a historic promotion to the UEFA Nations League Group C after a 2-1 defeat to Estonia in Tallinn last week.

Just a few days later, the Malta FA announced that Malta national teams’ head coach Devis Mangia was being temporarily suspended for a breach of the association’s policies.

Reports in the media revealed that the Malta FA took action after two national team players had reported Mangia for improper conduct.

Inevitably, this saga has dominated the headlines during the past few days and the local governing body will be hoping that the focus will switch back on the pitch as the major domestic championship resume.

No doubt, the Premier League programme could not have hoped for a better opening match when Premier League leaders Ħamrun Spartans take on last season’s FA Trophy winners Floriana on Saturday (kick-off: 3pm).

The Spartans have so far enjoyed an impressive start to the campaign winning all their opening four matches to share top spot with Birkirkara on 12 points.

Ħamrun Spartans coach Branko Nisevic emphasised the importance for his team to continue where they left off before the international break.

“We are approaching a very important period of our season,” Nisevic told the Times of Malta.

“The team is heading into a very delicate run of fixtures which will see us facing Floriana, Birkirkara and Valletta in

successive weeks.

“During the international break, we used this period to try and recover some important players and hopefully some of them will declare themselves fit for this match. Added to that, I have to see how is the condition of our national team players who have just returned to training but hopefully we will have some fresh bodies and fresh legs to play.”

Nisevic said that although

Floriana might have found some difficulty to show the same performances as last season, but he still has high respect for the Greens and has no doubt that they will offer a stern challenge to the Spartans.

“I don’t think we should give too much importance to the results achieved by Floriana this season as they fail to mirror

the real potential of the team,” Nisevic said.

“They may have struggled for form, but in recent weeks that team has started to reproduce the style of play that made them stand out last season.

“It’s clear that they had an issue in managing to score goals and may be there is something lacking in the attacking department.

“But they are still a great side and are capable of playing at a very high intensity so I’m sure they will be very hard to play against.”

The Spartans are hopeful of having Croatian midfielder Roko Prsa back in the starting formation but there are still doubts on whether Serbian defender Ognjen Bjelicic and midfielder Stefan Cassar have recovered full fitness to form part of the squad.

Floriana have struggled for consistency so far, winning two and losing the other two matches played so far.

But in their last fixture before the international break they secured a morale-boosting victory over their neighbouring rivals Valletta and will hope to carry that momentum into today’s match.

The build-up to this match has been hampered by the news that the Greens had suspended a member of the first-team due to improper conduct but coach Gianluca Atzori is confident that it will not have an effect on the team’s performance on the day.

“Surely, it is something that we would have liked to have avoided but sometimes these things happen in football,” Atzori told the Times of Malta.

“But apart from that we are aware that we are going to face the strongest team in the Premier League this season and it’s going to be a great challenge for us.

“What I’m asking from my players is to give everything they have on the day and see what happens. I am very pleased with the effort put in by my players and this is a match that should bring the best out of them.”

Atzori said that Floriana’s win against Valletta before the international break was vital for his team’s aspirations this season.

“The win against Valletta was massive for us,” Atzori said.

“It came at a very delicate time for us as we were coming from a very poor period of form. But

the response of the players was excellent.

“It’s important that we keep up this momentum particularly as we are facing a Ħamrun Spartans side who have improved a lot since last season and who are guided by a very capable coach who managed to lead them back to Europe last summer where they achieved some great results.

“But as I said we are going to fight with all our energies to beat Ħamrun Spartans and our goal is to play at the maximum of our ability.”

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