Securing the title with two matches to spare has taken the pressure off Valletta but coach Jesmond Zerafa has challenged his team to keep performing like “true champions” in their remaining two games, starting with today’s derby against Floriana (kick-off 18.00).
While Valletta have put the seal on their title mission, Floriana have also attained their somewhat mundane target of qualifying for Europe following the announce-ment by the MFA that FA Trophy semi-finalists Qormi and Ħamrun were not among the five clubs to get a UEFA licence for next season.
In this context, Valletta and Floriana are approaching this derby in a relaxed mood but that is not to say that they will not be fired up to win, what with the rivalry between their supporters.
“A game of this kind, even if these two teams had to play each other in a courtyard, it would still be difficult and fiercely-contested,” Zerafa said.
“We’ve won the league but that doesn’t mean that we can relax. We must continue to perform like true champions and the players are willing to do that.
“There is no denying that clinching the league title has lifted a weight off our shoulders but I believe that our players can demonstrate their abilities better now because we’re playing with more tranquillity.”
Valletta have no selection problems but Zerafa may opt to draft some fringe players into his starting XI, given the depth of his squad.
Only one point separate Floriana and Birkirkara in the race for third place but both teams are guaran-teed a place in the Europa League next season.
Nevertheless, Floriana coach Joe Brincat is urging his team to make up for their 2-0 defeat to Valletta in the last derby.
“This game is important like all the others, moreso as it’s a derby,” Brincat said.
“It will be like a cup tie. Our last match against them came too soon for us as I had only been coaching the team for just over a week.
“I believe that our performance will be better this time.
“Mentally, Valletta are more relaxed now but this could also work in their advantage. We’ll have to wait and see.”
Brincat, who has confirmed his participation in the June 17 charity match between the Italy and Malta veterans, insisted that his deter-mination to lead the team to third spot has not been affected by the news that the Greens are assured of a place in Europe next season.
“Third is better than fourth,” Brincat said.
“The players have done well and third place would give them some extra satisfaction for their efforts.
“We all know which teams will play in Europe next season but we still want to finish on a high note.”
Results so far: Valletta vs Floriana 1-0, 1-1, 2-0.
Ħamrun vs Tarxien (today at 16.00, National Stadium).
Ħamrun Spartans are back in the relegation mire after their 6-0 drubbing at the hands of Qormi.
Only one point separates the Spartans and Tarxien who gave their survival hopes a big boost following a 2-1 win over Mosta.
Ħamrun coach Stefan Sultana will surely have left his players in no doubt about his feelings with their poor performance last weekend.
Reds’ defender Ron Hartvig is suspended.
Tarxien are buoyed by the return from suspension of Everton and Justin Grioli while Ricardo Costa looks to have recovered from the injury that forced him off in the first half of the Mosta game.
Results so far: Ħamrun vs Tarxien 1-1, 3-1, 2-1.
Hibs vs Balzan Youths (tomorrow at 15.00, National Stadium).
Hibs coach Mark Miller is ex-pected to shuffle his pack now that their slim title hopes have been dashed.
Only pride is at stake in this game as Hibs and Balzan have nothing left to play for.
Balzan coach Ivan Zammit must cope without a clutch of key players.
Jonathan Francica is out, suspended, while Clifton Ciantar and Dylan Grima are still injured.
Yessous Camilleri is an injury doubt along with Pedrinho but Lydon Micallef is back after serving a one-match ban.
Results so far: Hibs vs Balzan 3-1, 2-3, 4-1.
Sliema vs Birkirkara (tomorrow at 17.00, National Stadium).
Both teams are facing a selection crisis.
Birkirkara, who ended a two-match losing run with a 2-0 win over Hibs, have no fewer than five players ruled out by suspension, namely, Rodrigo Pereira, Nikola Vukanac, Rowen Muscat, Shawn Bajada and Angus Buhagiar.
Jorge and Paul Fenech have resumed training but both are still not 100 per cent while Moises Avila-Perez is also doubtful.
Sliema coach Danilo Doncic, who is nearing the completion of his Pro Licence course with the Bulgarian FA, has five players on the casualty list.
Trevor Cilia and Ryan Grech are set to miss this game through injury while Rumen Galabov, Andrew Decesare and Jerry Ani are out for the rest of the season.
Results so far: Sliema vs Birkirkara 1-0, 1-0, 1-1.
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