The opening day of the 2018-19 BOV Premier League provided a glut of emotions last week as the first round of matches produced some unexpected results.
Balzan, coming from an encouraging performance in the Europa League, went down to new-look Birkirkara 1-0 while Floriana suffered an unexpected 2-0 defeat to Ħamrun Spartans.
However, the biggest upset of the Match Day 1 was provided by Sliema Wanderers who made a statement of intent with an impressive 3-0 win over champions Valletta at the National Stadium on Saturday.
Ryan Fenech was the architect behind Sliema’s impressive performance as the former Valletta midfielder scored a well-taken brace before setting up the other to crown a perfect debut after his close-season move from Balzan.
“We could not have hoped for a better start to the season,” Fenech told the Times of Malta.
“Our fixtures schedule didn’t provide us with a favourable start as facing Valletta and Floriana in our opening two matches is quite a challenge. But we prepared well and didn’t feel any sort of pressure to win against Valletta.
“We worked really hard tactically to ensure we were ready to face Valletta. In the first 20 minutes we suffered a lot and they were the better side. But gradually we started to get more into the picture and understood better from where our opponents were causing damage to our defence.
“Scoring just before half-time with virtually our second shot
at goal gave us a lot of confidence.
“In the second half, Valletta stepped up their pressure but they started to tire out as the minutes passed. We kept our tactical composure and tried to hurt them with quick forays. Once we got the second goal we knew that we could go on and win it.”
For Fenech, Saturday’s performance was a huge injection of confidence after two difficult years that saw him struggle with a series of injuries and is determined to prove that he can still return to his best form with the Wanderers.
“The last two seasons have been very difficult for me with all the injury problems that I had,” Fenech said.
“When in the close season I was informed by Balzan that I could find a new club, my heart was set on moving to Sliema Wanderers.
“They were the first team that approached me and after spending two years at the club earlier in my career I knew that they were the right place for me to be able to return to my best.
“I spoke with both the president and the coach and they gave me reassurances that they could help me rediscover my best condition and hopefully the match against Valletta is just the start.”
The win against Valletta has inevitably raised questions on whether the Wanderers had what it takes to challenge for the top positions this season.
But Fenech has no doubt that with the arrival of forward duo Jean Paul Farrugia and Younes Marzouk, formerly of Juventus, the Blues can aspire for a top four finish.
“It was a great feeling to win against the Malta champions, but we’re only at the start and there is still a lot of work to do to reach our objectives,” the former Ħamrun midfielder said.
“Winning one match doesn’t guarantee anything in a league championship. We need to go on a run of results.
“Sliema have struggled over the years to show any sort of consistency, dropping precious points against the lowered-placed teams.
“However, I think that this year things could turn out differently. In the close season the club has brought in several players of quality such as Jean Paul Farrugia and Marzouk who will provide us with more strength in depth.
“Honestly, I feel that with the quality we have in our squad we should aim for a top four position.”
After next weekend’s programme of matches, the Premier League will stop for the first international break as Malta opens its commitments in the UEFA Nations League.
During his career, Fenech was a regular member of Pietro Ghedin’s national team and the 32-year-old did not hide his ambition to win the faith of new national coach Ray Farrugia.
“Playing for the national team is something every player aspires for and I’m no different,” Fenech said.
“But to win a national team call-up you have to perform well week in week out and it’s up to me to convince the national coach that I deserve to be part of his squad.
“I need to maintain my level of performance in our next match against Floriana and then see what happens. If that won’t be enough it will not be end of the world.
“I will get back to the training ground and work harder to ensure that I continue to improve as a player.”
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