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Floriana, Ħamrun Spartans and Sliema Wanderers face tricky tests in Premier League title race

Ħamrun Spartans defender Steve Borg defends possession against Hibernians. Photo: Domenic Aquilina

The 2023-24 BOV Premier League resumes this weekend with crucial matches at both ends of the table played between Saturday and Sunday.

This season, the championship battle is turning out to be a fascinating battle between champions Ħamrun Spartans and rivals Floriana with the former enjoying a three-point lead over the Greens, pending a protest submitted by Hibernians on their 2-1 defeat to the league leaders last week.

Sliema Wanderers are emerging as the dark horses in the title race as the Blues are just one point adrift of the Greens and have shown consistently this season that they have the potential to have their say in the destiny of the championship crown.

The leading trio face delicate fixtures this weekend with Floriana kicking off proceedings with a tricky fixture against a rejuvenated Santa Lucia side at the National Stadium on Saturday afternoon (kick-off: 2pm).

The Greens have seen their title challenge stumble in the last three weeks as back-to-back defeats to Ħamrun Spartans and Gżira United have seen them fall behind the in-form Spartans and desperately need a change in fortunes if they are to stay in the hunt.

Floriana this week moved into the market to bolster their squad with the acquisition of goalkeeper Nemanja Andrijanic and attacking midfielder Jake Grech who arrived at the club in a swap deal with young sensation Jan Busuttil moving to Balzan.

Floriana’s biggest problem in recent weeks has been their lack of cutting-edge in front of goal and need to rediscover their scoring touch if they are to put their campaign back on track.

Their task will be anything but straightforward today as they face a Sta Lucia side who seem to have turned the corner as back-to-back victories over Gżira United and Birkirkara have boosted their hopes of avoiding the drop.

Santa Lucia’s intervention in the transfer market in January with the arrival of Malta U-21 international Daniel Letherby and wingers Santiago Moracci and Aleks Mrdja have added more punch to the team.

On Thursday, the Saints also added Togo defender Ogouvide Ayefouni Basile who should give more defensive stability to the team.

Ħamrun Spartans will be looking to making it three league wins in a row in January when they face Balzan in Saturday’s second fixture (kick-off: 4.15pm).

The Reds seem to be finally finding their best form after their important wins over Floriana and Hibernians that lifted them to the top of the standings.

However, today they face a Balzan side who have brought in some eye-catching additions in Busuttil and Australian George Blackwood in a bid to add more firepower and relaunch their assault for a top-four finish.

Sliema Wanderers can put more pressure on the front duo if they manage to overcome an inconsistent Birkirkara side on Sunday.

The Blues have excelled in grinding out results this season and their clash against the Stripes could have a major bearing in their chase for a top-three finish as a win would put them in a strong position for at least a place in European football next summer.

Paul Zammit, the Sliema coach, could hand a debut to new signing Daniil Kondrakov, a Ukrainian forward who completed his move to the club this week.

On the other hand, Birkirkara have little margin of error after last week’s poor showing against Sta Lucia if they are to stay in the hunt for a top-four berth.

Relegation battle

Sunday’s programme features some crucial direct clashes at the bottom end of the standings.

Valletta, buoyed by last week’s 3-0 win over Gudja United, will be desperate to continue their charge up the standings and distance themselves from the relegation zone when they face bottom side Sirens in the opening match at 11am.

While the win over Gudja United was a major psychological boost, however, coach Enzo Potenza has already made it clear that there is still a long way to go in this season’s relegation battle and consistency in performances and results will be key for his team to retain their top-flight status.

Sirens, despite the poor run of results, have turned out to be a tough opponent for any team this season and could prove to be tricky opponents if the Citizens fail to play at the required standards.

Potenza could hand a debut to new midfielder Goncalo Vieira who joined the club this week.

Gudja United, currently at the bottom of the standings, face a must-win clash against Mosta on Sunday.

Renzo Kerr Cumbo’s team must take maximum points from this match in a bid to put themselves back in contention to avoid the drop.

On the other hand, Mosta too cannot afford to lose more points and need to rediscover their scoring touch if they are to move out of the bottom end of the standings.

Standings provided by Sofascore

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