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Ħamrun Spartans take on Valletta in weekend of Premier League derbies

Ħamrun striker Jonny (left) in a duel with Henrique Murillo. Photo: Dominic Borg

The BOV Premier League this weekend features a series of derbies that should have a huge bearing on both ends of the table as the title race, the battle for Europe, and the quest to avoid the drop are all entering a decisive phase.

The most awaited clash of the weekend is without a doubt the duel between champions Ħamrun Spartans and Valletta which will open proceedings on Saturday at the National Stadium (kick-off: 2pm).

This clash brings against each other two teams who are experiencing contrasting fortunes this season. On one hand, the Spartans are battling to retain the Premier League title. On the other hand, Valletta are going through one of their most difficult campaigns, and are fighting to preserve their top-flight status.

Ħamrun will be determined to get back to winning ways after having dropped two priceless points in a goalless draw against Sliema Wanderers last week which saw their lead at the top trimmed to three points by the nearest rivals Floriana.

Apart from the importance of bagging all three points for their title challenge, the Spartans’ players will be aware that this is a match that is high on their fans’ agendas and they will be demanding a convincing performance against their big rivals.

Valletta head into the match after another difficult week which first saw them suffer a 2-0 defeat to Marsaxlokk that pushed the team into the relegation zone. That result prompted their coach Enzo Potenza to hand in his resignation, with the team now under the charge of assistant coach Juan Cruz Gill and club technical director Jesmond Zerafa.

The Valletta fans will hope that Cruz Gill and Zerafa inspire their players to a strong display which could yield them precious points from this match.

Floriana are expected to keep up the heat on the Malta champions Ħamrun and are not expected to find any difficulty in seeing off bottom-placed Gudja United.

The Greens have bolstered their squad in the January transfer window and are expected to hold too much firepower for a Gudja United team who are still in search of their first league win of the season and look destined for a return to the Challenge League.

Birkirkara and Balzan meet in another fascinating derby at the Tony Bezzina Stadium.

The Stripes are in rude health after last week’s convincing win over Mosta left them well in the hunt for a top-three finish.

On the other hand, Balzan could only manage a 1-1 draw against Hibernians which left them hovering just above the relegation zone and no doubt the Reds will be desperate to beat their neighbouring rivals to gain some breathing space in their quest to retain their top-flight status.

Great form

The other derby in this weekend’s card will be played on Sunday when Sliema Wanderers face Gżira United.

Both teams have been in great form lately.

Sliema Wanderers are unbeaten in their last five matches in all competitions and more importantly enjoy a commanding six-point gap from fourth-placed Marsaxlokk, putting them well on course for European football.

On the other hand, Gżira United have been racking up positive results for the past month or so, enabling them to move four points clear of the relegation zone.

A win tomorrow would see the Maroons take a giant step towards securing their top-flight status for another season.

Santa Lucia will be looking to make it three wins on the trot and further bolster their quest for avoiding the drop.

Alessandro Zinnari’s team face second from bottom Sirens and a win against the St Paul’s Bay outfit will no doubt increase the team’s chances of staying in the Premier League.

Standings provided by Sofascore

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