The second and final stage of the Maltese Premier League season begins on Saturday.
The ten teams in the top flight have been divided into a six-club championship pool and a four-strong relegation pool, with their total number of points from the first stage of the season halved.
Champions Sliema Wanderers FC go into the final stretch with 21 points - three more than Birkirkara FC. Hibernians FC are a further point behind while the surprise package of the season, Marsaxlokk FC, are also in with an outside shout on 16 points. The final two sides in the top six, Floriana FC and Pietà Hotspurs FC have 14 points apiece.
Sliema face Pietà on Saturday and arguably the key man will be Maltese international Michael Mifsud, who has hit four goals in three games since returning to the league leaders after two years at 1. FC Kaiserslautern in Germany.
Birkirkara, who face Marsaxlokk this weekend, are expected to put up a stern challenge and will be boosted by the return of captain Antoine Zahra from injury. "I feel that I am ready to get back in the side," he told uefa.com. "Though I am not 100 per cent fit, I am raring to get back on the pitch."
Marsaxlokk themselves have been boosted by the signings of Daniel Bogdanovic, Ivan Casha, and Nigerian Minabo Asechemie and they also have Malta striker Etienne Barbara, currently top of the scoring charts with 14 goals and in superb form during the recent Maltese International Tournament.
Hibernians tackle Floriana in the other championship pool fixture on Saturday knowing they need to demonstrate more consistency to challenge for the title. As for Floriana, they have done well to secure a place in the top six and will now look to build on that achievement.
At the other end of the table, once mighty Valletta FC find themselves in the relegation pool after a number of foreign signings failed to perform. They will be hoping the loan signings of Nenad Veselji and Jamie Pace from Sliema can improve matters.
Balzan Youths FC could cause a surprise or two before the season is out, while Msida St. Joseph FC need to find a new coach to replace Joe Grech if they are to maintain their top-flight place. Hamrun Spartans FC, with just two points to their name and no wins all season, look doomed. The bottom two sides will be relegated and Hamrun are already three points adrift of Msida, seven behind Balzan and ten worse off than Valletta.
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