The Cyprus football championship restarts this weekend following the international break with a number of intriguing fixtures to be played both in the race for the title as well as in the relegation battle.
On Saturday evening all eyes will be on the clash between third-placed AEK and leaders Apoel where anything but a win for the Larnaca team will put an end to their already slim championship hopes and push Apoel even closer towards their fifth consecutive title.
In his pre-game press conference AEK coach Imanol Idiakez described the game as a ‘final’ that his team has to win. He felt that his side were unlucky not have picked up more points from their recent games but a win against Apoel “will show that we can beat anyone,” he concluded.
AEK though will have to do it without their leading scorer Ivan Triscovski who saw red in his last game against Apollon. With no direct available replacement Idiakez will have to juggle his team around and may give attacking midfielder Tomas his first start since returning from injury.
“We need to be at our very best if we are to leave the Arena with the three points,” said Apoel coach Thomas Christiansen.
Giorgos Efraim and Vinicius are both out injured but Christiansen was relieved to see Apoel’s most improved player, Nicolas Ioannou, back in full training after overcoming a niggling injury.
Second-placed Apollon travel to Nicosia on Sunday to play against Omonia at the GSP stadium.
Apollon are seven points behind the leaders and need the three points to keep up the pressure.
The Limassol club are on an impressive unbeaten run since Sofronis Avgousti took over, with 11 wins from their last 14 games.
The suspended Roberge is the only noticeable absentee with Pelaghias or Kyriacou the likely replacements to partner Vinicius at the back.
Omonia have lost twice this year to Apollon by the same score (2-1) and they will be looking to put an end to the sequence.
Their defence will be bolstered by the return of winter signing Kari Arnason, who missed the last six weeks through injury, while Florescu is available after serving his one-game suspension and will probably take the place of the suspended Renato Margaca.
The Omonia players will also be keen to impress their newly appointed coach for next season, Pambos Christodoulou, who will be using the final few games of the season to asses Omonia’s playing staff.
In the final Championship Group game, Anorthosis take on AEL with the Limassol team keen to get back to winning ways after a disastrous run that saw them pick up just one point from their last five games.
The run forced AEL’s president to hastily appoint Bruno Baltazar as their new coach following the sudden departure of Christodoulou a few weeks ago.
With eight points separating five teams and with eight games still to play, the relegation battle is still far from over.
Bottom team Doxa remain the likely candidate for the drop but should they defeat Karmiotissa and Aris loses to Ethnikos, they will be just one point away from safety.
In the final relegation group game Nea Salamina take on Ermis Aradippou.
Saturday: AEK vs Apoel (19.00)
Sunday: Omonia vs Apollon (17.00), Anorthosis vs AEL (18.00)
1. Apoel 68 points
2. Apollon 61
3. AEK 59
4. Omonia 54
5. AEL 52
6. Anorthosis 39
Saturday: Doxa vs Karmiotissa (16.00), Aris vs Ethnikos (17.00)
Monday: Nea Salamina vs Ermis Aradippou (19.00)
1. Ermis 35
2. Nea Salamina 31
3. Ethnikos 30
4. Karmiotissa 30
5. Aris 27
6. Doxa 24