NICOSIA - League leaders APOEL will take on Omonia in the big Nicosia derby on Sunday knowing that a victory will put them ten points clear of their bitter cross-town rivals.
Both sides missed out on Europa League football in this year – leaving champions AEL as Cyprus’ sole representatives in Europe this season – and will be eager to put a frustrating summer behind them with a win the local derby.
Ivan Jovanovic’s side have so far won all four of their first league games and have found a new scoring sensation – following the exit of Ailton - in Aldo Adorno who has already fired in eight goals this season.
Things have not been so upbeat at Omonia however. Financial problems, the exit of several key players and fan unrest has seen them already slip seven points off the pace behind APOEL and fellow league leaders AEK.
Despite a promising 5-0 win over Ayia Napa on the opening day of the season, the Cypriot Cup holders were held to two draws – against Ethnikos Achnas and AEL – either side of a shock 1-0 home defeat to AEK.
The players have also been forced to deal with a new change in manager following the arrival of Toni Savevski who replaced Neophytos Larkou after the 1-1 draw against Ethnikos.
Savevski meanwhile returns to the club he coached between 2003 and 2004 helping them to the league title in his first season. The second season saw the FYROM coach endure a miserable campaign as players and fans turned on him. His departure was confirmed after a 3-0 defeat against Digenis Morphou in a game which saw former player Marco Haber throw his jersey at him after being substituted.
Since then, Savevski has been coaching the youth teams for his former club AEK Athens and will be making a return to first team coaching after almost eight years in football wilderness.
Meanwhile Omonia, who will be the host team against APOEL at the shared GSP Stadium on Sunday, will be missing Portuguese playmaker Nuno Asis in the big derby following his red card against AEL last weekend – something prompted the Nicosia club to appeal the decision of referee Marios Panayi.
Asis’ place is likely to be filled by Andre Schembri with the Maltese international set to make his first start since joining in the summer.
Savevski is also sweating on the fitness of Joao Paulo and Joao Alves while Renato Margaca has overcome his injury and should be ready for the game against APOEL.
APOEL, whose fans were angered last week after being informed that only the south stand will be available to them for Sunday’s game, are likely to be without Croatian forward Mario Budimir as well as Spanish defender Aritz Borda while Canadian left back Michael Klukowski is also a major doubt after suffering a knee injury.
There is some good news for Jovanovic with Helio Pinto and Stathis Aloneftis both set to return to action after missing out in recent weeks through injury.
In other games this weekend, champions AEL – who were last night in Europa League action away to Marseille – are away to Olympiakos Nicosia in the only game on Monday while AEK will be aiming to preserve their 100% record with another win this time at Nea Salamina. Anorthosis are two points behind APOEL and AEK and will be eager to avoid slipping up as they take on Apollon Limassol in another eye-catching encounter over the weekend.
Elsewhere, Alki face Enosis Neon Paralimniou, Doxa host AEP and Ayia Napa will be aiming for their first win of the season when they take on Ethnikos.