Hapoel Beersheba defender Shir Tzedek (left) and Maccabi Haifa striker Glynor Plet are set to clash once more on Saturday when their teams meet at Turner Stadium..
(photo credit: ERAN LUF)
While performance on the pitch is what will ultimately decide the Premier League title race, the psychological warfare between Maccabi Tel Aviv and Hapoel Beersheba over recent weeks is becoming almost as fascinating as the matches themselves.
Beersheba holds a one-point lead over three-time defending champion Maccabi entering this weekend’s action, with Beersheba hosting Maccabi Haifa at Turner Stadium on Saturday before Maccabi welcomes Beitar Jerusalem to Bloomfield Stadium on Monday.
After defeating Hapoel Ra’anana 3-0 on Sunday for its sixth win from the past seven matches, Maccabi coach Peter Bosz said his team had a far tougher time against Ra’anana than it did in the recent 1-1 draw against Beersheba, something the southerners took offense to.
“Ra’anana was better than Beersheba and how they played against us was much more difficult,” said Bosz.
Beersheba coach Barak Bachar responded a day later following his team’s 2-0 victory at Beitar Jerusalem, snapping his side’s three-match winless streak and extending its unbeaten record to 24 consecutive matches.
“I will answer in English so everyone will understand,” said Bachar after being asked if his club is under pressure, with his words clearly targeted at Bosz.
“We won in a place where nobody won and we did it twice. We beat a very good team three times,” noted Bachar, knowing Maccabi has failed to beat Beitar in two matches so far this season.
Haifa is the only team Beersheba has yet to beat this season, with the sides drawing 1-1 at Haifa Stadium and 0-0 in the first match to be held at Turner last September.
Bachar and Bosz’s tit-for-tat came on the back of last month’s verbal exchange between star players from both sides.
Maccabi captain Eran Zahavi had claimed that the reason the club didn’t sign any new Israeli players during the January transfer window was that there weren’t any good enough on the market, explaining that the best local talent already plays for the yellow-and-blue. Beersheba midfielder Maor Buzaglo responded by claiming that “Maccabi has the best players in Tel Aviv while Beersheba has the best players in Israel.”
While Beersheba and Maccabi battle both on and off the field, the race for fourth place and potential qualification for the Europa League is as tight as ever.
Bnei Sakhnin currently occupies fourth with 40 points, ahead of Hapoel Ra’anana only on goal difference, with Maccabi Haifa one point back.
Fourth place will be good enough to secure continental soccer next season should either Maccabi or Beersheba win the State Cup as well as finish in the top two in the league standings.
Ra’anana hosts Sakhnin on Saturday.
Also Saturday, Hapoel Haifa looks to snap its 10-match winless streak and boost its survival hopes. Haifa (26) is four points from safety with five matches to play ahead of its visit to Hapoel Acre (32), which has a six-point gap on the danger zone.
Hapoel Kfar Saba (30) is only four points ahead of Haifa entering its match against Bnei Yehuda (36).
On Sunday, Maccabi Petah Tikva (36) hosts Ironi Kiryat Shmona (31) and Hapoel Tel Aviv (33) visits the already relegated Maccabi Netanya.
Beitar Jerusalem ended any uncertainty regarding the future of coach Slobodan Drapic on Wednesday, announcing that he will be handed a contract extension at the end of the season.