Hapoel Beersheba striker Elyaniv Barda.
(photo credit: MEIR EVEN HAIM)
The Premier League title race reaches a key juncture on Monday night when league-leader Maccabi Tel Aviv hosts challenger Hapoel Beersheba at Bloomfield Stadium.
Maccabi holds a five-point gap over second-place Beersheba entering Monday’s showdown, and even though both teams will still have eight more matches to play following their third clash this season, the yellow-and-blue can take a massive step towards a third straight championship with a win over the southerners.
Maccabi is unbeaten at home this season, claiming 11 wins and three draws from 14 matches. Beersheba has beaten Maccabi on the road only once over the past 11 years, although Elisha Levy’s side can perhaps draw some encouragement from holding Maccabi to a goalless deadlock at Bloomfield in their most recent encounter in January.
“We are facing a team that is a contender for the championship and the two previous games were difficult ones so I don’t expect an easy game,” said Maccabi coach Pako Ayestaran. “We will have to perform at our level to have a chance.”
Despite still remaining in contention for the championship, Beersheba has struggled desperately on the road this season, winning just three of 13 matches away from Vasermil Stadium.
“We are aware of the strength of our opponent but we are aiming to win this match,” said Beersheba coach Elisha Levy. “A victory over Maccabi would be a real statement of intent.”
On Sunday, a Yossi Benayoun winner boosted Maccabi Haifa’s hopes of qualifying for European competition next season, securing a 1-0 victory over Beitar Jerusalem at Sammy Ofer Stadium.
Benayoun wriggled his way through the Beitar defense in characteristic fashion to score the only goal of the match in the 44th minute.
Haifa closed to within three points of Beitar in fourth place with its fourth win from the past five matches, with Jerusalem suffering just its second defeat in nine games since the hiring of coach Guy Levy.