(photo credit: INIMAGE)
With Maccabi Tel Aviv coming off one of its most surprising defeats of recent years and Maccabi Haifa still searching for it first goal and first victory of the campaign, both teams enter Saturday’s showdown at Haifa Stadium in desperate need of a win.
Tel Aviv dropped to its first home loss in a meaningful Premier League match in more than two years last weekend, suffering a 2-1 defeat to Hapoel Ra’anana at Bloomfield Stadium.
Maccabi struggled to break down Ra’anana’s formation, and just two minutes after finally netting an equalizer, conceded for the second time in the match in the 90th-minute.
Maccabi plays its second Champions League group stage match against Dynamo Kiev in Haifa on Tuesday, but coach Slavisa Jokanovic insisted on Thursday that the team’s only focus is the encounter with Haifa.
“This is one of the classic matches in Israel football,” said Jokanovic.
“This match may be a turning point to regain our confidence. It’s a very important game for me.
“As the coach it’s my responsibility to make sure that we are ready and try to focus the team on the next game and in this case it’s Maccabi Haifa.
“We are still at the beginning of the season and we must continue to improve and be hungry for each and every game and in every competition.
In each competition the side may be different but everyone in the squad must understand that this is Maccabi and we are always under pressure to win the match, especially in the Israeli league. Right now, two wins, one draw and a loss is not good enough and it’s not what the supporters want to see from us.”
Haifa remained without a win or a goal in four matches this season after drawing 0-0 at Hapoel Beersheba on Monday. However, such has been Haifa’s start to the campaign that the goalless deadlock in Beersheba was regarded as a relative success as the Greens were forced to play with 10 men from the second minute.
Jokanovic will have to manage without defender Tal Ben-Haim after he was handed a two-match suspension on Thursday for kicking Ra’anana’s Snir Shuker during last weekend’s defeat. Referee Erez Papir and his assistants missed the incident, but the Israel Football Association’s disciplinary court decided to punish Ben- Haim based on TV replays.
Maccabi Tel Aviv, Beersheba and Ra’anana are all tied for second place with seven points, five behind surprise leader Maccabi Petah Tikva, which will aim for five wins in five matches when it hosts Bnei Sakhnin on Saturday.
Also Saturday, Beersheba visits Hapoel Acre, Ironi Kiryat Shmona hosts Ra’anana and Maccabi Netanya welcomes Hapoel Haifa. On Monday, Beitar Jerusalem hosts Hapoel Kfar Saba and Hapoel Tel Aviv faces Bnei Yehuda.