Eliran Atar (left) finally finds his scoring touch..
(photo credit: DANNY MARON)
Despite two straight goalless deadlocks, Maccabi Tel Aviv coach Jordi Cruyff is encouraged by his team’s recent form and is confident of returning to winning ways against Hapoel Ashkelon in Premier League action on Sunday night.
Maccabi picked up its first point of the Europa League group stage after holding La Liga side Villarreal to a 0-0 draw in Netanya on Thursday night. The yellowand- blue dominated Maccabi Haifa in local league action four days earlier, but couldn’t break down the Greens and was forced to settle for another 0-0 stalemate.
Nevertheless, Cruyff has been pleased by his team’s play and is optimistic goals will soon follow.
“We had a very good game against Maccabi Haifa and hit two posts but the ball didn’t go in,” said Cruyff. “The week before we scored three goals and didn’t play well. We have to continue to play well.”
Cruyff believes the team’s improved defensive play will soon lead to wins, but he is expecting a tricky match in Ashkelon, which has won two straight games.
“This will be a tough game and this is the most important game for us coming up. We have to be fresh and be ready to battle. Coach Yuval Naim gave us a tough time last season and he always makes it difficult,” added Cruyff. “The teams who win are the ones with the better defensive stats and you’ll see that in 90 percent of the cases.
“We have to play as a team, attack and defend as a team.”
There will be three more matches played on Sunday, which many players, including Maccabi captain Sheran Yeini, are unhappy about as it leaves them with little time to recover after fasting on Yom Kippur.
“I don’t think this was a very smart decision,” said Yeini, with Maccabi not training on Saturday and set to only hold a short tactical session on Sunday morning. “I don’t fast, but a lot of players do and I think it is irresponsible to play one day later.”
Maccabi Netanya coach Slobodan Drapic echoed a similar sentiment, even though his team will have an additional day of preparations as it hosts Maccabi Petah Tikva on Monday.
“It is very difficult to play one day after Yom Kippur. To play one day after not eating or drinking is awful. It would have been better had everyone played on Monday,” said Drapic.
Elsewhere Sunday, Hapoel Haifa looks to extend its unbeaten start when it visits Ironi Kiryat Shmona, Bnei Yehuda hosts Hapoel Ra’anana and Maccabi Haifa welcomes Ashdod SC.
Also Monday, leader Beitar Jerusalem visits Bnei Sakhnin. Beitar will be guided for the first time by new coach Benny Ben-Zaken. Beitar sacked Sharon Mimer four days before the start of the Premier League campaign and his assistant Gili Lavenda guided the team to three wins and two draws to begin the season.
Nevertheless, Lavenda wasn’t handed the reins on a full-time basis, with the inexperienced 34-year-old Ben-Zaken being put in charge in his place. Ben-Zaken’s only previous experience in the top flight is guiding Ironi Kiryat Shmona for three matches last season before clashing with owner Izzy Sheratzky and being fired. He went on to coach Hapoel Katamon in the National League before also beginning this season in the second division as the boss of Hapoel Afula. Lavenda will remain at the club as an assistant to Ben-Zaken.