Maccabi Tel Aviv midfielder Tal Ben-Haim (left) and Maccabi Haifa defender Eyal Meshumar will renew their rivalry at club level tonight at Bloomfield Stadium.
(photo credit: ADI AVISHAI)
Despite the absence of Yossi Benayoun, Maccabi Haifa will be looking to make a statement when it visits Maccabi Tel Aviv in Premier League action at Bloomfield Stadium on Monday night.
After dominating the first decade of the 21st century, Haifa lost its way in recent years, entering this season on the back of three consecutive campaigns without winning the championship for the first time since the 1990’s.
Haifa finished last season in a bitterly disappointing fifth place, a massive 31 points behind the yellow-and-blue. It was the second time in three years that the Greens could only manage fifth position, with the team finishing in second place in 2012/13 but nevertheless never coming close to challenging for the title.
However, Haifa made its intentions clear this summer by bringing back arguably Israel’s greatest ever player in Benayoun and following in the footsteps of Maccabi Tel Aviv by signing a foreign coach to guide the side, Serbian Aleksandar Stanojevic.
The jury is still out regarding Haifa’s overhaul, but two wins from the first three matches is a reasonable return to start the season.
Monday’s showdown will be a real test for Haifa, and not only because it will be facing the title favorite. The Greens haven’t beaten Maccabi in their past six encounters and have failed to win more than twice in their opening five matches over the last three campaigns.
The Greens will have to manage without Benayoun after he was ruled out on Sunday with a recurring knee injury, despite having three weeks to recover thanks to a longer than usual break due to Yom Kippur and international action.
The veteran’s absence will leave a void which Ruben Rayos and Hen Ezra will be hoping to fill, with the midfielders combining for four goals and five assists in three matches so far this season.
Tel Aviv is coming off its first defeat of the season after losing 3-2 at Hapoel Beersheba three weeks ago.
Apart from injured defenders Yuval Spungin and Yoav Ziv, Maccabi coach Pako Ayestaran has a full squad at his disposal.
“I’m quite clear about the line-up, but I think everybody has to be on their toes, because sometimes you change decisions at the last minute,” Pako said on Sunday.
“Maccabi Haifa have the strength in their squad to be contenders and I think they’ve made clear they want to fight for the championship this year. They’ve got the line-up and they’ve got the squad to be able to do it. When you build a squad you have to realize you are not going to have all your main men each week and you have to be able to compete anyway."
“I think Maccabi Haifa will come here without thinking about what players are not playing. They will try to approach the game with the ones that are available. It won’t be an easy game, as you know.”
On Sunday, Beitar Jeruslaem was held to a 1-1 draw by Ashdod SC at Teddy Stadium despite dominating the proceedings.
Beitar took a deserved lead in the 37th minute, with Ashdod defender Hatem El-Hamid turning the ball over in his own half, allowing Hanan Maman to slot in the opener.
Jerusalem created little in the second half, but Ashdod remained on the back foot, only to score against the run of play in the 73rd minute through substitute David Solari, keeping both teams undefeated this season but with just a single win.