Maccabi Tel Aviv coach Pako Ayestaran is confident his team will return to winning ways when it hosts Hapoel Haifa in Netanya on Saturday..
(photo credit: ADI AVISHAI)
With still three-quarters of the Premier League season left to play, there is certainly no reason for Maccabi Tel Aviv to panic.
However, the yellow-and-blue has every reason to be concerned when taking into account the fact that for the first time in more than two years it finds itself six points or more behind first place.
Ironi Kiryat Shmona’s 2-1 win over Maccabi on Monday saw it move five points clear of Hapoel Beersheba in second place and open a six-point gap over the twotime defending champion.
Maccabi dominated the league over the past two seasons on the way to two convincing championships. The last time it was six points or more back of the summit was at the end of the 2011/12 season when Kiryat Shmona won the title and the yellow- and-blue finished in sixth place.
Maccabi still seems to be reeling from the abandonment of the Tel Aviv derby at the start of November, which ended up also resulting in a one-point deduction. It was far from convincing in the 3-1 win over Maccabi Netanya before dropping to its second defeat of the season at Kiryat Shmona.
In fact, the only player who has performed well on a consistent basis this season is Eran Zahavi, who extended his streak of scoring in every match he has played in this season in Kiryat Shmona, taking his personal tally to nine goals in seven games.
Maccabi will have an ideal opportunity to bounce back when it hosts the struggling Hapoel Haifa on Saturday, with the match to be played in Netanya after the yellow-and-blue was also punished to play three home games away from Bloomfield Stadium due to its fans’ involvement in the Tel Aviv derby debacle.
“We are lucky we have Eran Zahavi because he is a great player, but even Messi can’t succeed if he doesn’t have a good team around him,” said Maccabi coach Pako Ayestaran. “We are our own worst enemies and that is not disrespectful to our opponents. We have tough opposition like Kiryat Shmona and Beersheba and it is going to be challenging to win this championship. But our worst enemy is ourselves because the only part you can control is your own performance.”
Kiryat Shmona visits Hapoel Ra’anana on Saturday looking to extend its unbeaten start to the campaign and record its eighth win from the past nine games.
Beersheba will be aiming to make up lost ground in the title race when it welcomes Maccabi Netanya on Saturday. A 90th-minute penalty by Gili Vermut gave Hapoel Tel Aviv a 3-2 win over Beersheba last Saturday, ending the team’s unbeaten start to the season.
Also Saturday, Hapoel Petah Tikva hosts Bnei Sakhnin and Ashdod SC visits Hapoel Acre. Maccabi Haifa welcomes Hapoel Tel Aviv on Sunday, with Beitar Jerusalem hosting Maccabi Petah Tikva on Monday.