Second-fiddle Mac TA takes on Kfar Saba; Beitar hosts Petah Tikva

“We haven’t been playing well enough recently, but there are always periods like this,” said Maccabi captain Gal Alberman.

December 15, 2016 23:24
2 minute read.
Maccabi Tel Aviv players celebrate after securing their place in the State Cup last-16

Maccabi Tel Aviv players celebrate after securing their place in the State Cup last-16. (photo credit: ADI AVISHAI)

Having set the pace or being not far behind it for the past four years, Maccabi Tel Aviv finds itself in an unfamiliar situation in the Premier League this season.

With reigning champion Hapoel Beersheba seemingly steamrolling to a second straight league title, Maccabi is being forced to do the chasing. The yellow-and-blue already has a 10-point deficit to contend with, winning just one of seven matches and scoring only two goals over that stretch before defeating Hapoel Haifa 4-2 on Sunday.

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Beersheba, on the other hand, is riding a club record nine straight Premier League wins, picking up 34 of a possible 39 points so far after facing each team in the league once, with its overall goal difference standing at an impressive 38-6.

Maccabi has the opportunity to cut the gap to seven points, for at least 24 hours, when it visits Hapoel Kfar Saba on Saturday. Beersheba doesn’t visit Hapoel Ra’anana until Sunday.

Beersheba, which extended coach Barak Bachar’s contract until 2020, will face Ironi Kiryat Shmona in the Toto Cup final after beating Hapoel Haifa 2-1 in the semis on Thursday.

“We haven’t been playing well enough recently, but there are always periods like this,” said Maccabi captain Gal Alberman, who was part of the yellow- and-blue sides that won three straight championships before being edged by Beersheba last season.

“We’re not giving up on the title race. Our play and recent results ended up widening the gap but we won’t give up. There are still plenty of points to play for. What’s important right now is that we improve our play because that is what will help us earn those points.”

While the win over Haifa didn’t reduce the gap from first place, it did at least help strengthen Shota Arveladze’s position as coach. The Georgian’s job looks to be safe at least until the January transfer window when he’ll have a chance to make changes to the squad.

Beitar Jerusalem looks to get its stop-and-start campaign up and running when it hosts Maccabi Petah Tikva on Saturday. Beitar lost 3-1 to Beersheba on Monday and has won only four of 13 matches to date.

Nevertheless, it sits in sixth place, only three points back of Maccabi Haifa in third, which is tied on 21 points with Petah Tikva.

But Beitar is also only seven points above Hapoel Ashkelon and the relegation zone and coach Ran Ben-Shimon will find himself under intense pressure once more should the team fall short of claiming three points yet again on Saturday.

Also Saturday, Ashdod SC hosts Ironi Kiryat Shmona and Bnei Sakhnin welcomes rock-bottom Bnei Yehuda, which will be guided for the first time by new coach Nissan Yehezkel, who was appointed earlier this week together with sports director Yitzhak Shum.

On Sunday, Hapoel Ashkelon hosts Hapoel Haifa, with Maccabi Haifa visiting Hapoel Tel Aviv on Monday.

The Tel Aviv District Court accepted earlier this week Hapoel Tel Aviv’s request for a stay of legal proceedings due to debts estimated at over NIS 100 million. However, judge Eitan Orenstein delayed the nine-point deduction the club was set to be handed according to Israel Football Association regulations until another hearing is held on the matter on January 11.

Hapoel’s trustees are already busy at work, releasing the team’s Montenegrin players Nemanja Nikolic and Marko Simic on Wednesday to help reduce the club’s payroll.

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