Maccabi Tel Aviv star Eran Zahavi.
(photo credit: DANNY MARON)
After playing catch-up in recent weeks, Maccabi Tel Aviv finally has a chance to put pressure on Hapoel Beersheba on Saturday evening when it hosts Hapoel Haifa at Bloomfield Stadium.
The three-time reigning champion found itself as many as eight points back of Beersheba after registering two straight draws and having to play at least one day after the league-leader in the past three weeks.
With Beersheba not hosting Bnei Yehuda at Turner Stadium until Monday, Maccabi can close within just two points of first place for at least 48 hours on Saturday when it looks to extend its unbeaten streak to 10 matches with a home victory.
“It’s true that it’s not easy to chase after another team at the top of the table. But Beersheva knows we are there and that will affect them as well,” said Maccabi coach Peter Bosz.
Beersheba has won a club record six straight league matches, triumphing in 16 of its past 18 games.
“The title race with Maccabi is interesting and tense,” said Beersheba coach Barak Bachar. “We want to continue and break records and everyone knows our goal is to win the championship.”
While Beersheba, Maccabi and third-place Beitar Jerusalem are already all guaranteed a place in the championship playoffs, the battle for the remaining three spots in the top six is set to go down to the wire.
Even Hapoel Haifa in the relegation zone can still theoretically qualify for the championship playoffs, with only eight points separating Hapoel Ra’anana in fourth (32 points) and Hapoel Haifa (24) in 13th, with each team having just three matches remaining in the regular season.
Maccabi Haifa (31) in fifth hosts Hapoel Tel Aviv (25) in 11th on Saturday, with only six points separating the teams. Hapoel enters the match brimming with confidence after claiming its first win under coach Eli Gutman last week, beating Hapoel Ra’anana 2-1 in impressive fashion.
Haifa was flying high after thrashing Maccabi Petah Tikva 4-0, but was painfully brought back down to earth with Monday’s 3-0 defeat to Beitar Jerusalem.
“We understand the importance of this match and we will do everything to claim a good result,” said Haifa coach Roni Levy. “There are many teams that are capable of reaching the championship playoffs, but I’m focused on our team.”
Shlomi Dora will guide Ironi Kiryat Shmona (27) for the first time on Saturday after replacing the sacked Salah Hasarma earlier this week, with the northerners visiting Maccabi Petah Tikva (28), which is also in crisis mode having lost six straight games.
Also Saturday, Bnei Sakhnin (29) welcomes Hapoel Kfar Saba (29) and Ra’anana hosts rock-bottom Maccabi Netanya (10). On Sunday, Beitar Jerusalem (42) visits Hapoel Acre (25).