(photo credit: Asaf Kliger)
Betar Jerusalem is closing in on its fourth Premier League title, but the chasing pack will have a chance to close the gap this weekend.
With just seven games left till the end of the season, the yellow-and-black is enjoying a seven-point lead at the top of the standings but does not play til Monday, giving challengers Maccabi Tel Aviv and Hapoel Tel Aviv an opportunity to pick up points.
Maccabi Tel Aviv's title hopes took a huge blow after last week's 1-0 loss to Maccabi Haifa.
The yellow-and-blue is aware that another setback could prove to be too costly and clear the way for Betar. Eli Cohen's men face another stern test as they take on Maccabi Petah Tikva, one of the leagues most tactically sound sides.
"The Luzon's" have conceded only 24 goals so far this season, making it the fourth best defense in the league. Tel Aviv will have to work hard in order to crack open the hosts' rearguard and apply the pressure on Jerusalem, which will play its game against Bnei Yehuda only on Monday.
Tel Aviv's influential captain Avi Nimni, who was absent from last week's game against Haifa, is doubtful for Saturday's game.
The team physicians are toiling hard to help the veteran forward regain match-fitness, but his status is still unclear. Coach Cohen said he hopes that his key player will pass his fitness tests prior to the game.
"I hope he'll be able to help us in this game," Cohen told reporters. "It really depends on him and how he feels. He [Nimni] has been participating in light drills, but things can still change until the game.
"We all know how important he is to our attack, but at the same time must be ready to play without him."
The race for third place, which can lead to a place in next season's UEFACup, is also hotting up. Outgoing champion Maccabi Haifa will be looking to climb up in the league table tomorrow, as it plays host to Reuven Atar's fourth-placed Maccabi Netanya at Kiryat Eliezer.
Both teams will be looking for all three points to catch up with third placed Hapoel Tel Aviv and save their respective domestic campaigns.
Yaniv Katan has fully recovered from his rib injury, although it has been reported that Haifa coach Roni Levy may not include his captain and leading striker in the starting eleven.
"Netanya likes to play attacking soccer and is a very positive team," Levy commented. "Its current position in the league table proves that it is a good team. It's going to be a tough game, but we are determined to continue our winning streak. My players have to prove themselves if they want to continue with us next season."
"We have to win this game," Haifa veteran Alon Harazi added. "In order to stand a chance to qualify for Europe, we have to beat teams above us in the league table."
Hapoel Tel Aviv will be looking to make another run at the top of the table as it takes on Eli Ohana's Hapoel Kfar Saba.
Kfar Saba will be looking to register a win and collect all three points, which will enable it to escape the relegation zone and secure another season in the top flight.
Maccabi Herzliya and Hakoah Amidar Ramat Gan square off in a crucial relegation battle, with both teams desperate to avoid relegation just a year after winning promotion.
Herzliya currently has 24 league points, with Ramat Gan with just one point less. A win for Herzliya could spell disaster for Uri Malmilian's Ramat Gan side.
Alon Hazan's Ashdod SC plays host to last placed Hapoel Petah Tikva.
Eyal Lachman's side has had a disastrous season, with only two wins and eight draws, which has made it clear favorite to be relegated.
The team is expected to rest all its foreign players in the upcoming game and give its youngsters a chance in the first team.
The players really want to put on good performances in the remaining games and I would like the crowd to show up. It has been a turbulent season, but we must stick together in tough times."