Maccabi Haifa will begin its Premier League title defense at Maccabi Netanya on the weekend of August 20, it was revealed on Tuesday when the draw for the upcoming season was held at Israel Football Association headquarters in Ramat Gan.

The first meeting between two of the league’s big four will take place in the third weekend of the season when Hapoel Tel Aviv hosts Betar Jerusalem.

Other highlights in the first half of the season include: Haifa visiting Maccabi Tel Aviv in Week 7, Tel Aviv hosting Betar four weeks later and the first Tel Aviv derby in Week 13.

The first meeting between Maccabi Haifa and last season’s runner-up Hapoel Tel Aviv will take place on Week 14.

For the second time in three seasons, the Premier League will have a new format, with the IFA dropping the controversial point-halving format after two seasons, while also deciding to cut the league from 16 to 14 teams for the 2012/13 campaign.

Three teams will be relegated this season, with the IFA also eliminating the mid-table playoff, meaning that following two rounds of play the league will be split into two, with the top eight teams playing each other one more time in the battle for the championship and the bottom eight sides facing each other once more in the fight against relegation.

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