Maccabi Tel Aviv can move to the brink of claiming its second straight Premier League title with a victory over Hapoel Beersheba at Bloomfield Stadium on Monday night.
A win for the yellow-and-blue will see it move eight points clear of second-place Beersheba with eight matches to play.
However, coach Paulo Sousa insisted on Sunday that the title race will not be over regardless of the result of the third showdown this season between the country’s two top sides.
“There will still be 24 points left to play for even if we do have an eight point lead,” said Sousa. “I don’t think the race will be over, especially considering the way Beersheba is performing this season. You need to give them credit for a great season.”
Maccabi has won 15 of its past 18 games, suffering just a single defeat over that stretch.
Beersheba handed Maccabi one of only two losses it has suffered all season, claiming a 3-2 victory at home in early November.
Tel Aviv recorded a 3-1 win when the teams met at Bloomfield last month, with the match being decided in a frantic first half. Rade Prica handed Maccabi the lead in the third minute and was brought down in the box four minutes later, resulting in a Tel Aviv penalty and a red card for Beersheba’s Ben Elgravli.
Eran Zahavi missed from the spot and Beersheba leveled the score in the 34th minute courtesy of Glynor Plet’s stunning strike. However, Carlos Garcia ensured the hosts took a lead into the break with his goal in the 45th minute before Barak Itzhaki wrapped up the points.
Beersheba coach Elisha Levy had to manage with a makeshift back-four in his team’s last meeting with Maccabi and he will be without defensive anchor William Soares once more on Monday after he suffered a head injury in the State Cup quarterfinals last week.
Nevertheless, Levy is confident his team can beat Maccabi at Bloomfield, a win he acknowledges his side will have to record to have any chance of lifting the title.
“I don’t know if this is our last chance, but it is clear to us that if we want to remain in the title race we need to find a way to win this match,” said Levy.
Meanwhile, Beitar Jerusalem effectively secured itself another season of topflight soccer after beating Maccabi Petah Tikva 3-0 at Teddy Stadium on Sunday.
Itzik Cohen (49), Aviram Bruchian (67) and Omer Atzili (87) scored for Beitar, which moved 10 points clear of the relegation zone with six matches to play.