Maccabi Tel Aviv coach Paulo Sousa did his best to downplay the importance of Monday night’s derby against Hapoel Tel Aviv at Bloomfield Stadium, insisting that his team has bigger targets.
Maccabi can open a four-point gap at the top of the Premier League standings and effectively end any lingering hopes Hapoel may have of challenging for the title with a victory on Monday.
The yellow-and-blue lost the first derby of last season, but dominated the reds in their three next meetings, winning 4-0 and 2-0 before coming back from two-goals down for a 4-2 triumph.
Maccabi’s consistently impressive form so far this season compared to Hapoel’s erratic displays mean the defending champion enters Monday’s showdown as a firm favorite, not only to win, but to thrash Hapoel.
After seeing their team advance to the Europa League round of 32 with a 1-0 victory over Girondins de Bordeaux on Thursday, all Maccabi fans wanted to sing about was the derby.
Nevertheless, Sousa wants his players to do their best to approach Monday’s encounter as if it were just another league match and focus on claiming a fourth straight win and a 10th victory in 13 games so far this season.
“Since I began my career as a professional football player I played in a lot of derbies and I know their importance,” Sousa said on Sunday. “Especially for the fans, but for the players and coaches as well. This is something I have heard since my first day here, but I think that if a club wants to grow it cannot concentrate only on derbies. Derbies are special for the fans and we want to make sure we keep them happy, but history is made by winning leagues and by what we did last Thursday. To pass the group phase of the Europa League with 11 points is history, but of course we want to make sure we win the derbies and give lots of happiness to everyone involved.”
With Hapoel entering the match in fifth place, 10 points behind Maccabi, Sousa recognizes that the reds have very little to lose.
“Hapoel didn’t start the season well and it is important for them to change the situation and save their season,” Earlier Monday, Maccabi will discover who it will face in the Europa League round of 32. Maccabi will be unseeded in the draw in Nyon, Switzerland and can face any of the 16 seeded sides, apart from Group F opponent Eintracht Frankfurt. Valencia (Spain), Fiorentina (Italy), Napoli (Italy), Sevilla (Spain), Tottenham (England) and Benfica (Portugal) are all among the seeded teams.
Much of the talk surrounding the club in the lead up to the derby has been regarding Hapoel’s plans for the upcoming January transfer window.
Hapoel’s unexpected failure to progress to the Europa League group stage cost the club millions of shekels and will likely force it to sell players in order to balance its budget. Striker Omer Damari, who has scored a league-best eight goals so far this season, looks to be the biggest name that could be making his way out of the club. Both Maccabi Tel Aviv and Maccabi Haifa are rumored to be interested in his services, with Hapoel far more interested in selling to the Greens rather than its arch-rival.
Also Monday, Maccabi Haifa will look to register its fifth straight league win when it hosts Hapoel Ramat Hasharon, which has climbed out of the relegation zone after triumphing in two consecutive games and going unbeaten in its past five matches.
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