Maccabi Tel Aviv remains the team to beat in the Israeli Premier League as the
2013/14 campaign gets underway this weekend.
Maccabi clinched its first
league title in 10 years last season, but has got a new coach in Paulo Sousa of
Portugal following the departure of Spaniard Oscar Garcia.
yellow-and-blue maintained the core of last season’s winning squad, but matters
will be far from straightforward for Maccabi with two of last season’s anchors
leaving during the summer. Goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama was the foundation to Tel
Aviv’s composed defensive play in 2012/13, while Eliran Atar scored a
league-best 22 goals.
With a place in the Europa League group stage
already guaranteed thanks to a Ukrainian match-fixing scandal and some very good
fortune, Tel Aviv has no distractions ahead of Saturday’s opener at Hapoel
“We are in good shape, all the players are fit at the moment and
that presents me with some difficult choices,” Sousa said on Thursday. “It was
no mean feat to win the championship after 10 years but now it will be even more
difficult to retain it.
“Our goal is to have a squad that is strong
enough to compete for the title. We need a squad that will enable us to
challenge in all competitions.”
Maccabi’s main challenge for the title is
expected to come from two teams, Maccabi Haifa and Hapoel Tel Aviv. Despite a
dismal start to last season, Haifa ended 2012/13 in second place, surging up the
standings following the hiring of coach Arik Benado to replace the sacked Reuven
Unlike Tel Aviv, Haifa is currently focused on its Europa League
playoff tie versus Astra of Romania. The Greens visit Ironi Kiryat Shmona in a
tricky first match on Sunday, just 72 hours after hosting Astra.
Shmona will have a completely new look this season, with the backbone of the
2011/12 championship-winning side no longer around. However, owner Izzy
Sheratzky and coach Barak Bachar have assembled a squad which is more than
capable of finishing among the top five in the league for a fourth straight
Hapoel Tel Aviv enters its first game of the campaign still
licking its wounds from a surprise early exit from European
After four straight seasons in the group stages of
continental competitions, Hapoel was outplayed in a 3-2 aggregate defeat to
Pandurii Târgu Jiu of Romania in the Europa League third qualifying round,
mounting even more pressure on the side ahead of Sunday’s opener against Bnei
Sakhnin at Bloomfield Stadium.
New coach Ran Ben-Shimon was brought in to
rebuild the team after last season’s disappointment, but he finds himself with
his back against the wall before the new season has even started.
another rocky summer, Beitar Jerusalem begins its campaign against Hapoel
Beersheba at National Stadium in Ramat Gan on Saturday, with the Teddy Stadium
pitch still recovering from the Maccabiah.
Beitar’s squad is still a work
in progress, but new owner Eli Tabib, who bought the club from Arkady Gaydamak,
is determined to have a winning team from day one, making arguably the biggest
signing of the summer on Thursday.
Ibrahim Teteh Bangura has been linked
in the past with the likes of Manchester United, but the 23-year-old striker
will be playing for Beitar this season, leaving Turkish club Bursaspor on a
one-year loan deal.
Beersheba has also made some impressive signings this
summer, including the likes of Elyaniv Barda and Maor Buzaglo.
Beitar, Beersheba all but completed the building of its squad more than a month
ago and has got high expectations from this season after also holding on to key
players from last term.
Also Saturday, the league’s two newly-promoted
teams face each other when Hapoel Ra’anana welcomes Maccabi Petah Tikva, while
last season’s surprise side Hapoel Ramat Hasharon hosts Hapoel Haifa and Ashdod
SC visits Bnei Yehuda.
On TV: Saturday: Hapoel Acre vs Maccabi Tel Aviv (live on Sport 1 at 5:35 p.m.);
Beitar Jerusalem vs Hapoel Beersheba (live on Sport 1 at 8 p.m.)