Maccabi Tel Aviv aims to pile the pressure on its only challenger for the championship by opening a nine-point margin over Hapoel Beersheba when it visits Maccabi Petah Tikva on Saturday.

Maccabi beat Beersheba 3-1 at Bloomfield Stadium on Sunday to extend its margin at the top of the Premier League standings to six points.

Beersheba doesn’t host Bnei Sakhnin until Monday, allowing the defending champion to move nine points clear for at least 48 hours with a victory in Petah Tikva.

The win over Beersheba was the yellow-and- blue’s 11th over its past 12 matches and 10th in 11 home games this season.

Of all teams, the one to hold Maccabi at home was the struggling Petah Tikva, coming back from two-goals down to draw 2-2 at Bloomfield three months ago.

Petah Tikva had won just one of its first eight contests of the season prior to drawing with Tel Aviv. It has also achieved little success since, claiming just two victories from 12 games.

Only goal difference currently keeps Petah Tikva out of the relegation zone, with the team tied on 16 points with Hapoel Ramat Hasharon, which is in 13th place.

Petah Tikva advanced to the quarterfinals of the State Cup after defeating Hapoel Ra’anana 2-1 after extra-time on Wednesday, leaving it with little time to recover from the mid-week exertion ahead of a showdown with arguably the fittest team in the league.

“They will be very motivated because they are playing at home and got a good result on Wednesday and need the points,” said Tel Aviv coach Paulo Sousa.

With Maccabi to host FC Basel in the first leg of the Europa League round-of-32 next Thursday, Sousa could elect to rest several players against Petah Tikva. One of the players who could be sent to the bench is Swedish striker Rade Prica.

The 33-year-old reached an agreement with Maccabi to extend his contract for an additional season on Wednesday after proving to be a revelation since joining the club last January.

Prica has scored 17 league goals in 37 appearances since joining Maccabi, with the yellow-and-blue winning all 15 matches in which he found the back of the net, including against Beersheba.

“I’ve enjoyed being with Maccabi since the moment I arrived at the club,” he told the club’s website.

Also Saturday, Hapoel Tel Aviv hosts Bnei Yehuda, Ashdod SC visits Hapoel Haifa, Hapoel Acre welcomes Ramat Hasharon and Hapoel Ra’anana faces Ironi Kiryat Shmona. Beitar Jerusalem hosts Maccabi Haifa on Sunday.

In other news, former Israel national team coach Richard Moller Nielsen died on Thursday at the age of 76.

Nielsen led Denmark to the Euro 1992 title and guided the blue-and-white between 2000 and 2002.

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