FC Basel's Mohamed Elneny (R) fights for the ball against Maccabi Tel Aviv's Eden Ben Basat during their Champions League play-off first leg soccer match at the St. Jakob Park stadium in Basel August 19, 2015. .
(photo credit: REUTERS/ARND WIEGMANN)
When Eden Ben-Basat returned to Israel a little over three years ago he was widely regarded as one of the best players in the country.
After three successful seasons in France and becoming an integral part of the Israel national team, Ben-Basat was lured back home by a lucrative offer from Maccabi Tel Aviv, which paid Toulouse in the region of 750,000 euros for his services.
He was at the prime of his career and seemed set to finally make his mark on the local scene in a big way. But instead, Ben-Basat would completely lose his way at Maccabi.
There were several highlights in his first season in yellow-and-blue, with Ben-Basat scoring six goals in 24 appearances in 2014/15 in which Maccabi won an unprecedented local treble.
Matters would go dramatically downhill after that though, with Ben-Basat netting two goals in 22 games in 2015/16 and a single goal in the first half of last season, falling completely out of favor with the team’s coaching staff.
In an attempt to resurrect his career, Ben-Basat joined Hapoel Haifa in January of this year. He found the back of the net twice in 15 games to end last season, bringing his tally over the past two seasons to a measly five league goals.
He needed just four games to match that total this season, with Ben-Basat finally looking like the player of old, despite recently celebrating his 31st birthday.
Ben-Basat’s prolific form is one of the main reasons behind Haifa’s surprising start to the campaign that sees it lead the standings with a three-point gap after six matches.
Nir Klinger’s Haifa is the league’s only remaining unbeaten team, defeating Ironi Kiryat Shmona 1-0 before the international break to move to 14 points from a possible 18.
Haifa hosts Hapoel Acre on Saturday, with Ben-Basat set to be back in the squad after missing the win in Kiryat Shmona through injury.
“I didn’t manage to display my best form in recent years, but I’m happy I finally found a place where I feel comfortable and have all the support I need,” said Ben-Basat after netting a hat-trick against Beitar Jerusalem, the first time he scored three goals in a match since March 2010.
Two-time reigning champion Hapoel Beersheba has won just two of its first five matches, but despite its mediocre start and having played one game fewer than its rivals, is only six points behind Haifa and three back of main challenger Maccabi Tel Aviv. Beersheba looks to kickstart its season when it visits Hapoel Ra’anana on Saturday.
Ra’anana has picked up just a single point so far this season.
Also Saturday, Maccabi Haifa goes to Maccabi Petah Tikva and Amir Turgeman will guide rock-bottom Ashdod SC for the first time when it hosts Hapoel Ashkelon.
Maccabi Tel Aviv hosts Bnei Yehuda on Sunday, while Ironi Kiryat Shmona plays Bnei Sakhnin.
Maccabi Netanya and Beitar Jerusalem, which sit in second and third place respectively, three points behind Haifa, face off on Monday night.