Maccabi Tel Aviv defender Tal Ben-Haim (left) and Hapoel Beersheba striker Ben Sahar (right) are set to clash once more on Saturday when the Premier League’s top two teams meet at Turner Stadium..
(photo credit: DANNY MARON)
Despite the best efforts of the coaches of Hapoel Beersheba and Maccabi Tel Aviv, any attempt to downplay the importance of Saturday’s showdown between the Premier League’s top two teams is doomed for failure.
While the league championship will not be decided at Turner Stadium in Beersheba on Saturday, both teams may end up looking back at the encounter as the moment in which they either lost control of the title race or turned it in their favor.
Beersheba is set to remain in first place regardless of the outcome at Turner, entering the match three points ahead of Maccabi, while also having a far superior goal difference (+45 compared to +29). Each team will have eight more matches to play until the end of the season following this weekend’s action, including one more meeting between the sides in Netanya in one month, leaving plenty of time for additional twists and turns in the fight for the championship.
There is little doubt though, that Beersheba will become a massive favorite to defend its title should it move six points clear on Saturday, while Maccabi would register a significant psychological blow if it goes tied on points with the leader by becoming the first team to win at Turner in league action since the stadium opened at the start of last season.
Beersheba owns an almost perfect record at home this season, registering a 13th win from 14 games by beating Maccabi Haifa 4-0 last Sunday, taking its overall unbeaten streak at the stadium to 31 league games (25 wins and six draws).
“The match against Maccabi Tel Aviv is very important, but the games after that will be no less important,” said Bachar.
“This should be an excellent match, but all our remaining games will also be very difficult. The title will not be decided in one match. I’m focused on our team and ensuring that we continue to control our fate.”
Maccabi registered its seventh straight league win by defeating Bnei Sakhnin 3-0 before the international break, a fifth victory in a row since the hiring of new coach Lito Vidigal. The yellow-and-blue has conceded just a single goal over its winning streak, which began with a 1-0 triumph over Beersheba at the start of February.
Maccabi has picked up 31 of a possible 33 points since the sacking of coach Shota Arveladze at the beginning of the year and Vidigal insisted he will not settle for a draw on Saturday.
“I will be happy if we win 5-0,” he said before adding, “I will be happy if my players will give everything that they have to try and take the three points.
“All the games are important. If we lost some games in the past then we may not be talking about this game now,” noted the Angolan.
“Everything is open and we are focusing only on this game. We’ve played the last 10 or 12 games as if they were finals.”
Elsewhere Saturday, Beitar Jerusalem visits Maccabi Haifa, with the buildup to the match being dominated by off-field issues.
Beitar, four points ahead of Sakhnin and five in front of Haifa in fourth, threatened in a statement on Wednesday that the team’s players will walk off the pitch should its fans chant racist songs, risking a harsh punishment from the Israel Football Association, which said it does not support such action.
Beitar’s appeal against a two-point deduction was accepted by the IFA’s High Court on Sunday. But it still has a suspended twopoint deduction hanging over its head and owner Eli Tabib decided on Wednesday to up the ante in his fight against those fans who take pride in their racist views.
In the relegation playoffs, Hapoel Tel Aviv hosts Bnei Yehuda and Hapoel Haifa visits Ironi Kiryat Shmona. On Sunday, Bnei Sakhnin welcomes Maccabi Petah Tikva and Hapoel Ra’anana goes to Hapoel Kfar Saba. Hapoel Ashkelon hosts Ashdod SC on Monday.