Maccabi Tel Aviv midfielder Eran Zahavi scored his 100th Premier League goal in a 3-0 win at Hapoel Haifa.
(photo credit: ERAN LUF)
After remaining on course to meet in the State Cup final for a second straight year as a result of Thursday’s semifinal draw, the battle for local supremacy between Maccabi Tel Aviv and Hapoel Beersheba returns to the Premier League on Saturday, with the yellow-and-blue once more aiming to put pressure on the leader by reducing the margin at the top to two points.
In each of the past two weeks, Maccabi closed within two points for at least 24 hours, only to see Beersheba go on and win to reestablish a five-point gap.
With the final stretch to the season officially getting under way next weekend with the start of the championship playoffs, Maccabi is hoping that maybe this week Beersheba will finally slip up when it hosts Bnei Sakhnin on Monday on the back of a club record eight-match winning streak, having triumphed in 18 of its past 20 games.
Maccabi will first need to overcome Hapoel Kfar Saba at Bloomfield Stadium on Saturday, with the sides meeting for a second time in four days. Tel Aviv beat Kfar Saba 2-0 in the second leg of the cup quarterfinals on Wednesday, completing a 5-0 win on aggregate.
Maccabi was drawn to face Sakhnin in the semis on Thursday, while Beersheba will play Maccabi Haifa, meaning a repeat of last year’s final won by Tel Aviv by an unprecedented 6-2 score-line is still on the cards.
However, with the semis not taking place at Haifa Stadium until April 19/20, the focus returns to the league this weekend where Maccabi can scarcely afford another glitch before it visits Beersheba at Turner Stadium in two weeks.
“Kfar Saba needs points to stay away from relegation and we need points for the championship, so it will be a totally different game,” said Maccabi coach Peter Bosz.
Kfar Saba is just four points above the relegation zone and is one of seven teams fighting to avoid joining rock-bottom Maccabi Netanya in the National League next season.
Only five points separate Bnei Yehuda in seventh place and Hapoel Haifa in 13th, with each team to play seven more games in the relegation playoffs following this weekend’s action.
A shell-shocked Hapoel Tel Aviv, which is one point above the relegation zone on 26 points, looks to bounce back from its unexpected setback against Hapoel Acre when it visits Maccabi Petah Tikva (29), which will be guided by new coach Danny Golan for the first time.
Ran Ben-Shimon left Petah Tikva after it lost seven of its previous eight matches to drop into the relegation playoffs.
Elsewhere, Acre (28) welcomes Maccabi Netanya (10) while the slumping Ironi Kiryat Shmona (28) hosts the surging Beitar Jerusalem, which looks to already have third place wrapped up.
Beitar is 10 points back of Maccabi Tel Aviv and 12 points in front of fourth place Hapoel Ra’anana, which faces Bnei Yehuda (30) on Saturday.
On Sunday, Hapoel Haifa (25) visits sixth place Maccabi Haifa in the derby.