Israeli Soccer Roundup: Intrigue abounds as Premier League kicks off

Maccabi Tel Aviv looks vulnerable as Maccabi Haifa, Hapoel Beersheba and even Beitar Jerusalem eye title

By JOSHUA HALICKMAN
August 23, 2019 00:35
Israeli Soccer Roundup: Intrigue abounds as Premier League kicks off

CHICO OFOEDU and Maccabi Tel Aviv are the reigning Israel Premier League champions, but a subpar continental campaign for the yellow-and-blue and improvement by other clubs have opened the door for an exciting season, which kicks off tomorrow. (photo credit: DANNY MARON)

The 2019/20 Israel Premier League is upon us with plenty of storylines and action waiting for fans right around the corner. Will defending-champion Maccabi Tel Aviv be as dominant as it was last season? Can Beitar Jerusalem, Maccabi Haifa and Hapoel Beersheba vie for league supremacy? Who will be the Cinderella story this campaign, like Hapoel Hadera was last year? Will the new Bloomfield Stadium be a factor for the three Tel Aviv-based teams?

Here’s a rundown of all 14 top-tier teams and their off season moves as they look to contend for this season’s crown:


Maccabi Tel Aviv


The champs made very few player personnel changes over the course of the summer, however, they lost two very significant players. Serbian goalkeeper Predrag Rajkovic was sold to French side Stade de Reims after four years of service with the yellow-and-blue, and right defensive back Eli Dasa was unable to come to terms with the club. Replacing Rajkovic is Greek shot-stopper Andreas Gianniotis, who before joining Maccabi this summer hadn’t played competitively for close to nine months after falling out of favor at Olympiacos. Also joining the squad are defender Andre Geraldes and winger Nick Blackman, who returns to the side after a one-year absence. Vladimir Ivic’s team has looked very shaky throughout the summer, crashing out of European qualifying, and it will be very interesting to see how veterans Sheran Yeini, Itay Shechter and Eliran Atar will react as the new campaign gets under way.


Maccabi Haifa


Marko Balbul is relying on a youth movement with a sprinkling of veterans as the Greens begin the new season. Neta Lavi, 22, is the new captain while Mohammed Awaed, Yarden Shua and Maxim Plachusheko all will be central figures for the club. Tjaronn Chery was Haifa’s big summer signing as the Dutch attacking midfielder comes to Israel with English Premier League experience along with having played many years in Holland’s Eredivisie. Veteran ’keeper Guy Haimov, defenders Allyson and Rami Gershon, along with front man Nikita Rukavytsya and Yuval Ashkenazi round out the well-balanced squad.


Hapoel Beersheba


The Southern Reds made some interesting moves in the offseason as they look to regain the league title after losing it last season following three straight crowns. Ernestas Setkus, David Keltjens, Ramzi Safouri, Eden Shamir and Jimmy Marin are in while Ariel Harush, Hen Ezra, Hatem Abd Elhamed, John Ogu and Kevin Tapoko are out as coach Barak Bachar looked to retool his side from top to bottom.  Holdovers include Ben Sahar, Maor Melikson, Nigel Hasselbaink and Niv Zrihan as the new-look Beersheba will certainly be a factor this season.


Beitar Jerusalem


Coach Roni Levy and sports director Yossi Benayoun did a magnificent job of overhauling the team’s roster, adding a number of important pieces while leaving some in place from the last campaign. Despite just losing new recruit Michael Ohana for the season due to a knee injury during Toto Cup action, Shay Konstantin, Ali Muhamed, striker Shlomi Azulay and Maxim Grechkin will all be central figures for the yellow-and-black, while holdovers include ’keeper Itamar Nitzan, Freddy Plumain, Gadi Kinda, Antoine Conte and Dan Einbinder, all of whom help make Beitar a threat for the title this season.


Maccabi Netanya


Arguably the biggest summer signing was Almog Cohen returning home after starring in Germany over the past six seasons. In addition to Cohen, Slobodan Drapic and Shay Barda’s squad will include Roi Kehat, Guy Melamed, veteran ’keeper Dani Amos, along with Gabi Kanikowsky, who is continuing to come into his own as a valuable asset in Israeli soccer.


Bnei Yehuda


Coach Yossi Abuksis is a miracle worker, perhaps the best coach in Israel. His squad lost five key players over the last six month, but it remains a constant contender game-in and game-out. Dor Jan, Dan Mori, Mohammed Ghadir and most significantly Ismaila Soro will feature for the Israel State Cup holder, which will miss the likes of Yuval Ashkenazi, Dolev Haziza, Yarden Shua, Shay Konstantin and Mavis Tchibota. The team’s system of hard-nosed work ethic defines the Hatikva neighborhood, where the club are beloved and revered.


Hapoel Hadera


Last season’s Cinderella side will have a very tough time repeating the feat as the team made wholesale changes, including replacing coach Niso Avitan, who left for Hapoel Tel Aviv, with Ori Gutman. Didier Kougbenya will be heavily relied upon by the team while veteran ’keeper Austin Ejide will be very busy between the pipes.


Hapoel Tel Aviv


Israeli soccer icon Maor Buzaglo joins the squad after coming over from Beitar Jerusalam, and his leadership and offensive prowess will need to be on full display for Niso Avitan’s charges if they want to be a factor this season.


Hapoel Haifa


Haim Silvas will have a healthy Almog Buzaglo at his disposal this season and that’s good news for the Carmel Reds. Add into the mix striker Eden Ben Basat, Gili Vermouth, Niso Capiloto and Idan Shemesh and Haifa will make noise once again this campaign.


Hapoel Ra’anana


Menachem Koretzky’s squad is always competitive and there is no reason to think it won’t cause some of the top teams trouble once again. Kayes Ganem will be relied upon up front while David Mateos will shore up the defense for the Sharon side.


Ironi Kiryat Shmona


The northern team will have Messay Dego on the sidelines and so far this preseason he’s done an admirable job for a proud franchise. With a nice mix of veterans, including Lithuanian ’keeper Dziugas Bartkus and Irish marksman Cillian Sheridan, along with Israelis Idan Nachmias and Mohammed Shaker, Kiryat Shmona will likely cause problems weekly for teams around the country.


Ashdod SC


The port city side just escaped relegation last season and coach Ronny Awat will want to make sure that his squad won’t be in that position once again. Shoval Gozlan will provide the offensive firepower and he has done just that so far in Toto Cup play.


Hapoel Kfar Saba


Ofir Haim’s team will be a prime candidate for relegation after just being promoted last season. Owner Itzhak Shum’s squad will have problems at both ends of the pitch and veteran Omer Fadidia will be a central figure.


Ness Ziona


Goalkeeper Omri Glazer will be a very busy man for Amir Turjeman’s squad as the newly promoted team will have many youngsters that will be looking to establish themselves, with Ness Ziona wanting to prove the critics wrong and become this season’s Hadera.

Joshua Halickman, the Sports Rabbi, covers Israeli sports and organizes Israel sports adventures for tourists and residents (www.sportsrabbi.com). Follow the Sports Rabbi on Twitter @thesportsrabbi or feel free to contact the Sports Rabbi at sportsrabbi9@gmail.com.


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