Maccabi Tel Aviv star Eran Zahavi.
(photo credit: DANNY MARON)
The Premier League title race reaches its moment of truth at Bloomfield Stadium on Monday night when Maccabi Tel Aviv hosts Hapoel Beersheba.
The identity of the next champion will not be officially decided on Monday, but the outcome of the showdown between the two best teams in Israel will go a long way to determining if Maccabi becomes the first team in 53 years to win four consecutive league titles or if Beersheba claims its first championship after 40 years.
Beersheba brings a three-point gap over Maccabi into the match, but Tel Aviv will leapfrog into first place with a victory thanks to its superior goal difference (44 to 39). A win for Beersheba will establish a six-point margin with only nine points left to play for, leaving the southerners needing just four points from their final three games to secure the title.
After winning just one of five matches and relinquishing first place for the first time since December, Beersheba has regained its impressive early-season form with two consecutive victories by a 4-1 score-line, thrashing Bnei Sakhnin and Hapoel Ra’anana.
Maccabi, on the other hand, has registered goalless deadlocks in its past two contests against Maccabi Haifa and Bnei Sakhnin.
Beersheba is unbeaten in 27 league matches, with its last defeat coming back in September of last year. Maccabi is undefeated in 17 league games, not losing since Beersheba claimed a 2-1 win at Bloomfield last December.
The most recent meeting between the teams ended in a 1-1 draw at Turner Stadium six weeks ago.
“This is an easy game as the only good result for us is if we win and that’s what we will try to do,” said Maccabi coach Peter Bosz. “A draw or a defeat is not good for us. It’s simple.”
Bosz insisted he is not concerned his players may be affected by the pressure.
“These are the games that I loved to play as a player. It’s money time. I don’t feel the pressure, I’m excited,” he said.
Bosz will only know hours before the match if he will have his regular goalkeeper Predrag Rajkovic at his disposal. The Serbian was suspended for three matches by the Israel Football Association’s disciplinary court last Wednesday for shoving Bnei Sakhnin coach Yossi Abuksis following the 0-0 draw at Doha Stadium last week.
Maccabi was outraged and turned to the District Court on Sunday, claiming that Rajkovic was denied his legal rights as he was not permitted to be represented by a lawyer. Maccabi said that due to his inability to plead his case in Hebrew or English he should have been granted special permission to hire a lawyer. The District Court accepted Maccabi’s request for a hearing and scheduled it for Wednesday, delaying the implementation of the suspension.
The IFA is considering asking for an emergency hearing to be held on Monday ahead of the match.
On Sunday, Bnei Sakhnin moved back up to fourth place with a 3-0 win over Beitar Jerusalem at Teddy Stadium. Shlomi Azulay (11, 48, 72) netted a hat-trick for Sakhnin against his former team, which maintains a 10-point gap in third place despite suffering its fifth defeat from the past six games.