The play of Beitar Jerusalem forward Omer Atzili has been one of the main reasons behind the team’s surprise run in the Premier League..
(photo credit: DANNY MARON)
Beitar Jerusalem can close to within a mere two points of the summit of the Premier League standings on Saturday night with a win over arch-rival Hapoel Tel Aviv at Bloomfield Stadium.
It was less than three months ago that Beitar fans were calling for the head of coach Slobodan Drapic after the team went winless in its first four games.
However, it has since won seven of nine matches, surging up the standings and taking hold of third place behind only league leaders Maccabi Tel Aviv and Hapoel Beersheba.
Beitar has exceeded expectations with a combination of young up-and-coming Israeli players and underrated foreigners playing with self-belief instilled by coach Drapic.
“We have been in a good mood recently as we are working hard and registering good results,” said midfielder Dan Einbinder, who returned to the team in the summer after struggling to find his place at Maccabi Tel Aviv.
“We are facing a very important match on Saturday and everybody understands its significance, for us and the fans. We know we have to be focused because playing Hapoel is always tough, even when they aren’t in the top half of the standings.”
Einbinder said he doesn’t believe Beitar is the favorite, despite the fact Hapoel has won just two of its past eight games and sits only three points above the relegation zone.
“I don’t think that there can be a favorite in a match like this,” he explained. “This is a very charged match involving many emotions. We are hoping to build on our excellent start to the season, but talk is cheap and we need to prove it on the pitch.”
Hapoel has lost two of three games since Guy Levy took charge of the side, but he remains optimistic of the team’s prospects despite its dismal form over recent weeks.
“I’ve got a feeling that we will embark on a new course this week,” said Levy. “It is about time we win a match at home. We need to do our job and not wait for miracles.”
Also Saturday, Maccabi Haifa aims to make it four straight wins when it visits Bnei Yehuda, which will be guided for the first time by Yossi Mizrahi following the sacking of Yossi Abuksis. Hapoel Haifa hosts Hapoel Acre, Maccabi Netanya welcomes Maccabi Petah Tikva and Hapoel Kfar Saba faces Hapoel Ra’anana.
Hapoel Beersheba hosts Ironi Kiryat Shmona on Sunday while Maccabi Tel Aviv visits Bnei Sakhnin on Monday.