Tel Aviv derby takes center stage • Haifa, Petah Tikva duel

Four days after the derby, Maccabi will host Porto, and Jokanovic may have to decide what is more important – winning on Saturday or the club notching its first points in the Champions League.

By KARIN RACHMIN
October 30, 2015 06:25
2 minute read.
Hapoel Tel Aviv striker Ramzi Safuri (left) celebrates with teammates Liviu Antal (center)

Hapoel Tel Aviv striker Ramzi Safuri (left) celebrates with teammates Liviu Antal (center) and Claudiu Bumba (right) after scoring his team’s winner in last night’s 1-0 victory over Hapoel Haifa at Haifa Stadium. (photo credit: ERAN LUF)

 
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In front of 15,000 fans and under heavy security on Saturday at Bloomfield Stadium, Hapoel Tel Aviv will meet its city rival for the first Tel Aviv derby of this season.

Although both teams have not been on their best form recently, it promises to be a thrilling clash with pressure on both sides to get the victory. While it is generally accepted that the yellow-and-blue is favored to win the contest, after its lame performance against Beitar Jerusalem on Monday, it seems as if anything is possible.

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Maccabi’s dodgy defense was in shambles in the 4-2 loss to Jerusalem; indeed, at times it appeared as if Tel Aviv’s backfour simply was not there. But the team’s biggest trouble, one that must concern coach Slavisa Jokanovic greatly, is clearly between the spots.

Predrag Rajkovic, touted as a rising goalkeeping star, hasn’t inspired much confidence so far and his errors are quickly becoming major problem.

Rajkovic has conceded 10 goals in eight games and question marks are beginning to emerge over the 19-year-old Serb.

If that isn’t enough, after playing three games in six days, Maccabi needs to stop looking like a tired team. If it want to be a top-tier European club, then the last thing Jokanovic can do is blame crowded schedule as an excuse for the team’s poor performance.

Four days after the derby, Maccabi will host Porto, and Jokanovic may have to decide what is more important – winning on Saturday or the club notching its first points – and goal – in the Champions League.



Meanwhile, on the red side of the city, Hapoel Tel Aviv is stuck in even deeper mud.

After two defeats in a row and just one point separating the team from the relegation line, it seems that if they don’t wake up soon, the Reds will find themselves in the basement.

The uncertainty about Hapoel’s coaching position does not exactly help the situation; it’s still not clear if former national team coach Eli Gutman will return into the arms of his ex. In the interim, temporary coach Walid Badir, who knows his sideline days are numbered, must make some changes on the lineup.

Hapoel’s offensive attack is definitely its weakest link, as the team has only seven goals so far this season, one less than the season tally of Maccabi’s star Eran Zahavi (eight) by himself.

Speaking of crisis, after losing four games in a row Maccabi Petah Tikva will host Maccabi Haifa in Hamoshava Stadium on Saturday aiming to prove that it still belongs in the upper echelons of the league and its amazing start to the season opening was not just a coincidence.

Haifa, it seems, has been involved in everything except for soccer, and the most important mission for coach Roni Levy is making sure his team leaves the dirty laundry at home. However, that is not going to be an easy task.

The atmosphere around the club has deteriorated in recent weeks, while the conflict between the players and the fans is at its peak. Rumors abound that team captain Yossi Benayoun will leave the club in the end of the season after suffering constant verbal abuse from some fans.

Also Saturday, Ironi Kiryat Shmona hosts Hapoel Acre and Bnei Sakhnin meets Hapoel Haifa. On Sunday, Hapoel Kfar Saba visits Bnei Yehuda and Macabi Netanya welcomes Hapoel Beersheba.

There is also plenty of interest heading into Monday’s weekend finale, when Beitar Jerusalem faces Hapoel Ra’anana.

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