Maccabi Tel Aviv defender Tal Ben-Haim (left) and Hapoel Beersheba striker Ben Sahar (right) will clash once more on Monday when the Premier League’s title favorites face off at Turner Stadium..
(photo credit: DANNY MARON)
Hapoel Beersheba and Maccabi Tel Aviv enter Monday’s showdown in desperate need of a win to kick-start their Premier League campaigns, but also petrified that a defeat may derail it completely.
Over the past month, Beersheba has won just two of five matches over all competitions, with Maccabi faring even worse, triumphing in only one of five games.
Israeli soccer’s top two teams haven’t only struggled to win in the Europa League group stage, but have also fallen well short of their level of dominance on the local scene in recent years.
Beersheba, which has won the past two championships and finished in second place the season beforehand, and Maccabi, which claimed three league titles in a row before coming second in the last two years, still remain the favorites to go all the way.
But unlike previous seasons, neither of the teams has managed to set the early pace, giving other clubs hope of lifting the championship shield.
Beersheba and Maccabi will try and make sure that is not the case, but at least one of them, and both in the case of a draw, will be dropping points yet again on Monday.
Beersheba has picked up 13 of a possible 15 points over its past five league matches and is still unbeaten at Turner Stadium since it opened at the start of the 2015/16 campaign, a record run of 37 matches.
But Barak Bachar’s team has lost its past two matches in the Europa League, including 2-1 to Steaua Bucharest at Turner last Thursday, and the coach was fuming after last week’s 3-1 league victory at Hapoel Ra’anana, admonishing his players for their attitude.
Maccabi is coming off a 4-0 loss at Astana in Kazakhstan in Europa League action after beating Bnei Yehuda 2-0 in its most recent league game following two consecutive draws.
“We have many injured players and our situation is far from ideal, but we are already used to this,” said Bachar on Sunday.
“We will not use this as an excuse.
If we bring the spirit we showed against Steaua it doesn’t really matter who will be in the lineup. If we can build on the form, aggressiveness and commitment we showed in our last match we will control our fate.”
Both Beersheba and Maccabi are chasing Hapoel Haifa, which continued its sensational start to the season on Sunday with a 1-0 win at Bnei Sakhnin. Haifa remained the league’s only unbeaten team and picked up three more points courtesy of Eden Ben-Basat’s winner in the 83rd minute.
Ben-Basat returned from injury when he came on as a substitute in the 70th minute, and while he returned to the bench just 16 minutes later due to his lack of match fitness, it was enough time for him to score his sixth league goal of the campaign.
Also Sunday, Maccabi Petah Tikva beat Hapoel Ashkelon 3-1 on the road.
Lidor Cohen netted the opener in the 26th minute before setting up goals for Shlomi Arbeitman (41) and Yuval Avidor (69), with Mirko Oremus (59) scoring Ashkelon’s goal. Ashkelon played with 10 men from the 45th minute following Milan Smiljanic’s sending off, with Petah Tikva losing a man in the 58th minute after Idan Adani was shown a red card.