(photo credit: Asaf Kliger)
Despite leading the league by two points and defeating three-time reigning champion Maccabi Haifa 4-1 on Sunday, Betar Jerusalem enters its Matchday 25 meeting with Maccabi Petah Tikva more stressed than ever.
The relative calm that settled over the club after the victory over Haifa came to an abrupt end Wednesday when Betar lost 3-0 to Hapoel Kfar Saba in their Toto Cup semifinal.
The defeat to Kfar Saba, combined with Hapoel Tel Aviv's and Maccabi Tel Aviv's recent league runs, has increased the pressure on Betar coach Yossi Mizrahi, who realizes that a repeat of Wednesday's performance against Petah Tikva would likely result in his team's fourth defeat of the league season.
"If we play in the same way we did against Kfar Saba, we will lose the match [on Saturday]," said Mizrahi. "The defeat to Kfar Saba was a wake-up call and I believe it taught us a lesson.
"We weren't disciplined and played arrogantly against Kfar Saba. There are no easy matches or inferior opponents in the Premier League."
Petah Tikva has recaptured its early season form over the last couple of weeks, winning its last two matches after losing five of its previous seven games.
Betar has failed to defeat Maccabi twice this season, losing 3-1 the last time it traveled to play the team in Petah Tikva and managing only a 0-0 draw at Teddy Stadium.
Maccabi Tel Aviv will be looking to extend its unbeaten streak to 20 matches on Saturday when it visits Ashdod SC.
Maccabi, which has won 10 and drawn nine of its last 19 matches, faces an Ashdod side that, despite its improved performances in recent weeks, is struggling to collect points. Ashdod has only won one of its last 10 matches and will be without coach Alon Hazan on Saturday after he was suspended for three matches for his reaction to his squad's 2-1 defeat at Hapoel Tel Aviv last week.
Maccabi Netanya will have an ideal opportunity to end its two-match losing streak when it hosts last-place Hapoel Petah Tikva on Saturday.
Netanya lost to Hapoel and Maccabi Tel Aviv in its last two league games, but will be the odds-on favorite to return to winning ways on Saturday.
Petah Tikva has drawn its last two matches and will be hoping to record its longest unbeaten run of the season by avoiding defeat once more at Netanya.
Fellow strugglers Hakoah Amidar Ramat Gan and Maccabi Herzliya will also play away from home on Saturday against Hapoel Kfar Saba and Bnei Yehuda, respectively.
Hakoah, which lost 2-0 to Herzliya in their Toto Cup semifinal on Tuesday, has dropped three of its last four league games and will have a difficult time against a Kfar Saba club which is on the rise after its mid-week win over Betar.
Herzliya has lost its last five games in the Premier League and plays a Bnei Yehuda squad which has remarkably drawn nine matches on its current 12-game unbeaten run.
Maccabi Haifa, whose UEFA Cup Round-of-16 match against Espanyol finished after press time Thursday night, hosts Hapoel Tel Aviv in the Matchday 25 finale Sunday night.