maccabi haifa 298 88 ap.
(photo credit: AP [file])
Reigning champion Maccabi Haifa is now in pole position to win a historic third straight championship, after drawing 0-0 with Hapoel Tel Aviv last week and maintaning its 13-point lead at the top of the table.
But the race for second place has turned into an intriguing battle between archrivals Betar Jerusalem and Hapoel Tel Aviv.
Russian tycoon Lev Leviev agreed to take over 75 percent of Hapoel earlier this week challenging Arkadi Gaydamak's Betar and adding a new dimension to the rivalry.
Bnei Yehuda hosts Hapoel Petah Tikwa at the Bloomfield stadium in today's afternoon fixture (15:30, Channel 5+). Nitzan Shirazi's men have not won in their last six league games and will be desperate to get back to winning ways.
Dror Kashtan's Hapoel Tel Aviv faces Maccabi Petah Tikwa. Youngster Rami Halis is expected to replace Gahnaian John Pantsil at right back.
Petah Tikwa will be without Brazilian Andre Caldeira, who is lacking match fitness after suffering from flu like symptoms all week.
Frontrunner Maccabi Haifa hosts last placed Hapoel Kfar Saba and is expected to prevail with relative ease despite losing forward Yaniv Katan, who officially signed with West ham United earlier this week.
Haifa coach Roni Levi is expected to promote Shlomi Arbitman to the starting lineup. Michael Zandberg has a groin injury and is doubtful for the game.
Dutchman Ton Caanen will be looking for his first win since he took over at Maccabi Tel Aviv as his team hosts Ashdod SC, which impressed last week in its 2-0 win over Bnei Yehuda. New signing Javi Gonzalez will not play for the visitors as he is not yet familiar with Yossi Mizrahi's game plan.
Maccabi Netanya takes on Motti Iwanir's Upper Nazareth at "The Box", with both teams looking for the win in order to keep a safe distance from the relegation zone.
Netanya's Congolese midfielder Alain Masudi was also expected to leave for the African Nations Cup earlier this week, but coach Reuven Atar has convinced the skillful forward to fly to Cairo only after the crucial game against Nazareth.
Betar Jerusalem travels to Doha Stadium on Sunday evening (20:50, Channel 10) to face Abas Suan and Bnei Sakhnin, in what promises to be a tense and emotional fixture.
Frenchman Jerome Leroy is finally expected to make his debut for the yellow-and-black and form a formidable duo with the physical Jeff Tutuana in midfield.
The Football Association has yet to approve Igor Mitresky's contract and the Macedonian sweeper will not be available this weekend.
Petah Tikwa's Omer Buksenbaum has sustained a season ending knee injury and Ashdod SC defensive midfielder Guy Shamir has agreed on a contract with the blues to replace him in the squad.