(photo credit: Asaf Kliger)
In the biggest match of the weekend, defending champion Betar Jerusalem takes on arch rival Hapoel Tel Aviv at the Bloomfield stadium on Sunday evening in front of the intense atmosphere of a sold-out crowd. It will be the first meeting of two championship hopefuls this season and one which could provide the winner with a significant psychological fillip.
The game will mark Betar coach Itzhak Shum's first return to Tel Aviv since he guided the Reds to historic UEFA Cup wins last season, before being replaced by Nir Levin. The seasoned coach is not planning big changes in his starting 11, but might give Chilean playmaker Miroslav Mirosevic the nod to bolster his attack.
The Premier League is already providing its fair share of drama. Numerous coaches are starting to feel the heat from their managements and star players are becoming the target of frustrated supporters' anger. Betar Jerusalem is already aiming to create an early lead at the top of the table and put extra pressure on its challengers; however Hapoel will hope to unsettle Betar's confidence.
Maccabi Haifa will be looking to kick start its season on Saturday. Roni Levy's side travels south to take on the emerging Ashdod SC after being humbled by newly promoted Bnei Sakhnin last week.
Yaniv Katan is expected to make his season debut, however the Greens are already dealing with some internal problems, after controversial star Giovanni Rosso was signed over the summer. Anything less than a win could cost the Haifa coach dearly since the tension is already mounting in his camp.
Ashdod could prove to be a tricky proposition. It managed an impressive 1-1 away draw with Maccabi Tel Aviv last week.
"We made a bad start, but we'll have many more chances to make amends," Alon Harazi commented ahead of the game. "Ashdod is a strong team, but I'm sure we can come back with a good result. It's good that people expect us to fight for the title. I'm sure we'll get better as the new players settle down."
Haifa will have to manage without new signing Renato, who has not been officially released by his former club Corinthians. The Brazilian playmaker is considered to be the Green's biggest acquisition this summer, but he won't be able to make his official debut tomorrow due to the pending paperwork. Rosso will continue to start in midfield, despite his mediocre performance against Sakhnin.
Maccabi Tel Aviv is another powerhouse struggling to find its groove at the start of the season. The team put in a lackluster performance against Ashdod last week, with Avi Nimni scoring a late equalizer to avoid defeat. Shareholder Eli Manna is reportedly seeking a new coach to replace under fire Eli Cohen.
Tel Aviv will go into its game against Maccabi Petah Tikva as the favorite. However the "Luzons" are also looking to get off the mark, following a stinging defeat to Eli Ohana's Hapoel Kfar Saba. The yellow-and-blue will have to manage without the injured Avi Yihiel and Milan Martinovic, who were regular starters last season.
In other Premier League fixtures, Nitzan Shirazi's Bnei Yehuda will take on Hapoel Kfar Saba. The "Oranges" were humiliated 0-3 by Betar Jerusalem in their season opener and will also be eager to get off the mark. Maccabi Herzliya plays host to Reuven Atar's Maccabi Netanya in another Saturday game and Ironi Kiryat Shmona will visit Bnei Sakhnin.