maccabi haifa 298.88.
(photo credit: AP)
The three teams at the bottom of the Premier League standings will play a crucial role in the championship race on Saturday evening when they face the three main challengers for the league title.
Maccabi Herzliya, Hakoah Amidar Ramat Gan and Hapoel Petah Tikva are all hoping to improve their chances of avoiding relegation when they play Betar Jerusalem, Maccabi Haifa and Hapoel Tel Aviv, respectively.
Any success the strugglers achieve in Matchday 17 could have a significant bearing on their opponents' championship prospects. The season is already at the halfway mark and points are at a premium in a title race that is the tightest in recent memory.
Betar travels to Herzliya looking to rebound from its disappointing 0-0 draw against Maccabi Netanya at Teddy Stadium last week. Coach Yossi Mizrahi will have new Brazilian signings Livonir (Tuto) Ruschel and Cleber (Schwenk) Tiene at his disposal, but will be without the injured Shimon Gershon.
Jerusalem has struggled with its consistency throughout the season, but has not conceded a goal in its last three matches and is facing a team which has won only one home match all season long.
Maccabi Haifa visits Hakoah Amidar Ramat Gan on Saturday, hoping to record its fifth win in six matches. The last time the clubs met in late October, they treated fans to a 3-3 thriller that cost Haifa two points in the championships race.
Maccabi, which has won the last three league titles, has closed in on Betar in recent weeks and cannot afford to drop any more points on Saturday.
Hakoah defeated Herzliya 2-1 last week in what was its second win of the season and first in more then four months. The victory propelled the team out of the relegation zone and any kind of positive result against Haifa would be another huge confidence boost.
Hapoel Tel Aviv hosts Hapoel Petah Tikva at Bloomfield Stadium and will look to return to winning ways after its 3-2 loss to Haifa last week. Tel Aviv, which signed Chilean striker Manuel Neira on Thursday, was outclassed for the first 45 minutes of the match in Kiryat Eliezer, but will be encouraged by the fact that it got two goals back in the second half with only 10 men.
Despite failing to record a victory in almost four months, Petah Tikva is only four points from safety and is alive and kicking in the fight against relegation. Petah Tikva has drawn three of its last five matches and will be happy to settle for a similar result once more on Saturday.
Second placed Ashdod SC will need to improve its defending on Saturday when it hosts Maccabi Netanya. Ashdod has conceded six goals and dropped four points in its last three matches. The hosts have allowed at least one goal in their last 11 matches.
Netanya, on the other hand, has not conceded a single goal in its last three matches and has four points in Reuven Atar's first two games since rejoining the club.
Maccabi Petah Tikva hosts Hapoel Kfar Saba in a match both teams desperately need to win. Petah Tikva has only one win in its last five games and Kfar Saba has failed to take all three points in its last six matches. A victory on Saturday could be a turning point for either side.
Bnei Yehuda faces Maccabi Tel Aviv at Bloomfield Stadium on Sunday night to wrap up Matchday 17.