maccabi haifa 88.
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Maccabi Haifa and Maccabi Netanya face off on Saturday night in a match that could prove crucial to the remainder of their campaigns.
Both teams have won their last three league matches and have recently looked like the only sides capable of giving defending champion Betar Jerusalem a run for its money.
Netanya, which finished in second position last season, is currently three points behind league leader Betar, with Haifa a further four points adrift.
Few analysts expected Netanya to end last season as runner-up, but the team has proven in its recent matches that last year wasn't a one-off and that it has every intention of finishing among the top clubs for a second straight season.
Haifa faces Betar at Kiryat Eliezer Stadium next week and may remarkably find itself challenging for the title should it win its next two matches.
Coach Roni Levy's team appeared to be in a shambles after losing its first three league games without even scoring a goal. However Levy has managed to resurrect his side and renew the excitement among the fans that were calling for his head several weeks ago. The match against Betar is almost sold-out, but for that encounter to hold such importance the team will need to first win on the road against Netanya on Saturday.
"Netanya is a quality side and has been very consistent," Levy told reporters on Thursday. "It's very difficult to score against Netanya, but we're playing well and we will try to reach chances and score.
"I know people are already talking about the match against Betar, but we're concentrating on Netanya. Saturday's match is the most important at the moment and after we get through it we can look ahead."
Despite ending last season above Haifa in the standings, and despite an excellent start to the current campaign, Netanya star Itai Shechter still regards his team as the underdog against Haifa.
"I don't think we're better than Haifa even though were positioned higher in the standings," Shechter said. "Maccabi Netanya is still only Maccabi Netanya and we will work hard and try to win every match. The league has only just begun and we need to take care of our business."
Hapoel Kiryat Shmona will look to maintain its perfect home record on Saturday when it hosts Hapoel Kfar Saba. The visitors are winless in their last three league matches and will be keen to finally collect points to put distance between themselves and the bottom of the table.
Third placed Bnei Sakhnin visits Maccabi Herzliya, with both team's coming off encouraging victories last week. Sakhnin surprised Hapoel Tel Aviv at the Doha Stadium while Herzliya got the better of Kfar Saba in the Sharon derby.
Bnei Yehuda hosts Maccabi Petah Tikva in a match between two teams that suffered disappointing defeats last week. Bnei Yehuda lost 3-0 to Ashdod SC, with Petah Tikva dropping an early lead and falling 2-1 to Betar.
On Sunday, Betar will look to put another nail in the coffin of Maccabi Tel Aviv when its hosts the last placed side at Teddy Stadium. Hapoel Tel Aviv, which played against Anderlecht in the UEFA Cup on Thursday night, faces Ashdod SC on Monday.