soccer ball 88.
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Before the start of the season Maccabi Tel Aviv's first league game against former champion Maccabi Haifa at Tel Aviv's Bloomfield Stadium on Saturday evening would have been seen as a matchup which could have a direct influence on the title race.
But both teams have had their worst starts to a league campaign for many years and find themselves at the foot of the league standings, knowing this weekend's game will be crucial to give them a boost to their confidence and their rankings.
Tel Aviv, which has just one point from three games, is in a bad enough situation, but Haifa's is even worse. The team from the north has scored no goals in the league and lost all three matches, all against sides not considered title contenders.
Haifa coach Roni Levy has suffered increasingly vociferous taunts by his team's fans, which grew stronger after the Toto Cup loss to Maccabi Herzliya in midweek.
On Thursday things went from bad to worse when Levy threw veteran center back Adoram Keisi out of his training session after an argument which could see Keisi not only out of the Maccabi squad for Saturday's game, but maybe even leaving the club all together.
Even before the dramatic incident Levy appeared concerned about Haifa's fate. "We find ourselves in a very bad situation which we want to get out of," Levy told reporters. "We are playing an away game against a team which is also not in a good situation, although Maccabi Tel Aviv is a big club. We want to get back to winning ways and we hope we can do that by playing as a team."
Haifa's young striker Shomi Arbitman is likely to be injured for the game at Bloomfield, leaving Yaniv Katan as the Greens' lone striker.
Also Saturday, second-placed Ironi Kiryat Shmona, which has had a storming start to its first season in the top flight, after promotion from the National League, will visit Maccabi Petah Tikva, which has also won two of its first three.
Preseason title favorite Hapoel Tel Aviv will be looking for its first league win of the season at Eli Ohana's Hapoel Kfar Saba.
Hapoel Tel Aviv midfielder Baruch Dego is likely to be fit for the game after overcoming a recent injury, but midfielder Mazua Ensombo is a doubt.
Matchday four will be completed on Sunday night when league leader Betar Jerusalem travels to Bnei Sakhnin's Doha Stadium in what is likely to be a fiery encounter.
Sakhnin was promoted as National League champion last season and has begun well, currently lying in third place.
There is a history of fan violence at the games, characterized by clashes after a match between the teams in Sakhnin in January 2006 which saw around 20 supporters injured.
Some 500 police and security personnel are expected to attend the game in an effort to prevent repeats of the violence.
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