maccabi haifa 311.
(photo credit: Adi Avishai)
Two defeats in four days have raised the pressure at Maccabi Haifa to a level not experienced so far this season, and Hapoel Tel Aviv can make matters even worse should it defeat Hapoel Acre at Bloomfield Stadium on Saturday evening and cut the gap at the top to just five points.
After suffering its second defeat in five Premier League matches on Sunday, losing 2-1 at Bnei Sakhnin, Haifa was sensationally knocked out of the State Cup on Wednesday, falling 2-1 to lowly Hapoel Ramat Gan in the round of 16.
Maccabi’s fate still remains well and truly in its hands, but its aura of invincibility took two severe hits in the past week.
With its lead over Hapoel to be halved in three weeks time, the Reds are starting to once more believe they can catch the reigning champion.
Haifa doesn’t host Hapoel Petah Tikva, which is unbeaten in its last 10 league matches, until Sunday and may well only hold a five-point lead over Tel Aviv by then, assuming its title rival claims an expected home win over Acre.
“The loss to Ramat Gan was a continuation of what happened against Sakhnin,” Haifa coach Elisha Levy said. “Unfortunately we played poorly, but we must lift ourselves and make sure we retain our league title.”
Tel Aviv will be a clear favorite to get the better of Acre, having won six of its last seven league games and easily dispatching Maccabi Kabilio Jaffa 5-0 in the cup on Tuesday.
On Thursday it was reported that Haifa has committed to retaining Levy’s services for next season even if the team ends up failing to win a single title this term.
Betar Jerusalem will be expecting to continue its renaissance under David Amsalem on Saturday when it hosts the struggling Ahi Nazareth.
Betar has won four straight league matches since Amsalem took charge and advanced to the quarterfinals of the cup on Wednesday with a penalty shootout victory over Maccabi Tel Aviv.
The yellow-and-blue have gone in the opposite direction to Betar in the past month, failing to win in their last five league encounters before crashing out of the cup at Teddy Stadium.
Tel Aviv also faces a tough match on Saturday when it visits an Ashdod SC side boosted by its midweek cup triumph over Sakhnin.
Aviv will be without Maor Buzaglo on Saturday after the midfielder was
suspended indefinitely on Thursday for refusing to enter Wednesday's
cup match as a substitute in the 112th minute.
Maccabi Netanya hosts Sakhnin, Bnei Yehuda visits Hapoel Beersheba,
Maccabi Petah Tikva welcomes Hapoel Haifa and Hapoel Ra’anana travels
to Ramat Gan in a six-point relegation battle.