Mac Haifa 298.88.
(photo credit: Blake-Ezra Cole)
The Premier League is heading towards the finish line with frontrunner Maccabi Haifa not in the best of form, but the prospect of a championship race still seems unrealistic.
Haifa is on a rare two-game losing streak (in league action), with traumatic losses to Hapoel Tel Aviv and Betar Jerusalem, but is still enjoying a convincing 10-point lead at the top of the league standings that will most likely prove too large to bridge.
The reigning champion is close to signing Nir Davidovitch to a new deal that will keep him at the club for another three seasons. The experienced goalkeeper is expected to make around $250,000 per season.
Maccabi Haifa will be looking to get back to winning ways as it hosts Nitzan Shirazi's Bnei Yehuda at the Kiryat Eliezer stadium.
Arik Benado will be absent from the game, after injuring his thigh in Wednesday's State Cup quarterfinal against Maccabi Petah Tikva. The defender will have to undergo further examinations next week before a return date is set.
Things are also starting to clear up at the bottom of the standings, with three teams in direct danger of relegation. Hapoel Kfar Saba is still in last place, while Bnei Sakhnin and Upper Nazareth are fighting to avoid the doomed 11th spot.
Hapoel Petah Tikva will try to build on last week's heroic win at Netanya as it takes on Ashdod SC in the Matchday 26 opener on Friday afternoon. The hosts will be without star striker Toto Tamuz, who is suspended after being sent off last week.
Shai Holtzman has recovered from a nagging foot injury and is expected to be back in Yossi Mizrahi's starting line up. The veteran striker is currently the league's top goalscorer, with 13 goals this season.
Ton Caanen's Maccabi Tel Aviv travels north to Doha Stadium, hoping to secure a positive result against Bnei Sakhnin. The yellowand-blue, who have not won in their last four games, will welcome back Eyal Berkovic after the Israel Football Association postponed a third of his six-game suspension to next season.
Shiye Faigenbaum, also known as "The Savior" because of his motivational skills, will make his league debut as Sakhnin coach and anything less than a win can end the team's chances to survive in the top flight.
"If we beat Maccabi Tel Aviv, our chances [of avoiding relegation] will improve drastically," Faigenbaum told reporters ahead of the game. "I will do my level best for Sakhnin so that it can stay in the Premier League for another season."
Guy Luzon's Maccabi Petah Tikva will be looking to rebound from its disappointing exit from the State Cup earlier this week when it faces visiting Maccabi Netanya.
Last week's surprise winner over Hapoel Tel Aviv, Hapoel Kfar Saba, takes on Motti Ivanir's Upper Nazareth at Levita Stadium, in a crucial bottom-of-the-table fixture.
Kfar Saba has started its preparations for next season, and is negotiating contract extensions with top stars Ben Luz and Shalev Menashe.
The final match of the weekend pits second-place Betar Jerusalem against third-place Hapoel Tel Aviv at sold-out Bloomfield Stadium on Sunday night.
Mazua Ensombo is injured and is doubtful for the yellow-and-black. Tomer Ben-Yosef is suspended after being sent off last week against Maccabi Haifa.
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