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Hapoel Tel Aviv will be hoping to cut into Betar Jerusalem's four-point advantage during Matchday 9 as the Premier League returns after taking a break last weekend to help the national team in its preparations for its Euro 2008 qualifier against Croatia.
The break and extended training sessions didn't do Israel any good, as the team played poorly in a 4-3 loss at National Stadium.
Hapoel Tel Aviv, which only had one player on the Israel squad, hosts Maccabi Netanya on Saturday evening, with both clubs needing a win to put pressure on Betar.
Hapoel is four points behind with a match in hand and, despite not playing impressively this season, has managed to grind out wins. Netanya is tied on points with Hapoel and has only lost once so far this season.
Maccabi Haifa hosts Hapoel Petah Tikva in a must-win match at Kiryat Eliezer. Haifa has won only two of its first seven matches and another setback is out of the question.
The three-time defending champions are only in ninth place in the standings, but are confident following a Matchday 8, 1-1 draw with Betar at Teddy Stadium. The greens trail Betar by eight points, but still feel that they are in contention for the title.
Petah Tikva has improved in recent weeks, winning and drawing its last two matches, respectively, after losing five of its first six league games. The club is still in the relegation zone and any kind of positive result in Haifa will be a huge bonus.
Haifa coach Roni Levy has a full squad at his disposal and is expected to start the team's strongest lineup.
Maccabi Tel Aviv will be looking for its fourth straight victory on Saturday after only winning once in the first five matches of the season. Maccabi has shown improvement and has enjoyed some good fortune in the last three matches, and another win against Maccabi Herzliya will strengthen the team's place in the table.
"I told my players that these are the matches that we need to win," Tel Aviv coach Eli Cohen said. "We need to come primed and prepared for anything that can happen. I think my players are ready for the match."
Herzliya is at the rock bottom of the table and Saturday's match will be the first in charge for new coach Freddy David, who begins his second tenure in charge of the Sharon-area club.
Bnei Yehuda hasn't won in four matches and will have a great opportunity to end its poor streak when it hosts Ashdod SC. The visitors have lost their last two league matches and a third straight defeat would be a big blow for temporary coach Alon Hazan.
Hapoel Kfar Saba will try to recapture its early season form on Friday when it visits Hakoah Amidar Ramat Gan. Hakoah has only one win so far this season and is desperate for points in its fight against relegation.
On Sunday, Betar Jerusalem visits Maccabi Petah Tikva in the final game of Matchday 9.
Friday's match: Hakoah Amidar Ramat Gan vs Hapoel Kfar Saba, 2:30 p.m. Saturday: Hapoel Tel Aviv vs Maccabi Netanya, 5:20 p.m. (live on Sport1 [Channel 54]); Bnei Yehuda vs Ashdod SC, 6:30 p.m.; Maccabi Haifa vs Hapoel Petah Tikva, 7:15 p.m (live on Sport2 [Channel 53]); Maccabi Herzliya vs Maccabi Tel Aviv, 7:30 p.m. (live on Sport1). Sunday: Maccabi Petah Tikva vs Betar Jerusalem, 8:50 p.m. (live on Channel 10).
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