(photo credit: ADI AVISHAI)
Maccabi Tel Aviv can clinch its second straight Premier League championship in the sweetest of fashions on Saturday night.
A win over arch-rival Hapoel Tel Aviv in the derby at Bloomfield Stadium combined with a Hapoel Beersheba draw or defeat at Bnei Sakhnin earlier in the day will wrap up a record 20th league title for the yellowand- blue.
Maccabi’s 2-1 loss at Sakhnin on Monday snapped a 13-game unbeaten streak, but with an 11-point gap and just five more matches to play, it is a mere formality until Tel Aviv secures a second league title in a row.
The yellow-and-blue has struggled by its lofty standards in recent weeks, winning just two of its past five contests. However, the title race was all but decided already three weeks ago when Maccabi recorded a 2-0 victory over Beersheba, which has picked up just a single point from its past four games.
While it may only be a matter of time until Maccabi officially wins the title, doing so in the derby would make it all the more special.
“It doesn’t matter to me where we win the championship,” said Maccabi coach Paulo Sousa on Thursday.
“Our goal since the start of the season was to win the title and we have worked every day to achieve it.”
Hapoel hopes to claim its first win in the derby since November 2012 to strengthen its hold on fourth place. A fourth-place finish will lead to Europa League qualification for next season assuming third-place Ironi Kiryat Shmona beats Maccabi Netanya in the State Cup final and ends the campaign in the top three as expected.
Hapoel (48 points) currently holds a onepoint edge over Maccabi Haifa and a twopoint gap from Sakhnin.
Haifa hosts Kiryat Shmona on Monday.
There are only three matches remaining for each team in the battle against relegation, with rock-bottom Maccabi Petah Tikva in real danger of already being demoted to the National League on Saturday.
Petah Tikva (24 points), which is six points from safety, hosts Bnei Yehuda (27), which currently sits in the second relegation spot.
Hapoel Acre (30) and Hapoel Ramat Hasharon (30) are three points clear of the danger zone, a gap they will hope to increase on Saturday. Acre welcomes Hapoel Haifa while Ramat Hasharon visits Beitar Jerusalem.
Also Saturday, Hapoel Ra’anana faces Ashdod SC.