Soccer: Yellow-and-blue feel heat ahead of Petah Tikva duel

It doesn’t take much to generate pressure at Maccabi Tel Aviv.

Maccabi Tel Aviv's Eran Zahavi celebrates a goal (photo credit: ERAN LUF)
Maccabi Tel Aviv's Eran Zahavi celebrates a goal
(photo credit: ERAN LUF)
It doesn’t take much to generate pressure at Maccabi Tel Aviv.
Had Beitar Jerusalem’s Omer Atzili not found the back of the net in the 93rd minute on Monday, the yellow-and-blue would have been in cruise control entering Saturday’s match at Hapoel Petah Tikva.
However, Atzili’s header did force a dramatic 1-1 draw, meaning the two-time defending champion is feeling the heat with the gap from league-leader Ironi Kiryat Shmona back at four points.
There is no stopping Maccabi’s Eran Zahavi, who has scored in the past 15 matches in which he has played, with his overall tally over that stretch reaching 22 goals, 13 of them this season.
However, he hasn’t received enough help from his teammates and Maccabi could find itself in dire straits should the recent rumors connecting Zahavi with a move to English Premier League club Tottenham in the January transfer window come to fruition.
Zahavi doesn’t have a January release clause in his contract, but the yellow-and-blue will likely accept an offer in the region of five million euros to allow him to leave in the middle of the season.
In the meantime, Maccabi just wants to get back to winning ways when it visits Petah Tikva, which is just two points off the relegation zone but is brimming with confidence after beating Maccabi Petah Tikva in the derby on Monday.
The still-unbeaten Kiryat Shmona hosts Hapoel Acre on Saturday, with Acre winning just two of 12 matches so far this season.
Hapoel Beersheba, which is three points back of Kiryat Shmona in second place, visits Bnei Sakhnin.
While Beersheba has won its last five matches at home, including the past two by a 4-0 score-line, it is winless in its last three road encounters, claiming all three points only twice in six contests away from Vasermil Stadium.
Kiryat Shmona, Beersheba and Maccabi Tel Aviv have already established their superiority over the rest of the league, but there has so far been very little to separate the remaining 11 teams.
There is only a five-point gap between Ashdod SC in fourth place and rock-bottom Hapoel Haifa, meaning every team can still dream of European qualification, while at the same time fearing the threat of relegation.
Hapoel Tel Aviv (15 points) hosts Maccabi Petah Tikva (16) on Saturday, with Ashdod (16) visiting Maccabi Netanya (14).
On Sunday, Hapoel Haifa (11) welcomes Maccabi Haifa (15) in the first derby to be held at Sammy Ofer Stadium, while Beitar Jerusalem (15) hosts Hapoel Ra’anana (12) on Monday.