Yellow-and-blue up and running with easy win

Maccabi Tel Aviv overcomes PT to begin campaign on right foot; Mac Haifa hosts Sakhnin in new stadium.

Maccabi Tel Aviv secures 3-0 victory over Maccabi Petah Tikva in its Premier League opener.  (photo credit: ASAF KLIGER)
Maccabi Tel Aviv secures 3-0 victory over Maccabi Petah Tikva in its Premier League opener.
(photo credit: ASAF KLIGER)
Maccabi Tel Aviv began its Premier League title defense in convincing fashion on Sunday night, beating Maccabi Petah Tikva 3-0 on the road.
Despite a tumultuous summer, the yellow-and-blue had little trouble getting its campaign off to a winning start as it aims to become just the second team in the past 50 years to claim three consecutive championships.
New coach Pako Ayestaran chose to leave Maccabi’s two biggest signings of the transfer window off the squad, with Eden Ben-Basat and Nosa Igiebor not even making the substitutes bench.
However, Tel Aviv always seemed like the likely winner once Maharan Radi gave it the lead in the 14th minute, with Eran Zahavi (74) and Rade Prica (82) clinching the three points in the second half.
“This was what we were looking for,” said Ayestaran. “I was pleased with the effort shown by the team, but we still have a lot of work to do.”
Ayestaran replaced Oscar Garcia at the helm less than three weeks ago after the latter walked out on the club, claiming that the security situation had disrupted his job to an extent that he no longer felt he could achieve success with Maccabi.
The yellow-and-blue was already knocked out of both the Champions League and the Europa League by the time Pako held his first training session with the players, ensuring he had no distractions as he prepared his squad for the start of the league season, which was postponed by three weeks.
“We started really well, but after that the game was more open than we expected and we need to improve on that,” Ayestaran explained before comparing his time at Maccabi to marriage. “It is still early days. We are still in our honeymoon. Tough times will come for sure.”
It took Maccabi seven minutes to register its first chance of the night, with Tal Ben-Haim leaving Zahavi with the seemingly simple task of beating goalkeeper Itamar Nitzan.
However, last season’s top scorer sent his shot wide with only the ‘keeper to beat and the visitors had to wait until the 14th minute to break the deadlock. Petah Tikva’s defense gave Radi far too much space on the edge of the box and the midfielder fired in the opener from 20 meters out.
Tel Aviv continued to create the better chances in the remainder of the first half, but Petah Tikva was still just one goal down at the break.
Gal Alberman and Ben-Haim should have really doubled Maccabi’s lead in the first 10 minutes of the second half, but they failed to do so and the hosts very nearly equalized in the 70th minute. Oz Peretz had time and space just inside the Tel Aviv box but his shot sailed wide.
Four minutes later, Zahavi effectively ended the match.
After scoring a league-best 29 goals last season, Zahavi surged into the box unchallenged to net his first goal of the 2014/15 campaign.
Prica made the most of an inexplicable Nitzan error to wrap up the scoring eight minutes from time, beating the goalkeeper to a cross and heading the ball into the back of the net.
On Monday, Maccabi Haifa plays its first match at the new Sammy Ofer Stadium when it hosts Bnei Sakhnin in its league opener.
Around 30,000 fans are expected at the stadium, with Haifa desperate to get its campaign off to a winning start after lagging behind early in the title race in each of the past three seasons.
Despite opening two of the last three campaigns with victories, Haifa hasn’t won more than two of its first five matches over the last three years.