Countdown to campaign kick-off over

Two-time reigning champ Maccabi Haifa the clear favorite in Israel Premier League, but intrigue abounds across league

 FRANTZDY PIERROT (front) and Maccabi Haifa are looking to three-peat in the Israel Premier League, while they are also still vying for a Champions League group stage spot. (photo credit: Maccabi Haifa/Courtesy)
FRANTZDY PIERROT (front) and Maccabi Haifa are looking to three-peat in the Israel Premier League, while they are also still vying for a Champions League group stage spot.
(photo credit: Maccabi Haifa/Courtesy)

The 2022/23 Israel Premier League soccer campaign gets under way on Saturday evening as 14 teams will once again vie for supremacy in the 36-game season.

Of course, there are only a small handful of clubs that will really threaten for the title, but there are plenty of terrific storylines that will weave their way through between August and May, as the season will feature a month-long break in November and December for the 2022 Qatar World Cup.

The 14 teams span the country from as far north as Kiryat Shmona right on top of the Lebanese border all the way down to the southern capital of Beersheba. As usual, there will be a regular season before the teams are divided into two for a Championship Playoff and Relegation Playoff.

Let’s take a look at what the fans are going to expect on and off the pitch this season:

Maccabi Haifa

The reigning titles holder will look to defend its league title and become a three-peat champion under head coach Barak Bachar, who will try to turn the trick for the second time in his career after having done so with Hapoel Beersheba between 2016-2018.

 Israel's U19 soccer National Team heads for European Championship. (credit: Seb Day - UEFA via Sportsfile) Israel's U19 soccer National Team heads for European Championship. (credit: Seb Day - UEFA via Sportsfile)

The Greens have a number of returning attacking stars as Tjaron Chery, Dolev Haziza, Ali Mohamed and Omer Atzily will all feature at Sammy Ofer Stadium along with defenders Sean Goldberg and Bojan Planic.However, Haifa has also strengthened its scoring threats – with striker Frantzdy Pierrot and Nikita Rukavytsya – while also bringing on board a pair of wingbacks in Pierre Cornud and Daniel Sundgren. Add to that a top-of-the-line ’keeper in American-Israeli Josh Cohen and there will be very few teams that will be able to match the quality that the Greens bring to the table. But should they advance to the UEFA Champions League group stages, they will be put to a serious test over the first half of the season and it should not be taken for granted that they will finish atop the table as no team in Israeli soccer history has won the league after playing in the exclusive continental competition.

Maccabi Tel AvivThe yellow-and-blue welcomed back a number of familiar faces to the fold at Bloomfield Stadium over the summer as former head coach Vladen Ivic – who won back-to-back titles with the club in 2019 and 2020 – has returned to take over as bench boss once again. In addition to the Serbian tactician, Israeli superstar striker Eran Zahavi also moved back to the Holy Land and pulled on the No. 7 shirt once again after having torn up the Chinese league as well as the Eredivisie in Holland.

Midfielder Dor Peretz also made his way back to Maccabi after a season abroad in Italy with Venezia while the yellow-and-blue added Nir Bitton, who returned to Israel after a decade playing with Celtic in Scotland. Ivic will also rely on a number of players who joined the team last year in strikers Djordje Jovanovic, Stipe Perica, along with midfielders Brandley Kuwas and Gaby Kanichowsky to go along with newcomer Joris van Overeem. In goal, youngster Daniel Peretz continues to amaze as defenders Enric Saborit and Andre Geraldes are steady in the back line. However, the big question will be if Maccabi has enough depth to challenge Haifa this season for the championship.

Hapoel BeershebaThe Southern Reds will have their former iconic striker, Elyaniv Barda, on the sidelines as he begins his first full season in charge of the club. Barda made some wholesale changes to his squad for the new campaign after capturing the Israel State Cup to end last season back in May, with the first big signing being striker Tomer Hemed, who makes his return to Israel after a number of years abroad in Spain, England and most recently Australia. Another newcomer is on-loan Russian winger Magomed-Shapi Suleymanov, along with Kosovo forward Astrit Selmani while Mariano Bareiro, Helder Lopes and Andre Martins all return. Captain Miguel Vitor, who recently obtained Israeli citizenship, anchors the defense in front of ’keeper Omri Glazer, who has been coming into his own over the past year, while Tomer Yosefi, Rotem Hatuel and Ramzi Safiuri will look to make an impact down south.

Beitar Jerusalem

What would a summer be without oodles of drama coming from the yellow-and-black camp as the transfer of ownership from Moshe Hogeg to Barak Abaramov took right until the absolute last second as Beitar avoided dropping into the lower divisions. The uncertainty that surrounded the club did not allow head coach Yossi Abukasis the ability to build a competitive squad and also begin training with a clear head. This will now affect what will be a tumultuous start to the season both on and off the pitch as the club will also not be able to play at Teddy Stadium for quite some time. An electrical fire damaged the entire facility this past week, which will force Beitar to play home games for the next while at the Moshava Stadium in Petach Tikva.

However, there are some bright spots for Beitar as ’keeper Netanel Daloya will get every opportunity to develop into a top level stopper, while Yarden Shua and Aviel Zargari will also see significant playing time. As for imports, the capital city squad will need to make additions in that area as only Danilo Asprilla from Hapoel Beersheba  and holdover Gleofilo Hasselbaink are signed for the upcoming campaign. Abukasis will have his hands full for the first half of the season as his number one priority will be to keep his team from falling too far down the standings.

Maccabi Netanya

Head coach Benny Lam returned back home to his childhood club and helped energize a franchise that needed a boost in order to get to the next level. While Lam was able to lead the club to European qualification, the real test will be for the team to be able to build upon the base of success that it had last campaign. Longtime ’keeper Dani Amos departed and was replaced by former Beitar Jerusalem shot-stopper Itamar Nitzan while Serbian marksman Igor Zlatanovic returns to carry the attack for the diamond city side. Other players who are looking to improve their upward tick are forward Patrick Twumasi and midfielders Omri Gandelman and Boris Enow.

Hapoel Tel Aviv

Kobi Refuah’s squad will try and keep the ship steady after a season that saw it hit a number of its goals, including playing in the Championship Playoffs. Once again, the Reds will look to feature many young players including Osher Davida, Stav Lemkin and Under-19 stars El Yam Kancepolsky and Or Israelov, while mixing in veterans Dan Einbinder, Ben Bitton, Idan Vered and Shlomi Azulay. Two newcomers to the club Alen Ozbolt and ’keeper Stefan Marinovic will try to make their mark as well.

Bnei Sakhnin

Head coach Haim Silvas is back for the Arab-Israeli team which won the 2004 State Cup. While those days are long ago, Silvas was able to maneuver the team into the Championship Playoffs last season thanks to the return of former Israeli international Beram Kayal, who was magnificent in his role as captain and being the club’s most significant player. Together with midfielders Marwan Kabha and Nicolao Dumitru, defenders Abdallah Jaber, Fabian Sporkslede and Ante Puljic and striker Guy Melamed, Silvas will try and duplicate the feat once again.

Hapoel Haifa

With Nir Klinger on the Carmel Reds bench, one can say that anything may happen. The club could surprise many and threaten to be part of the Championship Playoffs or it could bottom out and find itself fighting against relegation. Veteran midfielders Hanan Maman and Gidi Kanuk will orchestrate the offense while strikers Alon Turgeman and Shoval Gozlan will be counted on to provide the goal scoring. Also on board are Gal Arel, Dor Malul, Liran Sardel and Loai Taha plus imports Leandro Silva and Nichita Motpan in the midfield, which gives Klinger hope that his team can be a serious contender this season.

Maccabi Bnei Reineh

Bnei Sakhnin won’t be the only Arab-Israeli run club in the Israel Premier League this season as Bnei Reineh joins it in the country’s top-flight division. Head coach Adham Hadiya will no doubt have his hands full with the top priority being to have a solid first season and the team not find itself in the relegation battle. Veteran ’keeper Arik Yanko will be in goal and former Maccabi Tel Aviv midfielder Ruslan Barsky will both be relied on to lead the squad into the unknown while Benson Shilongo will be a player to watch on the offensive side of the game.

Hapoel Hadera

It will take plenty of hard work if new Hadera head coach Assaf Nimni wants to duplicate the club’s success from last season, especially after a huge turnover in personnel. Menashe Zalka will captain the squad, which will heavily rely on imports Jonathan Cisse and Samy Bourard to provide the attack together with Israeli Saar Fadida.

Ironi Kiryat Shmona

Head coach Menachem Koretzky will try and replicate the fine season he had in charge of Hapoel Hadera last season up north as owner Izzy Sheratzky identified the bench boss midway through last campaign as the person he wanted to have in charge of his club. Veteran midfielder Roie Kehat will be the conductor of the offense while Mohammed Shaker will be counted on to find the back of the goal along with Itamar Shviro.

Ashdod SC

Ran Ben Shimon is back with the port city squad for his third season and will attempt to put together a surprise package to play not only entertaining soccer but also create havoc for the table leaders. Yoav Gerafi returns as the club’s netminder while Yaniv Mizrachi up front, along with imports Lucas Salinas and Nenad Cvetkovic, will be critical components for the upcoming season.

Hapoel Jerusalem

The capital city Reds will once again look to fend off relegation, which they did last season under head coach Ziv Arie. This season, however, Hapoel may not be as fortunate as it has been in the past. The club will feature a pair of budding stars in Goni Naor and Ahmed Salman along with many other youngsters and an inconsistent ’keeper in Adebayo Adeleye.

Sektzia Ness Ziona

Nir Berkovic’s crew will also be trying to stay up in the top league after earning promotion as the bench boss will rely primarily on veteran players to do so. Freddy Plumain will be counted on for production along with Ness Zamir, Aboubakar Keita and Almog Buzaglo, while Uri Magbo and Tal Kahila will steady the back line.