Israeli Premier League promises interesting season

On August 25, 14 teams will begin their quest to become champions of Israel’s top football league, the 'Ligat Winner.'

HAPOEL BEERSHEBA rallied from an early two-goal deficit to earn a 2-2 first-leg draw with APOLE Nicosia on Thursday night in Europa League qualification. (photo credit: DANNY MARON)
HAPOEL BEERSHEBA rallied from an early two-goal deficit to earn a 2-2 first-leg draw with APOLE Nicosia on Thursday night in Europa League qualification.
(photo credit: DANNY MARON)
Hapoel Beersheba were crowned champions of last year’s edition after they topped Maccabi Tel-Aviv. In this preview, we will highlight some of the top teams and players to watch in the 2018/2019 Israeli Premier League.
Hapoel Beersheba will look to retain their title, however the Israeli Premier League is known as a tough and equal league.  Only six foreign players are allowed on each first team, and this ensures that big money is not allowed to buy a team of foreign superstars and run away with the league title.
Hapoel Beersheba will be led by a mix of foreign players and Israeli talent.  Israeli forward Hanan Maman was the team’s player of the season last year, and the foreign contingent of Portuguese defender Miguel Vítor and Nigerians John Ogu and Anthony Nwakaeme bring star power.
Hapoel Beersheba faced a tough 7-2 aggregate defeat to Croatian side Dinamo Zagreb in the Champions League second qualifying round.  They dropped down to Europa League qualifying and will face Cypriot side APOEL Nicosia in the third qualifying round. Nevertheless, according to Betway Sports, Hapoel Beersheba are favorites to come out on top in their tie against the Cypriots. 
Runners-up last year, Maccabi Tel-Aviv are a perennial powerhouse in Israeli football, winning the top division title 22 times.  Their first team will be eager to improve upon last season, and they strengthened their squad by adding Spanish defender Enric Saborit from Athletic Bilbao and Israeli forward Itay Shechter.  According to Transfermarkt, the squad’s three most valuable players are Icelandic forward Vidar Örn Kjartansson, Serbian keeper Predrag Rajkovic and Italian midfielder Cristian Battocchio.
While Maccabi Tel-Aviv and Hapoel Beersheba are league favorites based on last year’s performance, the rest of the pack will be nipping at their heels.  Since the inception of the newest iteration of the Israeli Premier League in 1999, seven different teams have won the league. 
Beitar Jerusalem finished third last season and has experience winning the Israeli Premier League.  Their biggest name is former English Premier League defender Carlos Cuéllar. 
Beitar reached the final of the Israeli cup last season but lost to Hapoel Haifa.  They also had a small window where they could have become Israeli champions last season, but the team slipped up near the end of the campaign.
Hapoel Haifa is another team to look out for this Israeli Premier League season.  Hapoel Haifa won the Israeli Super Cup and finished fourth in the league last season.  As winners of the cup, they reached the Europa League qualifying stages and next face Italian side Atalanta.  Israeli right midfielder Gil Vermouth is the player to keep an eye on in this Hapoel Haifa side.
From the championship contenders we move toward the teams expected to finish closer to the bottom of the table.  Hapoel Hadera and Hapoel Tel-Aviv won promotion from the second division last season and will now participate in the Israeli Premier League.
The two teams have had very different fortunes in Israeli football.  Hapoel Hadera have never participated in the Israeli Premier League while Hapoel Tel-Aviv won the league in 2009-2010.
Hapoel Tel-Aviv, a team with a storied history would be expected to have the firepower to stay in the top division, but Hapoel Hadera also have exciting players.  Israeli forward Assi Guma scored 12 league goals last season, and the promoted squad brought in foreign talents in the form of French forward Ange-Freddy Plumain and Brazilan forward Lúcio Maranhão.
From top to bottom, the Israeli Premier League will have an exciting 2018/2019 edition.  In a league with parity and many top teams fighting for position, anything can happen.  Maybe one of the teams lower in the table can pull of  a Leicester City type upset and claim the league title against all odds.