As Lyon looms, Hapoel Tel Aviv hosts Kiryat Shmona

Reds need a win after slow start; Greens visit Beiter Jerusalem; Hapoel Haifa looks to stay perfect.

Hapoel August 19 311 (photo credit: Associated Press)
Hapoel August 19 311
(photo credit: Associated Press)
It’s been almost a month since Hapoel Tel Aviv last tasted victory.
Since defeating Hapoel Ashkelon 5-1 in the Premier League on August 28, the reigning champion recorded a disappointing 2-2 league draw with Hapoel Acre before losing 2-0 at Benfica in its Champions League group stage opener and falling to a 2-0 defeat to Bnei Sakhnin in the Toto Cup on Tuesday night.
Hapoel also has its second Champions League match coming up at Bloomfield Stadium against Lyon next Wednesday, making Saturday’s home encounter against Hapoel Kiryat Shmona a must-win match. Complicating matters further is the fact that the club has also been marred by off-field distractions in recent weeks.
Co-owners Moni Harel and Eli Tabib wrangled in the media about the club’s running before making peace earlier this week and coach Eli Gutman only finally signed his new contract on Tuesday.
“There is a massive difference between what I was promised and what I was given, but Hapoel is about so much more than money for me,” Gutman said. “The club has gone through a tough period, but we are strong enough to handle it.”
Kiryat Shmona, last season’s National League champion, has settled in quickly in the top-flight, picking up seven of nine points from its first three matches.
However, Ran Ben-Shimon’s team has yet to face a top side and its pedigree will face a stern test on Saturday afternoon.
“Hapoel is always in a good period,” Ben-Shimon said. “It has a squad which allows it to peak at any given game. We are a clear underdog and we will have to play as one. We are expecting a very tough match at Bloomfield, but we never give up before the start of the match.”
Like Hapoel, Maccabi Haifa has also struggled to replicate last season’s form, despite winning two of its first three league games.
Elisha Levy’s team only managed a 1-1 draw at Hapoel Beersheba in its last league match and crashed to a 3- 2 Toto Cup defeat at Hapoel Acre on Monday.
Haifa visits Bnei Yehuda on Saturday and Levy knows changes will have to be made to the squad if the Greens are to challenge for the championship once more.
“We have a good team which beat Maccabi Tel Aviv and Maccabi Petah Tikva,” Levy said. “But I didn’t need this game against Acre to know that our squad still needs strengthening. We will have to manage with these players until January and we have a good enough team to achieve our goals.”
Betar Jerusalem is still looking for its first points of the season, and after its 3-1 win over Ashkelon in the Toto Cup on Sunday, coach Uri Malmilian is confident his team will finally pick up its first points against Beersheba at Teddy Stadium on Saturday.
“The win over Ashkelon gives the players some confidence and you can see they have gone through a change,” Malmilian said. “In soccer the only thing that counts are the results you record and the points you collect.”
Hapoel Haifa will look to maintain its perfect start to the season when it hosts Ashkelon at Kiryat Eliezer Stadium on Saturday.
Haifa is the only team to have won all three of its matches to date and will have every chance to record its fourth straight victory against a weak Ashkelon side.
Also Saturday, Maccabi Petah Tikva visits Bnei Sakhnin and Hapoel Petah Tikva welcomes Maccabi Netanya.
Hapoel Ramat Gan hosts Acre on Sunday, with the in-form Maccabi Tel Aviv visiting Ashdod SC on Monday.