Despite better record, Greens enter Bloomfield as underdogs

Both teams are desperate for a victory which would be significant in ensuring they enter the final five matches of the season in first position.

Maccabi Haifa enters Sunday’s Premier League showdown against Hapoel Tel Aviv at Bloomfield Stadium with everything to prove.
Haifa may be leading the standings once more, but its mediocre play this season and failure to wrap up the championship last year make it the slight underdog against the hosts.
The Greens have led the table for 66 match-days during the past three seasons, compared to just seven by Tel Aviv.
But the Reds were the ones who won the league and cup double last season, and thanks to their fast and fluid play they are also the favorites to go on to win a second straight championship.
With point totals to be halved after 30 matches ahead of the championship playoffs, neither team believes the outcome of Sunday’s match will determine this season’s champion.
However, both are desperate for a victory which would be significant in ensuring they enter the final five matches of the season in first position and host what would likely be the title decider.
“We are facing a worthy opponent who is in first position, and as [Haifa coach] Elisha Levy rightfully said the standings don’t lie,” said Hapoel coach Eli Gutman, who attended his first training session with the team on Thursday after more than three weeks away from the side, recuperating from a heart attack.
“I’m excited to be back and I think that it is symbolic that I’m returning to the team on my 53rd birthday. I’m targeting the match against Sakhnin in two weeks time as my first game back, but soccer is a way of life for me and depending on how I feel I might come back earlier, possibly even for Sunday’s match.”
Hapoel has beaten Haifa in the sides’ last two meetings, both at Kiryat Eliezer Stadium, but lost 2-1 to the Greens at Bloomfield last season.
Haifa is unbeaten in its last 14 league matches, with its only loss of the season coming at the hands of Hapoel, which has won nine of its last 11 contests.
“We lost the championship in cruel fashion last season and we will do everything we can to bring it back to Haifa,” Greens captain Yaniv Katan said. “We believe in ourselves and we know what we are worth. We are in first position for good reason. We have a lot of respect for Hapoel and every match against them is interesting.
But the title will only be decided at the very end of the season and not in this match.”
On Saturday, Maccabi Tel Aviv will have an ideal opportunity to rebound from its first league defeat under Moti Ivanir when it visits Hapoel Ashkelon.
The yellow-and-blue lost 1-0 to Hapoel Haifa at Bloomfield last week, but Ivanir believes the defeat was blown completely out of proportion.
“We may have lost ground on Maccabi Haifa and Hapoel Tel Aviv, but nothing is over yet,” said Ivanir, who still believes his team can go on to win the championship. “We haven’t played great soccer so far, but we have recorded some good results and all is not lost yet.”
Ashkelon is just two points above the relegation zone after losing four straight matches, failing to score a goal in its last five encounters.
Betar Jerusalem is just five points ahead of Ashkelon after going winless in its last four matches.
Betar won its first game under coach Roni Levy, but has scored just a single goal in its four matches since, picking up three out of a possible 12 points.
On Saturday, Levy’s team visits Hapoel Petah Tikva, which had won two straight matches before losing to Maccabi Haifa on Monday. Also Saturday, Hapoel Haifa hosts Maccabi Petah Tikva, Bnei Sakhnin visits Ashdod SC, Bnei Yehuda welcomes Ironi Kiryat Shmona, Hapoel Beersheba goes to Hapoel Ramat Gan and Hapoel Acre faces Maccabi Netanya.