Hap TA hopes to secure points in match against Bnei Yehuda

Betar Jerusalem will be expected to continue its march to a second successive league title when Itzhak Schum's side travels to Maccabi Herzliya.

hapoel TA soccer 224.88 (photo credit: AP)
hapoel TA soccer 224.88
(photo credit: AP)
The Premier League finally returns to action this weekend after a three-week winter break, and Hapoel Tel Aviv coach Eli Gutman knows that it is time to start picking up crucial points if his team is to fight its way out of the relegation zone. Hapoel is rooted at the bottom of the standings after nothing short of a disastrous start to the season, and Gutman was unable to reverse it in his first two games in charge against Maccabi Netanya and Betar Jerusalem last month, which both ended in defeats for the Reds. On Saturday afternoon Tel Aviv faces local rival Bnei Yehuda at Bloomfield Stadium with the team in orange also in a precarious position, having ended December second from bottom in the league, just two points above Hapoel. Also Saturday, Betar Jerusalem will be expected to continue its march to a second successive league title when Itzhak Schum's side travels to Maccabi Herzliya. In its first game since Canadian billionaire Alex Shnaider bought the club, Maccabi Tel Aviv visits Eli Ohana's Hapoel Kfar Saba on Saturday, while high flying Bnei Sakhnin hosts Maccabi Netanya at the intimidating Doha Stadium. The final game of the day sees surprisingly successful Premier League new boys Ironi Kiryat Shmona looking to prove itself again at Ashdod SC. On Sunday, matchday 14 will conclude with an improving Maccabi Haifa visiting Maccabi Petah Tikva. Hapoel Tel Aviv will be without the services of striker Lior Asulin at Bloomfield, although more out of choice than circumstance. Asulin has underperformed since moving from Bnei Yehuda in the summer and has failed to score a league goal in eight appearances for the club. He is likely to be leaving in the coming weeks since falling out of favor with the team's management. On Thursday Asulin, a former Betar Jerusalem striker, was invited for a trial at Belgian club Mechelen and could become the sixth Israeli to be playing in the country this season following Barak Itzhaki's move from Betar Jerusalem to Genk last week and Omer Golan's transfer to Sporting Lokeren. With Hapoel in dire need of a boost, assistant coach and former Hapoel player Yossi Abuksis said on Wednesday that he was considering coming out of retirement to play for the club this season. The midfielder, who became assistant coach after former coach Guy Luzon left the club in November, took part in training games with the team this week, scoring and setting up a number of goals for his players. Abuksis told Radio 99 that Gutman had asked him two weeks ago if he was interested in playing for the team again. "I said I need some time to think about this. I haven't been training intensively recently, so in the last week and a half I began to train with the ball more. If the situation with the team hadn't been so bad, maybe I wouldn't have considered it," Abuksis said. The situation at Betar Jerusalem could not be more different to that of its rival Hapoel. The yellow and black may have lost its bid to keep Itzhaki at the club but will be able to rely on other attacking options on Saturday, including Romulo, Toto Tamuz and Chen Azriel. Herzliya was one of the few sides to defeat Betar last season and Jerusalem midfielder Michael Zandberg stressed that the team has prepared for the game seriously. "This won't be an easy game and we haven't forgotten what happened last season," Zandberg told the official Betar Web site. "Of course we will be approaching it in a serious manner." While Maccabi Tel Aviv had a similarly difficult opening to the 2007/08 season to its cross-town rival, the results improved towards the end of December and the arrival of Shnaider has given the team a confidence boost. The new owner is believed to be willing to pump large amounts of money into the club to return it to its former glories, although coach Nir Levin will need to get the best out of his players on Saturday against Kfar Saba if he is to impress Shnaider and keep his job. There have been few moves within Israel since the month-long transfer window opened on January 1. Kfar Saba is one of the few clubs to have signed a new player, with Costa Rican striker Bill Gonzalez officially joining the team on Wednesday. Maccabi Tel Aviv is still aiming to bring in unsettled Betar Jerusalem center back Tomer Ben-Yosef, but negotiations have yet to reach a conclusion and Betar may yet decide to keep the defender at the club. Saturday: Hapoel Tel Aviv vs Bnei Yehuda (live at 5 p.m. on Sport 1); Hapoel Kfar Saba vs Maccabi Tel Aviv (live at 5 p.m. on Sport 2); Bnei Sakhnin vs Maccabi Netanya (5 p.m.); Ashdod SC vs Ironi Kiryat Shmona (6 p.m.); Maccabi Herzliya vs Betar Jerusalem (live at 7:30 p.m. on Sport 1). Sunday: Maccabi Petah Tikva vs Maccabi Haifa (live on Channel 10 at 8:50 p.m.).