Levy cautious ahead of Mac Haifa's crucial clash with Hap TA

Local Soccer: In practically any other season, Hapoel Tel Aviv would be a firm favorite to claim the Premier League title.

Maccabi Haifa 298.88 (photo credit: AP)
Maccabi Haifa 298.88
(photo credit: AP)

In practically any other season Hapoel Tel Aviv would be a firm favorite to claim the Premier League title.

Notonly has Eli Gutman's team been playing some wonderful soccer bothlocally and abroad, but it has also racked up the points in recentmonths, winning 10 of its past 12 league matches.

However, Hapoel enters Monday's showdown with Maccabi Haifa atKiryat Eliezer Stadium some 10 points behind the reigning champion, andunder intense pressure to claim the victory to remain within touchingdistance of the leaders.

Even with the league's new format, which will see the eachteam's total cut by half ahead of the final five matches of the season,Tel Aviv can simply not afford to lose on Monday.

Haifa's record breaking start to the campaign hasseen it win 17 of 18 games, including a 2-1 victory over Hapoel atBloomfield Stadium in September.

Another win on Monday will put Elisha Levy's team in a verycomfortable situation, even with the season only just past its halfwaymark.

"Thereare no favorites in this match," said a cautious Levy. "We are playingat home and we are in good form. There are no secrets between theteams. We know their weaknesses and they know ours."

Levy will be without the injured Eyal Golasa and suspended EyalMeshumar on Monday, with Ali Osman to replace the latter in thestarting lineup. Mohammad Ghadir will start on the right wing, whiletop-scorer Shlomi Arbeitman is set to begin the match on the bench oncemore.

Hapoel's new signings, Dutch midfielder Daniel deRidder and Bolivian international defender Miguel Hoyos, are notexpected to start, with star goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama to miss out yetagain as he is still away with the Nigeria national team in the AfricaCup of Nations.

Gutman will otherwise have a full squad at his disposal, withGili Vermut and Itai Shechter to be the key players in the team'soffensive play once more.

Vermut and Shechter will have to be at their best if Hapoel isto reverse its recent history against the Greens at Kiryat Eliezer.

Over the past 12 seasons, Tel Aviv has played 17 times againstHaifa on the road, winning just once, while losing 11 matches anddrawing five.

Maccabi Petah Tikva 1, Hapoel Beersheba 0

On Sunday, Maccabi Petah Tikva continued its resurgence,defeating Hapoel Beersheva 1-0 on the road for its third win in fourmatches. Nitzan Damari scored the only goal of the match in the 17thminute and Freddy David's team moved five points clear of therelegation zone.