Local Soccer: Betar and Maccabi renew rivalry amidst rough starts

At the start of the season, Maccabi and Betar were two of the favorites for the league championship.

betar 248.88 (photo credit: Asaf Kliger)
betar 248.88
(photo credit: Asaf Kliger)
Maccabi Tel Aviv hosts Betar Jerusalem at Bloomfield Stadium on Saturday in a match which had promised so much just three months ago, but is now no more than a meeting between two very mediocre teams, at best. At the start of the season, Maccabi and Betar were two of the favorites for the league championship. Maccabi had spent millions in the transfer market and brought in promising coach Ran Ben-Shimon to make sure last season's disappointment was no more than a one-off. Betar was also, at the very least, expected to make a serious run at a third consecutive championship, entering the campaign with the core of last season's double-winning team, as well as new signings Barak Itzhaki and Dario Fernandez. However, after 12 league matches, Maccabi and Betar are both closer to the bottom of the standings than they are to the top, and all the two sides are hoping for at the moment is for a little stability and consistency. "We're not delivering the goods. We expected so much more from this season," Jerusalem defender Arik Benado said on Thursday. "Maccabi and Betar aren't entering the match in the best of form, but we haven't forgotten how to play well, and hopefully we will do so on Saturday." Betar has won just a third of its matches to date, but with Saturday's encounter being played in Tel Aviv, it can at least console itself with the fact that all four of its victories so far have come on the road. "After winning two straight championships we now find ourselves in a strange situation," said Betar defender Shimon Gershon, who will return to the starting lineup on Saturday. "We need to understand that there are periods in which not everything goes your way, but undoubtedly we should be giving more on the pitch then we have done so far." Maccabi enters the match on the back of two consecutive derby defeats, to Hapoel Tel Aviv and Bnei Yehuda, and has won just once since Avi Nimni took charge four matches back. "We're not panicking and we will get the players back on track as quickly as possible," Nimni said on Thursday. "Betar is a threat to any team, but I'm far more concerned with the way we play." Also Saturday, Maccabi Netanya can return to the top of the table, at least for 48 hours, with a victory at Hapoel Petah Tikva. Lothar Matthaus's team was held to a 0-0 draw by Maccabi Petah Tikva last week and, should it drop more points on Saturday, will be in danger of losing touch with Maccabi Haifa, which hosts Hapoel Tel Aviv on Monday. In other matches Saturday, rock-bottom Hakoch Amidar Ramat Gan hosts Bnei Yehuda, Ashdod SC travels to the North to face Ironi Kiryat Shmona and Maccabi Petah Tikva visits Bnei Sakhnin.