Eli Gutman's team can close to within two points of first-place Maccabi Haifa with an away victory over Maccabi Petah Tikva on Saturday.
By ALLON SINAI
Hapoel Tel Aviv can close to within two points of first-place Maccabi Haifa with an away victory over Maccabi Petah Tikva on Saturday.
Hapoel has been in scintillating form recently and, on Monday, kept alive its hopes of winning a third State Cup in four years when it defeated Maccabi Tel Aviv 2-0 to progress to the last 16 of the competition.
Eli Gutman's team has also won four of its last five Premier League matches, including a 4-0 humbling of Betar Jerusalem in its most recent league game 11 days ago.
Haifa won't be in action until Monday, when it visits Maccabi Netanya, giving Hapoel an opportunity to increase the pressure on the league leader with a road win on Saturday.
Petah Tikva is unbeaten in four league matches under the guidance of coach Roni Levy, but was knocked out of the cup by Maccabi Netanya last Saturday.
"We must find a way to penetrate Hapoel's defense. They have the best defensive personnel in the league," Levy said on Thursday.
"Tel Aviv is a very well balanced team and we know we will need to raise our level of play to record a good result on Saturday."
Maccabi Tel Aviv hosts Hapoel Petah Tikva on Saturday, but coach Avi Nimni spent much of Thursday's press conference explaining why he decided to send midfielder Dor Malul to train with the youth team.
"You can't have young players thinking about their contracts after playing two matches. That won't happen at our club," Nimni said.
"Players have to prove themselves over a period of time and only then think of money. Anybody who thinks of money before he has contributed anything to the team will find himself training with the youth side."
Betar Jerusalem hosts Bnei Yehuda on Saturday, hoping to get its league campaign back on track after the heavy loss to Hapoel Tel Aviv.
Bnei Yehuda has won seven of its last nine league matches, and has only lost once since falling 3-0 to Betar at the start of November.
Also Saturday, Bnei Sakhnin hosts Ashdod SC and Ironi Kiryat Shmona travels down south to face Hakoach Amidar Ramat Gan.
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