Maccabi aims to reverse recent trend at Hapoel in TA derby

Rebuilt yellow-and-blue squad looks to beat rival reds for first time in more than 2 years.

Derby 311 (photo credit: Maccabi Tel Aviv Website)
Derby 311
(photo credit: Maccabi Tel Aviv Website)
After years of humiliation, Maccabi Tel Aviv will be looking to regain its lost pride when it visits Hapoel Tel Aviv at Bloomfield Stadium on Saturday night.
It has been more than two-and-a-half years since Maccabi last defeated Hapoel in a league derby, with only Dor Malul surviving from the yellow-and-blue team which recorded the 3-1 win on March 9, 2008.
Maccabi has lost four and drawn two of the six derby matches since, and after seeing its arch-rival claim the league and cup double last season, went on a spending spree over recent months in order to bring the team back on-par with Hapoel.
The yellow-and-blue completely rebuilt its squad over the summer and has got its campaign off to an impressive start, collecting 12 of a possible 15 points, winning its last four matches after losing its opener to Maccabi Haifa.
Hapoel, on the other hand, has experienced an erratic campaign so far, winning just two of its first five encounters while already losing twice, double the amount of defeats it suffered throughout all of last season.
However, current form isn’t always all that significant when it comes to derby showdowns, and Hapoel’s players know their poor start to the season will be completely forgotten with a victory on Saturday night.
“Everyone understands the significance of this match,” coach Eli Gutman said. “Maccabi is a good team, but we will be focusing on ourselves.
I believe that in the derby there is no favorite and that the calm and composed team will eventually be the one to prevail.”
Hapoel midfielder Gili Vermut believes his team will have a slight advantage.
“Maccabi will not be the favorites,” he said on Thursday. “The match will be tightly balanced, but the fact we are the home team gives us an edge.”
Vermut’s Israel teammate, Itai Shechter, who was the national team’s best player in its 2-1 losses to Croatia and Greece in Euro 2012 qualifying over the last week, echoed a similar sentiment.
“I think we have a 50 percent chance of winning,” said Shechter, who scored the consolation goal in each of Israel’s recent defeats. “I believe in our team and hopefully we can win.”
Maccabi has tried to maintain a low profile ahead of the derby, with its coaches and players not speaking to the media.
Like Gutman, manager Avi Nimni has also got a full squad to pick from, and he has tried to take the pressure off his players by telling them to approach the match the way they do any other league encounter.
However, the importance of Saturday’s contest will not be lost on any of the players and the fixture is expected to be as fiery as ever.\ Meanwhile, Hapoel Petah Tikva is scheduled to host Maccabi Petah Tikva at National Stadium in Ramat Gan.
However, the management of the dysfunctional Hapoel announced on Thursday that the team will not show-up for the match after the Israel Football Association High Court rejected the club’s request to postpone the suspension of midfielder Jonathan Assous on Thursday.
Nevertheless, it seems unlikely Hapoel will follow through with its threat as it could face automatic relegation from the Premier League should it deliberately fail to turn-up for the match.
League-leader Ironi Kiryat Shmona visits Hapoel Haifa on Saturday, looking to maintain its dream start to the season by claiming a fifth win in six matches.
Maccabi Haifa, the league’s only other unbeaten team, travels to rock-bottom Bnei Sakhnin.
Also Saturday, Hapoel Ramat Gan hosts Maccabi Netanya and Hapoel Ashkelon welcomes Hapoel Acre. Ashdod SC hosts Hapoel Beersheba on Sunday, with Betar Jerusalem visiting Bnei Yehuda on Monday.