Maccabi, Hapoel Tel Aviv prepare for derby number two

It has been almost three years since Maccabi last defeated Hapoel in a Premier League showdown.

Maccabi Tel Aviv 311 (photo credit: Adi Avishai)
Maccabi Tel Aviv 311
(photo credit: Adi Avishai)
Maccabi Tel Aviv will look to finally overcome its inferiority complex against Hapoel Tel Aviv when it hosts Israel’s most heated derby match at Bloomfield Stadium on Sunday night.
It has been almost three years since Maccabi last defeated Hapoel in a Premier League showdown, with only Dor Malul surviving from the yellow- and-blue team which recorded the 3-1 win on March 9, 2008.
Maccabi entered the first derby of the season brimming with confidence after winning four of five matches following its off-season overhaul.
However, it was completely outplayed in the 1-0 defeat, taking its record in derby matches since March 2008 to five losses and two draws.
The yellow-and-blue once more enter the derby on a four-game league winning streak, but despite trailing Hapoel by just four points in the standings, coach Moti Ivanir was cautious not to build up expectations on Thursday, especially with his team being knocked out of the State Cup at the first hurdle on Tuesday, losing 3-1 at Hapoel Petah Tikva.
“We can’t ignore our current state and just pretend that everything is okay,” Ivanir said.
“I hope we will play better than we did against Petah Tikva, but I always knew it would take time until the side would play the way I want.”
Meanwhile, Hapoel recorded its eighth win in nine contests in all competitions on Wednesday, thrashing Ironi Kiryat Ata 7-0 to advance to the last 16 of the cup.
The reigning champion will be guided by assistant coach Yossi Abuksis once more on Sunday, with Eli Gutman to sit out the next couple of matches as he recuperates from last Saturday’s heart attack.
“I don’t feel that this is a test for me because Gutman’s spirit is in the dressing room even when he is at home,” Abuksis said. “We have been working together for over three years and we have a blind understanding.
The derby will be a test for the entire team and not just for me. Derby matches usually come down to which team excels on the day and I believe that this will be the case once more on Sunday.”
With Itai Shechter likely out for the rest of the season with a shoulder injury, Ben Sahar has shined in recent weeks, scoring seven goals in Hapoel’s last six league matches after finding the back of the net just once in the side’s first 14 games.
“I’m feeling good and I’ve found my form,” Sahar said.
“The cup victory was important for our morale ahead of the derby. I hope we will play well as a team against Maccabi and prove that we are the better side. They will be entering the match after a defeat and will be desperate to win.”
Hapoel will likely enter Sunday’s match in second position, with Maccabi Haifa needing just one point from its game against Bnei Sakhnin at Kiryat Eliezer Stadium on Saturday to leapfrog the Reds into first place.
Haifa has won just one of its last three league encounters, but it will be confident of getting the better of Sakhnin after brushing aside Hapoel Kfar Saba in the cup on Wednesday.
Betar Jerusalem will be hoping to continue its revival under new coach Roni Levy when it hosts Bnei Yehuda on Saturday.
After beating Hapoel Beersheba and drawing with Maccabi Haifa, Levy’s men defeated Hapoel Ramat Gan on Wednesday to progress in the cup.
Bnei Yehuda has won two of its past three league game, but dropped to a 4-1 cup loss at Maccabi Netanya on Tuesday.
Also Saturday, Maccabi Petah Tikva hosts Hapoel Petah Tikva, Ironi Kiryat Shmona welcomes Hapoel Haifa, Hapoel Ashkelon visits Hapoel Acre, Hapoel Ramat Gan goes to Netanya and Hapoel Beersheba faces Ashdod SC.
On TV: Saturday: Maccabi Haifa vs Bnei Sakhnin (live on Sport 2 at 4:45 p.m.); Hapoel Beersheba vs Ashdod SC (live on Sport 1 at 4:50 p.m.); Betar Jerusalem vs Bnei Yehuda (live on Sport 2 at 7 p.m.)a