After Maccabi Netanyain went on an impressive run in the opening weeks of the season, the club again finds itself in the middle-to-lower end of the pack in terms of quality of play.
By JEREMY LAST
In the early period of Lothar Matthaus's tenure as Maccabi Netanya coach, the club built itself up as a genuine challenger for the Premier League title.
Buoyed by the leadership of a German World Cup winner and the backing of owner Daniel Jammer, the team, which hasn't won the championship since 1983, went on an impressive run in the opening weeks of the season, not losing a game for the first nine rounds.
However, in recent weeks the wheels have come off the tracks somewhat, and the club once again finds itself in the middle-to-lower end of the pack in terms of quality of play.
Despite holding on to second place in the standings, the Diamonds have won only one of their last seven league games and the battling spirit has fallen by the wayside.
The situation has not been helped by Matthaus's ongoing disputes with Israeli referees, who he has claimed are biased against him.
Tel Aviv's third largest team, Bnei Yehuda, meanwhile, is going through a mini revival, playing some scintillating soccer which has brought it up to fifth in the table, only five points behind Netanya.
On Saturday, Netanya faces Bnei Yehuda at Bloomfield Stadium in what could prove to be a crucial turning point in both teams' seasons.
Matthaus will have to watch the game from the stands after receiving a one-match ban from the Israel Football Association for swearing at assistant referee Shabtai Nahmias during last month's defeat at Hapoel Tel Aviv.
Bnei Yehuda coach Guy Luzon has turned the club around and is relishing doing battle with Netanya.
"We are primed and ready for this match," Luzon said. "We're preparing so that we'll be at our best against Netanya. We know we'll have to be at our best to return with the three points. We'll have to build on our recent form."
Another team which was expected to challenge for the title is Maccabi Tel Aviv, which has been in poor form of late but will have experienced a confidence boost on Wednesday when it beat Ashdod SC in the Toto Cup final.
Maccabi visits Ironi Kiryat Shmona on Saturday.
League leader Maccabi Haifa is coming off a disappointing 1-1 draw with Maccabi Tel Aviv and Elisha Levy's side will be looking to get things back on track with a relatively easy game at home against Hakoach Amidar Ramat Gan on Saturday.
Two other contenders, Hapoel Tel Aviv and Betar Jerusalem, face off on Monday.
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