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Ligat Ha’Al Season Preview 2014-15

Tal Ben Chaim after his game winning goal-Courtesy Maccabi Tel Aviv Website

Tal Ben Chaim after his game winning goal-Courtesy Maccabi Tel Aviv Website

Maccabi Tel Aviv went back to their recent past by flip/flopping head coaches from Paulo Sousa back to Oscar Garcia, however because of the war & professional reasons, Garcia departed during Europa League qualifying and was replaced Pako Ayestaran who had been coaching in Mexico. Ayestaran is a fitness guru and worked wonders under Rafa Benitez while winning a Champions League trophy under the legendary coach.

Maccabi picked up Israel international striker Eden Ben Bassat from French outfit Toulouse, plus they brought in former Hapoel Tel Aviv midfielder Nosa Igiebor and defender Yuval Spungin to shore up the defense. Unfortunately for Maccabi the biggest question going into the season was where they would be playing in Europe. However, thaqt was answered when they were knocked out of both the Champions League & Europa League and will have to settle for just the Israeli league this season. Unfortunately for Maccabi the security situation didn’t allow the team to play it’s UEFA Champions League home matches in Israel and had to make do in Cyprus where the team faltered in front of sparse crowds.

Since Maccabi did not pass Asteras Tripolis in the two leg Europa League playoff, the domestic season will be a very tricky & long path to next year’s CL qualifiers. Maccabi also lost their owners representative in Jack Angelides to PAOK of Greece which could lead to technical director Jordi Cryuff following him to the northern Greek town of Thessaloniki. An interesting season for the blue & yellow await them with many returning stars in Eran Zahavi & Tal Ben Haim who can jump start the offense and lead the club to bigger & better heights.

Yossi Benayoun Comes back to Israel!

Yossi Benayoun Comes back to Israel!

Maccabi Haifa made the most changes of any Israel football club going into the 2014-15 season as they not only brought back international superstar Yossi Benayoun, they will also move into the brand new Sammy Ofer Stadium. Owner Yakov Shachar decided it was time to make some wholesale moves and brought in Serbian coach Alexsander Stoyenovich, giving him free reign to do as he pleases with the roster he inherited.

The first move was to purge the club of iconic captain Yaniv Katan and bring in the aforementioned Benayoun to lead the way for the Greens. Striker Mamadou Idrissou, keeper Vladimir Stoyakovich, Koby Moyal were all brought in as well as loaned out striker Weam Amasha & budding youngster Muhamed Calibat from Bnei Sakhnin. With all of these moves and the opportunity to play in a world class facility with close to 15k season tickets sold, Shachar’s investment looks to have an opportunity to pay off some nice dividends.

Beitar Jerusalem

Beitar Jerusalem

Beiter Jerusalem and owner Eli Tabib made many changes this off season and brought in the likes of Lidor Cohen, Zev Haimowitz, Mor Shaked, Hanan Maman, Cesar Arzo, striker Zarko Korac & Claudimir Perreira. However the biggest change will be between the pipes on goal with National team keeper Ariel Harush being released and Hapoel Tel Aviv up & coming Boris Kleyman coming in his place.

The moves that Beitar made would make one think that they had a team to battle for the upper playoffs and a positive season, but history unfortunately repeats itself and it wouldn’t surprise me if management & supporters clashed once again. That is the result that everyone wants to avoid, but may just be unavoidable.

Hapoel Tel Aviv fans-Courtesy Hapoel Tel Aviv Website

Hapoel Tel Aviv fans-Courtesy Hapoel Tel Aviv Website

Hapoel Tel Aviv went through a slew of changes in the offseason, most notably appointing former Israeli star Eyal Berkovic as their technical director. However, the financial situation at Hapoel has put Berkovic under a ton of pressure as he tried to cut salaries, sell off players and also keep the team from totally purging all of its talent.

The Reds were still able to bring in Haifa youngster striker Shoval Gozlan who can be a nice spark plug & Nigerian Harmony Ikande, but lost superstar goal scorer Omer Damari to Austria Wien as well as Besart Abdurahimi & others. Coach Asi Domev may be in for a long season ahead of him.

Hapoel Beer Sheva is coming off a drama season and made a number of solid offseason moves by bringing in Israel National team players Shlomi Arbeitman & Maor Melikson back from Europe. Also added was Nigeria midfielder John Ogu who was signed for 4 years and will add a dimension to the club that they did not previously have. The problem for Beer Sheva is the departure of Dutch striker Glynor Plet who scored many a goal for the southern club. Moar Bozaglo & Elyaniv Barda will remain factors and help in Beer Sheva’s continued rise to the top.

Hapoel Kiryat Shemona continues to be the little engine that could as they surprised the Israel football world once again with an appearance in the UEFA Europa League 3rd round playoffs. Coach Barak Bechar knows how to press all the right buttons and will need to do so again if he wants to see his club co tine with its strong form from over the past few seasons. The tam made very few changes this summer and will look to star Achmed Abed to shoulder the load with plenty of opportunities that will fall on his shoulders.

Maccabi Netanya returns to the Ligat Ha’Al after one season in the Leumit with veteran coach Yossi Mizrachi manning the sidelines and a reenergized striker Eran Levy who will play a central role. Being able to play in the relatively new Netanya Stadium in front of terrific supporters one would not be surprised if the team makes it into the upper playoffs this year.

Ashdod made few moves to bolster their club and poor form has been plaguing Nir Kilnger’s preseason campaign. 19 year old Michael Ohana will play an integral role on this club’s fortunes as will the other youngsters Ofer Varta, Gadi Kinda & Ofir Marciano. Owner Jackie Ben Zaquen has invested a lot of money into the club’s development system by opening an academy a few years ago and the fruits of this labor may begin to start bearing a difference on the league.

Hapoel Akko is looking to coach Alon Harazi for guiding the club through this coming year as central defender Eddie Gotlieb will be given center stage to show his potential after being a stalwart on the U21 National Team. Signing Emir Hadzerich was a stroke of brilliance and if Hamdi Salihi can produce in a full year what he did over a half a season last year, Akko may be a real treat to watch.

Hapoel Raanana was a great story for the league last year with Nigeria’s Anthony Nwakaeme becoming a star in the making. But with very little roster movement coach Haim Silvas may have a very tough time trying to stay up in Israel’s top division.

Bnei Sakhnin brought in coach Guy Levy who has had mixed results at every stop he has made in his Israel coaching career and the loss of star Muhamed Calibat who went back to his parent team Maccabi Haifa will not help out matters. Goalkeeper Mahmud Kandil will have to be an absolute star for the club if they are to be any factor in the upcoming season.

Hapoel Haifa brings in former Greens star Reuven Atar as their new bench boss along with Canadian striker Tosaint Ricketts who may be the key to Hapoel’s success this year if the preseason matches can play out in real time. Many players came and went this summer as ever dominant owner Yoav Katz tries to find a winning formula to propel his side into a threat to make it into the top 6 clubs in the league.

Hapoel Petach Tikva moves up a league to rejoin the Ligat Ha’Al as Maccabi Tel Aviv/Fulham loan product Omri Altmann joins the fray under coach Idan Bar-On. Hapoel also picked up Shachar Hirsch, veteran ‘keeper Kale Dreshler, Guy Dayan & others. This club may be the surprise of the year.

Maccabi Petach Tikva under new coach Ran Ben Shimon will be an interesting club this year bringing in veteran defender Dedi Ben Dayan, Hasan Abu Zeid, Nikolas Falshuk & US product Bryan Gerzicich while losing a number of players including Lidor Cohen. The Luzon family team will probably be fighting to stay up in the league by the end of the season giving Ran Ben Shimon another not so easy task since departing Kiryat Shemona 3 years ago.