Maccabi Tel Aviv showed the Football Israel landscape why they are in first place after 7 rounds of play and why they won the Championship last year after demolishing the only undefeated club until last night Bnei Sakhnin 4-1.
Where to begin. Eran Zehavi scores a brace picking up goals number 4 & 5 on the season, slicing through the Sakhnin defense like swiss cheese and making the most of his chances. If you missed the first 5 minutes you missed the rhythm of the whole match. Maccabi set the tone very early and closed up shop on the visitors before they had even turned on the lights, and as they say, Maccabi finished the game before it began. I really liked how Paulo Sousa The Maccabi coach set up his team for the match. Forget the fact that he made 5 changes from the starting lineup that graced the pitch in Frankfurt but he exposed the Sakhnin club by having on three men at the back with Mane playing on the back left wing and taking ling runs up the pitch.
In essence Sousa went with a 3-3-3-1 surprising everyone with Mane inserted into the lineup and playing more of a midfield role. The back three were Sheran Yeini, Carlos Garcia & Eitan Tibi. Then there was Mane, Nikola Mitrovic & Dan Einbinder followed by Zehavi, Barak Yitzhaki & Omri Altman and the Dabour as the so called “lone” striker. Ori Cooper from Yediot Achronot saw it a bit different with a 3-4-3 as Altman played in line with Mana, Mitrovic & Einbinder and Yitzhaki & Zehavi played closer to Dabour.
Either way I believe the telling point came in the press conference after the match where Sousa was asked about the 3 men in the back and he said that they scout and prepare for each and every opponent. The key being preparation where Sousa is not afraid to try different lineups but also different formations depending on the opposition.
How easily outcoached and outmaneuvered Marko Balbul the manager of Sakhnin was against Maccabi Tel Aviv. It was like he and his players had been hit by a shock storm and simply washed away and washed away quickly. It’s never great to be down 2-0 after only 17 minutes against as he said in his presser to the defending champions and top of the table club. That definitely took the wind out of Sakhnin’s sails and though Balbul made an adjustment taking out his defensive and hard nosed captain Khaled Halila in the 35th minute for Hamed Gnaim (who did score the lone Sakhnin goal) it was a little too late and a team like Maccabi wasn’t going to let the visitors back into the match.
Once down 2-0 Sakhnin, then gave up a vicious Nikola Mitrovic strike and though they took one goal back at the half, they seemed so disinterested in playing the balance of the match and they looked as if they couldn’t get out of Bloomfield Stadium fast enough and who could argue with them! But the travelling Red fans which numbered in the hundreds really didn’t get to see a full effort from their club, and that hurts for their fans. Right in front of me in the press box sat Member of Knesset Ahmed Tibi and a contingent of Sakhnin bigwigs who also saw the writing on the wall very soon after the opening bell.
The Bottom Line:
I like how coach Paulo Sousa manages the club. Intelligently, seriously and prepares for each team that comes his way and for each type of offense and defense he may face. Each match will be different and it wouldn’t surprise me if he sets a record for varying his lineup from game to game. I know there are detractors that complain about “the rotation” but I don’t even see it as this. Jordi Cryuff has built a team that can play in any type of situation with replacements available for Sousa for every spot on the pitch.
I also admire the way Sousa will go back to a player or players who may not have performed well last game but includes him in the next and we saw just this last night with Serbian Nikola Mitrovic playing a solid match and scoring a fabulous goal. As he said after the game, “I don’t know if it was my nicest, but it’s definitely one of the nicest I have scored.” I am sure that is the truth!
Next week Maccabi travels down to Beer Sheva to face Hapoel Beer Sheva in a match that will draw 10,000 fans in what will be a tough road game for Tel Aviv. I am looking forward to see how Sousa will neutralize the Barda and other scoring threats Elisha Levy will throw at the Yellow & Blue!