Maccabi slumped to their fourth straight defeat in Europe after losing 3-1 to Porto but the home fans were delighted just to score their first goal of these Champions League Group Stages – albeit through a lucky penalty.
Maccabi had a couple of impressive performers and gave Porto a decent game. Eran Zahavi as usual was the star of the show while Tel Ben Chaim showed his lightning pace on the wing. In midfield Avi Rikan and Dor Peretz performed well but there weren’t many other positives to take.
However, the defense was once again shakier than a house of cards while Predrag Rajkovic continues to look unconvincing in goal. With a more solid back five and a little bit more luck up front Maccabi had a chance of taking something from a less than impressive Porto side.
While Maccabi can be delighted just to be in the Group Stages, that doesn’t mean they are satisfied with just turning up and losing every match. If the team fails to take a single point from this season’s campaign – which is starting to seem very likely – it will be an embarrassment. Maccabi have shown ability but also a naiveté and – outside of Zahavi and Ben Chaim – a real lack of creativity in their play.
One of Maccabi’s biggest problems comes in the centre of the pitch. Jovanovic really likes having Gal Alberman and Nikola Mitrovic in midfield but they both lack any attacking threat and have no pace. This was particularly exposed in the league last week when a sharp Beitar side tore Mitrovic, Alberman and the centre-backs to shreds with quick counter-attacks.
The team are badly in need of some speed and urgency in the centre of the park. Rather than sticking with the lumbering and unimpressive Mitrovic and Alberman – Jokanovic needs to be brave and put some exciting, younger players in midfield.
Peretz has played well so far this season and Avi Rikan looks impressive in the centre of the pitch, but alongside those two a real attacking threat is needed. Gili Vermouth – if he can find his best form – would make a great playmaker but Maccabi could also play a different striker up front with Zahavi dropping back.
Despite his incredible goal haul Zahavi could do much more for Maccabi in midfield. As a striker he doesn’t have the pace or physicality to trouble defenders, really his best attributes are his work rate, skill and finishing. Putting Zahavi in a free role in the midfield allows him to create more for his teammates while still being able to get up front and threaten the opposition.
Zahavi is the only Maccabi player with more than two goals in the league this season and also singlehandedly dragged the team through the European qualifiers. Despite the quality in Maccabi’s side, without Zahavi they probably wouldn’t even have reached the Europa League group stages this season and would likely be struggling in the middle of the table. Having only one player capable of scoring is never a positive especially with such a leaky defense at the other end of the pitch.
With a resurgent Beitar flying up the table and league leaders Hapoel Beer Sheva looking good, Maccabi really need to start playing better if they want to avoid a long, hard title race – something they need to be worried about considering the lack of depth in their squad.
Now that Maccabi’s hopes of advancing in Europe are gone, the team can focus solely on the league. It’s time for the coach to start playing much more attacking, attractive football and to let his players do what they’re capable of. Maccabi have the ability to dominate every other team in the league – it’s time they showed it.