Plenty of Israeli soccer action this week including not only Matchday 4 but also the Toto Cup Final and a couple of midweek clashes as we look at The Sports Rabbi’s Starting XI!
1) The media and fans have to just calm down about Maccabi Haifa. The Greens lose on Saturday night to Maccabi Tel Aviv by the score of 1-0 and get killed all over the place for their poor play. On Wednesday night they whitewash Maccabi Netanya and once again they are title contenders. We’re talking about a few days as the pendulum shifts from one extreme to the other. Give Haifa time. They have talent, they have guile and they will be just fine.
2) Except that their young star Yarden Shua still doesn’t understand what being mature means. The night before the Netanya game, Shua was out way past midnight at a restaurant. Does this guy care about his career? Can he try to be professional? Really? You know you’re coming off of a loss and you have a critical home game and you’re not getting proper rest? Boy oh boy. Shua has been in and out of the Marko Balbul doghouse all season long and there is no reason to think he won’t be in there plenty of other times this season. Shua has got to screw on his head straight or else he can just kiss his footballing career goodbye.
3) Maccabi Tel Aviv has been offensively challenged all season long so it’s no surprise that the trend continued against Maccabi Haifa where they won 1-0 on an own goal and lost 2-0 to Beitar Jerusalem in the Toto Cup Final. Not only is their attack nowhere to be found but it looks like Coach Vladimir Ivic has been rendered ineffective after last season. It’s clear the players don’t like him and have had enough of his coaching style. Management needs to see what they can do to correct the situation which has been relevant since the start of training camp. If they don’t do something soon a full mutiny may just take place.
4) How about Beitar? After a rough start to the season they went up to Kiryat Shemona and beat a team that look to be a relegation candidate. That medicine proved to be very good as they took that win and added another one in the Toto Cup Final where they dropped Maccabi Tel Aviv. That of course is not to say that Beitar isn’t flawed. They are. But positive energy is always a good and winning cures all which of course would be exactly what Dr. Roni Levy ordered.
5) Next up is a home league match against Maccabi. It’s never easy to play the same team twice in a week, so I wouldn’t be shocked if the Saturday night special ends in a draw. However, with Beitar you just never know and when you add to the mix Maccabi’s pitiful attack perhaps the Jerusalem wingers can be effective and pick up a third win in 8 days.
6) A team that is desperate for a win is Hapoel Tel Aviv and their coach Niso Avitan. The Reds can’t win and can’t score, they have been pathetic to say the least. It’s never easy to play at Turner Stadium in Beer Sheva, but things have to start clicking very soon or else there will a change on the sidelines.
7) Speaking of the sidelines, Barak Bachar has been adjusting and readjusting his squad to try and find the right mix at Hapoel Beer Sheva. He hasn’t had an easy time of it, but it looks as if the southern Reds have turned a corner and they have another home date coming up against Hapoel Raanana.
8) Menachem Koretzky’s Raanana drew 1-1 with Ashdod as they are still developing into a team. Raanana has had mixed results thus far, where some games they have been spectacular and others, well not so good. As long as he can get 110% effort out of his players I believe that they will still provide some surprises.
9) But the real surprise has been Ashdod and how well they have played this season. The port city side hosts Hapoel Haifa and I can see them once again picking up the win because Haifa as well have been inconsistent after coming off a 2-1 home loss to Hadera.
10) Ori Gutman’s Hadera have been playing solid football the past few weeks and they will look to continue that trend when they host Kiryat Shemona which on paper should be a very winnable game.
11) The caliber of play so far this season hasn’t been great and most probably it’s been as bad as it has been in years. The league is weak and Israeli soccer is suffering. When I moved to Israel in 2004 the league was so much better and a far superior product than what we see today. At the time the MLS was nowhere near the Israeli league and today you can’t even mention the two leagues in the same sentence. It’s a good thing UEFA is introducing the UEFA Europa Conference League or else who knows when Israel would have another club team in a continental competition.