1) Maccabi Haifa looks ready to battle for the league title this year after winning their 2nd game of the season setting up an early top of the table clash with Maccabi Tel Aviv. The Greens have built a quality team with young Israeli players, Yarden Shua, Neta Lavi, Mohamed Awaed, Maxim Palachuenko plus solid veteran including Tjaron Chery, Trent Sainsbury, Yuval Ashkenazi and Nikita Rukavytsya. I’m not sure there is another squad which has the balance that Marko Balbul’s side has and with that being said it’s up to the coach to find a way to defeat Maccabi and the new Bloomfield Stadium.
There’s no question that Balbul has to produce the goods for Haifa with the team that he has, the real question is can he rise to the occasion and lead his charges to the promised land. The Tirat Carmel native played 14 years for the Greens and is now in his second term as the boss. He has learnt from the best of the best in Avram Grant, now is the time where he has to shine and he has no excuses whatsoever.
2) It’s strange to say it, but Maccabi Tel Aviv aren’t the favorites in my book on Saturday night when they welcome Maccabi Haifa to their new home. It’s true that the Yellow & Blue have 7 points just like Maccabi Haifa but they have been less than impressive in the three matches against Nes Tziona, Kfar Saba and Bnei Yehuda. Coach Vladimir Ivic has backed down a bit on his criticism of the players but for a team that lost very few players over the summer there seems to be no explanation as to why the 2019/20 version isn’t playing like the 2018/19 edition. Sheran Yeini is injured, Predrag Rajikovic and Eli Dasa are no longer with the club, Maccabi has plenty of quality players that can step into their shoes.
3) One of those players has been Daniel Tenenbaum. I welcomed Daniel when he made Aliyah, immigrated to Israel and number of years ago from Brazil and he has worked super hard from day one since. Tenenbaum is the epitome of the word Mensch. He’s an all around nice guy, pleasant and fun to be with and due to an ankle injury to Andreas Gianniotis in the Toto Cup semifinal at Kiryat Shemona. After coming over from Flamengo in 2016, the club completed his permanent transfer the following season but for the most part he has waited patiently in the wings behind Rajkovic and Gianniotis. He never complained or voiced displeasure for not playing and just did what he knew to do best, work and continue to improve and that’s what he’s done as he still hasn’t been scored on.
4) Another keeper that hasn’t given up a goal is Hapoel Haifa’s Jasmin Buric which has helped the Carmel Reds to 7 points as well and a share of first place. Buric of course isn’t the entire story it’s also Head Coach Haim Silvas who has brought quiet to the club and solid defense. His players are playing for him and giving their all as witnessed by their 2:0 win over Beitar Jerusalem at Teddy Stadium.
5) What were the keys for Silvas? “We came into the game with a plan and we can even play better offensively. The players were very focused and they know where to be on the field and they closed down the opponent. We all understand that coming into Teddy and to beat Beitar is a heroic performance. We can still improve as we get into better shape and we played very well defensively. We have to be modest and we always set up a strategy for each match.”
6) One of Silvas’s new players is Gidi Kanuk. Yes, the same Gidi Kanuk who starred for Maccabi Petah Tikva, then went to Uzbekistan and landed at Maccabi Tel Aviv. Those who follow Israeli football know that Kanuk is one of the unsung heroes and a very unappreciated player in this country. When he came back on loan to Maccabi Tel Aviv he barely smelt the grass on the pitch. But here he was, Teddy Stadium, 60th minute and off he went, running onto the field for Hapoel Haifa and scoring in his debut, feted by the fans and given a heroes welcome.
“Gidi just arrived and he’s a terrific player,” Silvas began. “I jumped at the opportunity to sign him when I could. He came off of the bench today and played well. I believe that he will benefit from the family we have here at Hapoel Haifa.” Kanuk himself was very low key following the game, “I want to improve and continue to get better. I’m working hard at Hapoel Haifa and they wanted me the most. I’m well aware that I’m under appreciated in Israel but it’s a great feeling to win and score at Teddy Stadium but it’s only the 3rd match. I’ll continue to work hard. The players and staff have been great since I arrived.”
7) At the other end of the stick is Beitar Jerusalem who have scored a grand total of one goal and collected a grand total of one point in three matches; and that’s not good. The Yellow & Black have over 8,000 season ticket holders and they have yet to see a goal at Teddy in a pair of games. After the loss at Hapoel Raanana, Eli Ohana sent out a message to the fans saying that everyone is disappointed and we will be better etc… well they weren’t better, in fact Beitar played worse.
8) I’ve seen Beitar play a number of times this season and they looked terrific in Toto Cup action, but we all saw that they were flawed, especially not having a true #9 striker or a player to control the midfield. Wingers are a plenty but the injury to Michael Ohana really torpedoed Roni Levy’s plans for Beitar. One injury and kaput, there goes the season in some cases and we’ve seen that in the NFL for two straight weeks, well the sane is true for Beitar. “We played poorly and we were very bad,” a disappointed Levy began. “We have a lot of work and plenty to do. We know that we need to strengthen the team in some places but it’s not an excuse from after the game. It’s clear that the injury to Ohana changed a lot of things but I don’t want to talk about that just after the game, we were missing heart and soul on the pitch.
Next week will be war for Beitar when they head up to Kiryat Shemona for a battle in which the two clubs have collected a combined one point out of a possible 18 so far this season. Anthony Varenne spoke about the upcoming clash on Saturday night, “We have to prepare well and it’s a war. We have to play as of it’s a relegation type of match and we have to battle hard not just with words but with our actions on the pitch.”
9) Roni Levy may not be on the hot seat for Beitar but Niso Avitan of Hapoel Tel Aviv certainly is. After drawing 1:1 with Nes Tziona, Avitan is under huge, huge pressure from the fans and management. The Reds better put in a solid performance at Hapoel Beer Sheva who have their own problems or else, Avitan’s time as Hapoel’s coach will be very, very short.
10) Barak Bachar, Beer Sheva’s coach isn’t going anywhere anytime soon but after a brutal display at Ashdod that ended in a 2:2 draw he can’t be too happy with his players especially since his team should have lost after a 94th minute goal was disallowed. The southern Reds just brought in Portuguese attacking midfielder Josue to upgrade their offense, he’ll have his first chance to show what he’s got next Monday night.
11) Hapoel Hadera shocked Raanana after Menachem Koretzky’s team had been riding high. Hadera, last season’s Cinderella Story had looked to be a candidate for relegation this season, but if Lucio continues to score and play top level football, perhaps they’ll escape the grim reaper.