Match Preview: Hapoel Tel Aviv v Maccabi Tel Aviv

Hapoel Tel Aviv v Maccabi Tel Aviv, Ligat ha’Al, April 26, 2009

The last Tel Aviv derby of the 2008/2009 season may prove decisive for the identity of the Israeli champions. With six rounds to go, Hapoel are leading the table only by goal difference over Maccabi Haifa.

Maccabi Tel Aviv, lying in sixth place, have not much to play for towards the season’s end. But unquestionably the derby will hav ethem energised, and the yellows will try to damage Hapoel’s chances for the championship. With Maccabi Haifa having beaten Kiriat Shmona on Saturday, the Greens have opened up a three point gap on second-placed Maccabi Tel Aviv.

In fear of a bad tempered affair, the Israeli FA have specially commission for a referee from Cyprus to be flown in to officiate the game, as the Bloomfield stadium will be filled to capacity for one of the most important games of the season.

Maccabi Tel Aviv will have to cope with the absence of coach and legendary former player Avi Nimni, who received a five game ban following an attack on a referee. But despite the absence of their talisman in the last game, the yellows managed to draw 1-all against Maccabi Haifa following two straight wins. There is no doubt – after a very disappointing season, finally Maccabi Tel Aviv is playing some good football at the business end of the calendar year.

The yellows have some skilled players in the team: winger Maor Buzaglo is one of the best domestic products, left midfielder/defender Haim Magrelashvili is in excellent form, and even central midfielder Dulee Johnson, who came as a major signing in the summer and was awful until now, is showing flashes of quality.

Young talented center back Lior Gan is back from suspension. But most of Maccabi Tel Aviv’s players are not brilliant. Nimni plays a defensive minded 4-5-1 formation, with Buzaglo and Yossi Shivhon as attacking midfielders and three defensive midfielders behind them.

This stocky formation might be an obstacle for Hapoel Tel Aviv, as it was for Haifa. Hapoel also play with a 4-5-1 formation, but a different one from Maccabi. Coach Eli Gutman fields three attacking midfielders behind the excellent target man Samuel Yeboah.

Gutman’s problem is that attacking midfielders Gil Vermouth and Ben Luz are in doubt for the match, while supporting striker Maharan Lala is still injured. But if Vermouth and Luz will be able to play, Hapoel’s ability to move the ball will be crucial for the fate of this game.

Hapoel also have some talented players starting with their keeper, as Nigerian Vincent Enyeama has been in top form for much of the season. Also in great shape is versatile Brazilian Douglas Da Silva, the 25-year-old, who played for most of his career as a center back, showed this season that he can play at the same level also as defensive midfielder or right back. He will continue playing as a right back on Sunday and his excellent heading ability especially in dead ball situations could be an important factor in the match.

With so much riding on this game, we can expect a fast match between two teams who will play for the win. Hapoel must stay as close as possible to Maccabi Haifa and Nimni’s side has all the will in the world to win the local bagging rights for the coming week.

(Hapoel Tel Aviv are 4/5 to win, Maccabi are 3/1 to win while the draw is priced at 9/4.)

101gg predicts: Hapoel Tel Aviv 3 – Maccabi Tel Aviv 1

Full match odds here.