Maccabi Tel Aviv hosts Maccabi Haifa in the Premier League's outstanding game of the week tonight, pitting two teams expected to compete for this season's championship.
Maccabi Tel Aviv's revamped team is disciplined. It's strategy is to hold the ball by keeping passes short, attack via the flanks while trying to create a numerical advantage against its opponent's defense, and crowd the penalty area with midfield players. Maccabi Haifa, under new coach Reuven Atar, concentrates a lot of players in the center of the pitch and also keeps three quick players in attack. Tel Aviv will therefore have to move the ball quickly.
Gal Alberman is Tel Aviv's most important ball winner in midfield, helping his defenders and moving the ball upfield. The endless movement of Maharan Radi and his tactical discipline help Alberman tremendously. These two players will be critical in creating an advantage against Haifa in the middle of the park. In defense, Tel Aviv needs to prevent as much as possible a situation in which Haifa's Hen Ezra goes one-on-one against Omer Vered. If this happens, Tel Aviv will have to close in on Ezra and stifle his mobility.
Against the new Maccabi Tel Aviv, which patiently moves the ball, Haifa will want to start presuring in midfield and charge forward when it gets the ball.
Haifa needs to use Hen Ezra, who looked terrific in Toto Cup group play, as much as possible when it attacks. The more the midfielder touches the ball in open play - facing the goal while his teammates on offense move diagonally deep into enemy territory - the more dangerous Haifa will be.
Tamir Cohen will have the most important task in breaking down Tel Aviv's attacks, relying on help from his defenders and releasing Eyal Golasa for offensive assignments. Afterward, he will have to join attacks from the second line. Golasa must be dominant in the middle of the pitch and not go easy on Tel Aviv's versatile midfield.
Haifa's transition game depends a lot on its ability to extract balls and quickly pass them forward. Defensively, Haifa needs to crowd the center of the defense and pay attention to shots from outside the penalty area by Tel Aviv's midfielders, namely Radi and Alberman. Atar's method sometimes leaves a numerical disadvantage on the wings, so Haifa will have to beware of Yoav Ziv and Omer Vered's dangerous moves along the flanks. In such situations, Tamir Cohen's ability to read the game and Golasa's excellent fitness will be needed.