Eran Zahavi, Maccabi Tel Aviv Captain

Eran Zahavi, Maccabi Tel Aviv Captain

Eran Zahavi, Maccabi Tel Aviv Captain-Sports Rabbi Dov Halickman Photography

Eran Zahavi, Maccabi Tel Aviv Captain (Sports Rabbi Dov Halickman Photography)

1. The Captain is Back! Yossi Benayoun returned to the football pitch with a vengeance as the Maccabi Haifa captain came into a scoreless match against Maccabi Netanya in the 82nd minute and found the winner just 4 minutes later to give The Greens 3-points and the win. Benayoun’s goal is important for a number of reasons.

Firstly, it quiets his ever so loud critics that have been promoting the anti-Benayoun sentiment amongst the supporter clubs and other fans who have been calling for his head on recent weeks. Secondly, it gives Haifa and it’s coach Roni Levy an important win to help move the team to a respectable 8th place on the table. Thirdly, it gets a huge monkey off of Benayoun’s chest as someone who has been in and out of the lineup due to injury since he came back to the northern city last season.

The one criticism is that Benayoun was quoted as saying after the match that he knew all along the fans had been with him. Not quite so sure about that.

2. Beer Sheva as expected dominated their home match against Kfar Saba in front of over 16,000 fans at their brand new stadium winning without much of a problem 3:0. The victory should be no surprise as Kfar Saba is definitely not one of the Israeli league heavy weights, but in sports you never know until you actually play the games. Beer Sheva did what they needed to do to capture the 3-points on goals by Maaran Radi on a gorgeous free kick, Shir Tzedek off a corner kick and captain Elyaniv Barda added the third strike. A total team effort.

Barak Bachar knows he has a decent amount of quality players at his disposal and he also knows that he’ll have to stroke their egos for full season in order to go head to head against Maccabi Tel Aviv for the championship. So far through a third of the year there’s no reason to think they won’t be in the hunt.

3. If anyone really thought that Beitar Jerusalem could challenge for the championship they will need to think again. After four straight wins the Yellow-and-Black drew over 10K fans to an AWAY MATCH! Yes and away game in Petach Tikva which they unfortunately lost 2:0 thanks to an incredible showing by keeper Tzachi Gigi. That’s an incredible number of supporters though and proved the point that Beitar may have the best fans in the country, perhaps not the most well behaved but they certainly show up in huge numbers. As coach Slobodan Drapic said after the game if we can win 4 of 5 every time around I’d take that in a heart beat and I’m sure the Beitar fans would as well.

Captain Omer Atzili had a message for all of the fans as well that they should stop booing and criticizing Danny Preda. Well, I hate to break it to you, Preda has not scored a single goal since coming to Beitar Jerusalem during the winter 2013/14 transfer window from Maccabi Petach Tikva. He’s played 46 matches for Beitar in league and cup play and has done zero! Zip to show for his efforts or lack thereof. He always seems lost on the pitch, clueless and disinterested. Owner Eli Tabib likes Preda and wants to see his investment work out as he’s now hired a personal coach for the midfielder, but the question remains when will his time be up?

4. Good morning, Shlomi Azulay! The Maccabi Tel Aviv midfielder had a match for the ages against Bnei Yehuda scoring his first goal for the Yellow-and-Blue while assisting on a pair of goals by superstar captain Eran Zahavi. Azulay has been a black sheep since coming over from Beitar Jerusalem with Eli Dasa in August, playing very little while, injured and not quite fitting in with the rest of his new teammates.

However, all of sudden with some hard work on and off of the pitch he has now started his second match in a row plus he even played for a few minutes against Chelsea last week in the Champions League. It’s clear that Azulay needed to get into Head Coach Slavisa Jokanovic’s good graces the past month, do what the boss wanted of him and now his efforts have paid off very nicely.

Starting in the mini-derby, Azulay was the most dominant player on the pitch during a scoreless first half but being involved in many of the Maccabi opportunities. So much so, it was evident that he would eventually play an integral role during the last 45 minutes. Number 16 broke the deadlock by picking up a loose ball in the box and scored with authority to give his side a 1:0 lead. He then made a couple of perfect passes to captain Eran Zahavi who made no mistake with the ball picking up a brace for himself.

Azulay showed exactly what he could do last season when he played with Beitar and now everyone knows why Maccabi and their technical director Jordi Cruyff went after the player who just two short years ago was plying his trade in Israel’s second division.