Two wins over five days have completely transformed the mood at Maccabi Tel Aviv.
It was just over a week ago that Maccabi coach Jordi Cruyff had to deal with increasing calls for his head from yellow- and-blue fans after the team had registered its third straight draw and fell seven points behind Premier League leader Hapoel Beersheba.
However, a 1-0 victory over Hapoel Beersheba in the Toto Cup final last Thursday followed by a 2-1 win against Beitar Jerusalem at Teddy Stadium on Monday have injected new life and optimism into Maccabi’s campaign.
After beating its main rival over recent seasons to lift the first title of the 2017/18 season, Maccabi defeated Beitar for the first time in six league matches to take full advantage of Beersheba’s loss at Maccabi Netanya a day earlier and close to within four points of the summit.
Arguably the biggest reason behind Maccabi’s rejuvenation has been Cruyff’s decision to change his team’s formation. Since its final Europa League group game at Villarreal two weeks ago, Cruyff has opted for a 3-5-2 lineup, with two of the five midfielders basically operating as defenders on the flanks when the opponent has the ball.
Eli Dasa and Avi Rikan occupied those positions on the right and left respectively in the match against Beitar and were arguably the two best players on the field.
Maccabi hosts Ironi Kiryat Shmona on Saturday and can move to within a single point of Beersheba, which doesn’t host Maccabi Haifa until Monday.
“Before anything we need to play with the passion and desire we displayed in the previous games,” said Cruyff on Thursday. “We know there will be less spaces so we will have to be more creative and pass the ball quicker to our free men. It is going to be a test where we are standing.”
Hapoel Haifa can return to the summit for at least 48 hours with a win over Maccabi Petah Tikva on Saturday. After leading the standings for much of the first third of the campaign, Haifa has won just one of its past five matches, drawing with lowly Ashdod SC and Hapoel Ashkelon in its last two games.
Also Saturday, Netanya aims to build on the win over Beersheba when it visits Hapoel Acre, while Bnei Yehuda hosts Asheklon.
On Sunday, Beitar Jerusalem goes to Ashdod and Hapoel Ra’anana welcomes Bnei Sakhnin.