Ahead of Sunday's "match of the season" between Maccabi Tel Aviv and Hapoel Beer Sheva, we were wondering what exactly the two club's stats this season have to tell us about the possible outcome. What about the history between the two clubs, and finally, which club seems to have the blessing of Bloomfield Stadium. To find out the answers, read on
Throughout their history, Maccabi Tel Aviv have been familiar with the characterisation "match of the season", but tonight's match against Hapoel Beer Sheva can by no means be described as part of the club's routine. The statistics surrounding this year's "match of the season" are in line with the reality that Maccabi's rival in this contest are certainly not accustomed to their position. One the one hand, the history of the encounters between the two clubs is quite clearly skewed in Maccabi's favour: 43 wins against 19 losses and a goal difference of 136 to 78. On the other hand, in light of the number of club records Hapoel Beer Sheva have already broken this season, these statistics are unlikely predictors of the outcome of Sunday's encounter. On top of their first victories against Maccabi Haifa in eleven years, and their first away victory against Hapoel Tel Aviv in twenty years, Hapoel Beer Sheva are now boasting their best goal difference in the club's history, having scored 24 more goals than they have conceded.
And all of these records have found expression in the number of points Hapoel Beer Sheva have accumulated and the place they find themselves in the Israeli Premier League. After 20 matchweeks, they're positioned second in the table with 47 points, a club record, with fourteen victories, a record shared only with the 1996/97 season. They've only lost once, also a club record, having scored a total of 37 goals, yet another club record, whilst conceding just 13, just one goal more than the club record of 12 achieved in the 1986 season.
But as Maccabi head coach Paulo Sousa pointed out in his press conference last Thursday, his side are also having a good season, in fact one of their best ever, and they also have the statistics to support it. In those same 20 matchweeks they have harvested 50 points, a record shared only in the '94 and '96 seasons, with 16 victories. And to find a season Maccabi had recorded 17 victories at this same stage of the season, you have to go all the way back the 1950's.
As for an encounter at Maccabi's Bloomfield Stadium, well, in fact both teams have reason for optimism. Not only do Maccabi Tel Aviv have an excellent home record this season, with just a single draw and no losses in ten outings, they've beaten Hapoel Beer Sheva 13 times at home while suffering just 4 losses and 12 draws. For their part, Hapoel Beer Sheva have already played at Bloomfield Stadium twice this season, and for the first time in their history recorded two consecutive victories, against Hapoel Tel Aviv and Bnei Yehuda.
No doubt, Bloomfield Stadium will play an important role in tonight's face-off between the two league leaders, but in the mid-seventies, when Hapoel Beer Sheva recorded their back-to-back league titles, Bloomfield also had its role to play. During the 1974/75 season, Maccabi Tel Aviv almost prevented Beer Sheva from recording their historic championship. At a time when a win was worth only two points, they led the table by three points just two matches from the end of the season and a victory over Maccabi Tel Aviv at Bloomfield would have represented their championship match. But Maccabi won to push the title decider to the season's final week, where Beer Sheva realised their title hopes anyway.
The following season, Maccabi's involvement in Beer Sheva's second consecutive successful title campaign was of a more positive nature in what was perhaps the most dramatic season final in Israel footballing history. Beer Sheva were playing Maccabi Jaffa at home needing just a draw to win the title. Jaffa were hovering near the relegation zone but still came out on top 0-1. At the final whistle Beer Sheva, both fans and players, were already dealing with the disappointment of having let the title slip through their fingers, with the former surging out of the stadium and the latter crying on the pitch. But those tears of regret turned to tears of joy after the news came through from Bloomfield, where Maccabi had beaten Beer Sheva's nearest title rival, Beitar Jerusalem, 2-0 to place the title firmly in Beer Sheva's hand.
This Sunday's encounter will not decide the league, but no-one is in any doubt how important the match is. Everything is ready for 90 minutes of football, and at the end only two numbers really matter – the two numbers that make up the final score.
Statistics courtesy of Yaron Meshal