Hapoel Tel Aviv has played three matches since returning from the "war break" – and this is its dismal balance: three red cards, two goals and only one point. This is when none of the games are against the top teams in the Premier League (with all due respect to Hapoel Haifa, M.S. Ashdod and Hapoel Hadera).
The fans in red, who currently cannot support the team from the stands, had high hopes for better days after the departure of the Nissnovs and the beginning of the Mintzberg era. Judging by the recent performances – of the players on the pitch, and not least of the coach on the lines – the hopes of the fans may very soon return to the realms of "just staying in the league".
Yesterday (Saturday) in Bloomfield, during the second half of the game against Hadera, captain Dan Einbinder approached coach Borja Lama and tried to draw his attention to the change in formation made by the visitors, which completely turned the game around. Why he listened, didn't respond, and after a few minutes José Rodríguez turned too, this time in Spanish, perhaps so that his coach would make the adjustments anyway. In this case, too, things have not changed as far as Hapoel Tel Aviv is concerned.
This wasn't the only case where Lama's response didn't come. People at Hapoel advised the coach to replace Alon Azogyi, who carried a yellow card. Why he lingered – and in the 69th minute Azogi picked up a second yellow and was sent off. Hadera equalized and almost won the game. Only by luck did Hapoel Tel Aviv come away with the first point out of nine in the era of Michael Valcanis' replacement.
The management sees the involvement of the players as a positive thing. For them, the professional staff and players are a kind of one piece, one that needs to come together as a team and deliver results. "The shock during the forced hiatus had an effect," Hapoel claimed, "We were a good team, we provided a show in Teddy against Beitar and we felt that something good was happening. And then everything stopped."
Borja why. Does not react to events on the pitch, photo: Alan Shaver
While management is pleased with their involvement, concern is expressed among the players themselves. "We find it difficult to understand what he wants from us," some said, "you see that he lacks experience, and also time to study the team - the problem is that every three days there is a game and there is no time to correct the mistakes."
It is hard to say that there is a rift in Hapoel Tel Aviv's dressing room, but the club's management and the Mintzberg brothers understand that there are problems to address. In the meantime, management decided to allow Lemme to try to fix things, but that won't be the case for much longer if the low rate of points accumulation continues.
Sources close to the club's management claim that the lack of experience, especially in decision-making, was taken into account when it was decided to give the 33-year-old Spanish coach the keys. "The main consideration was to make as few shocks as possible after Valkanis' departure," the people familiar with the matter explained. "Lemme knows the squad and brings some good ideas, but when the results aren't good then the pressure goes up and it's much harder to bring things to fruition."
At the same time, Hapoel Tel Aviv does not blame the situation solely on the coach. "There are players from whom we expected much more, but in the meantime they are struggling to provide numbers," club sources stressed. Omri Altman, for example, returned to Khodorov as one of the Reds' flashiest signings in the summer, but he has yet to score or cook; The talented Hisham Ayios has only two goals; Alain Ojebolt lives up to expectations with three goals, but the Slovenian hasn't scored since returning from the break.
Omri Altman. Not delivering the goods as expected of him, photo: Ami Shumen
Despite everything, Hapoel Tel Aviv is optimistic about the future. From conversations with club officials, including players, the prevailing claim is that the squad is better than it was last year. Factually, despite the poor results upon returning from the break the Reds have accumulated 9 points so far in the league, while in the same situation last year they had only 6 points and a much worse defense that conceded 17 goals in 8 games (this season the Reds have 10 mandatory goals).
In January, the owners are expected to approve in principle the addition of one or two players from the budget vacated by the release of Valcanis, Aziz Cayundo and Gabe Segal. Professional manager Chen Sol is looking for a middle midfielder after missing Ilai Almakais, who signed for Bnei Sakhnin. Another option is to add another left-back, with the focus on the Israeli market, with the understanding that foreigners will not want to come to Israel during or after the war.
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The bottom line is that this is a kind of recurring ritual in Hapoel Tel Aviv. Sometimes you start badly and improve, sometimes the other way around – but the goal after almost an entire league round remains the same: to finish with a ticket to the top playoffs. In the current reality, no one thinks further. At the moment, no one wants to imagine any other scenario, such as one that includes another season of survival battles.
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