Newly expanded from 12 to 16 teams, the new Israeli league season kicks off at the weekend, with Beitar Jerusalem FC and Maccabi Tel-Aviv FC awaiting fresh starts of their own.
The new season will be the first under a new format which will see every team's points total halved after they have played each other twice, after which they will be divided into three sections. The top six will battle for European places, teams 7-10 will compete for prestige and the sides placed 11-16 will seek to avoid relegation.
'Interest and drama'
Teams will meet only once in the end-of-season groups, meaning the top and bottom groups will play 35 games, while the middle section will play 33. Israel Football Association chairman Avi Luzon said: "The new system should increase the interest and drama in the closing stages; something which should benefit everyone involved."
There has been interest and drama aplenty at Maccabi Tel-Aviv over the summer. Coach Avi Nimni will hope that the arrival of a new 80 per cent shareholder – Mitchell Goldhar – gives him a chance to strengthen a side which has been weakened by an injury to midfield linchpin Maor Buzaglo, out until January with a knee problem.
Beitar also have a new main sponsor, with the 32-year-old Guma Aguiar having come in to save a club in danger of going into administration. Veteran coach Itzhak Shum, who was dismissed at the start of last season, is back in charge though he and his players have accepted pay cuts.
Champions Maccabi Haifa FC and runners-up Hapoel Tel-Aviv FC may be a little less excited about the start of a new domestic season as they bid to secure places in the group stages of Europe's top club competitions this week. However, both are expected to be among the frontrunners once the campaign commences.
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