2020 has been a crazy year for so many reasons. Our 2020/21 UEFA Champions League campaign has already been incredible before it has even started.
The draw was made three weeks ago for the play-off round of qualifying, with the winners of the unseeded pair of Maccabi Tel-Aviv and Dinamo Brest facing us. Straight after the international break, the Israelis took an untroubled 1-0 win thanks to a penalty. We were therefore on course to play in Israel. Or were we? The Covid-19 situation worsened in the Holy Land in the meantime with up to 9,000 new infections per day. That is roughly 20 times the infection rate in Austria. Israel has gone into lockdown for three weeks, with airports and hotels closed. So we wouldn't get to play in Tel Aviv then? Wrong - all the local ministries did whatever they could to ensure Maccabi retain their home advantage. The whole of Israel seems to be behind their team. No surprise when their 30,000 Bloomfield Stadium gets regularly filled for league matches. Recently the news broke that six players and even more support staff of Maccabi have been infected. We therefore face a very uncertain equation indeed.
Due to the modest amount of players available, the hosts are likely to line up with a totally unfamiliar team at the Bloomfield Stadium. Six players are out due to Covid while two others are unavailable to coach Georgios Donis due to other complaints. Three regulars are out in Dan Glazer, Nick Blackman and Dor Peretz. Glazer was crowned player of the season in Israel last season and is known as an irreplaceable aggressive leader. Blackman has scored three times in Champions League qualifying so far as a good strike partner for Etay Shechter. Dor Peretz has been a midfield workhorse for years.
What will the hosts do? With the midfield looking particularly light on options, Donis might have an easy choice between his favoured 4-2-3-1 and 3-4-2-1 formations. The second system needs just two full midfielders and therefore offers more solidity when opponents are in possession.
creativity or courage?
The loss of so many midfielders puts Maccabi into a dilemma surrounding their gameplan. They are used to dominating matches, gaining 57.8% of possession on average and playing 530 passes per match, while their opponents average 338 passes. Do Maccabi want to dominate against us too? And can they?
If we look at the expected goals data, the Israelis have an xG of 1.74 per match. Given how many shots they tend to have, it suggests the quality of their efforts is not particularly high. Perhaps they might be tempted to sit back and try to hit us on the break?
Ones to watch
One who can definitely make the difference is veteran striker Etay Shechter. The striker provides a less than fond memory from our distant past, when he scored against us in 2010 for Hapoel Tel-Aviv 2010. Despite the well-travelled striker scoring twice this season, Maccabi are yet to post a win in the Ligat Ha'al.
Daniel Tenenbaum has kept clean sheets in every single qualifying match so far. The 25-year-old Brazilian-Israeli is regarded as the best goalkeeper in the league.
Someone who could step in to fill the gaps in midfield is 20-year-old Eden Karzev, who has been on loan in the second division and is now ready for the next step. He has played through all the youth age groups at the club and is regarded as one of their greatest hopes.
The full 90 minutes of the play-off encounter with Maccabi Tel-Aviv will be live on our Bullenfunk radio service. Live commentary can he heard on our Mobile App and our Website. It all starts ten minutes before kick-off!