How did they qualify?
Maccabi won their third consecutive Israeli league last season by five points, which gained them a place in the second qualifying round of the Champions League. They saw off Maltese side Hibernians 6-3 on aggregate before knocking out Viktoria Plzen of the Czech Republic 3-2 over the two legs. The play-off round gave them a tough tie against Champions League regulars FC Basel, and having drawn the first leg 2-2 thanks to a 96th minute equaliser, a 1-1 draw in Israel was enough to see them through to the group stages on away goals.
Record in Europe:
This is Maccabi’s first appearance in the group stage of the competition since 2004/05, when they finished bottom of a group that included European heavyweights Juventus, Bayern Munich and Ajax. They didn’t disgrace themselves by any means, however, beating Ajax and drawing 1-1 with Juve at their Bloomfield Stadium (not Blackpool’s Bloomfield Road) home. The past two seasons have seen them enter the Europa League, but the Israelis have not been past the first knock-out round and last season didn’t even make the group stages.
Who’s the boss?
A manager that we expected to line up in the Premier League will be in charge of Tel Aviv as they embark on their Champions League adventure. Slavisa Jokanovic earned promotion with Watford last summer, but parted ways with the Vicarage Road outfit in the summer and has taken charge of the Israeli side. Prior to his time in England, Jokanovic was best known for a successful spell in charge at Partizan Belgrade, where he won consecutive domestic doubles in Serbia between 2007 and 2009.
How they’ll play:
Watford fans were impressed with their attacking style under Jokanovic last season, but having worked so hard just to make it to the group stages the Serbian is unlikely to be too reckless in his approach. Tel Aviv will have to play out of their skins to get anything from trips to Stamford Bridge, Porto and Kiev and are likely to soak up pressure and try and make the most of pace on the break. At home it will be a different story, as none of their opponents will be too keen on the lengthy trip; Jokanovic will try to exploit this and catch the opposition on the back foot with a pressing game.
Club captain Eran Zahavi is the one to watch for Maccabi. The 28-year old has been named Israeli Footballer of the Year for the last two seasons and in December 2014 broke domestic records by scoring for the 18th game in a row. This is all the more impressive considering Zahavi is not an out-and-out striker; the skipper operates in an attacking midfield role behind the frontman. Maccabi also have a name who will be familiar to English fans – Tal Ben Haim joined the club for a second time in the summer having played for eight English sides since joining Bolton in 2004, including 13 appearances for Chelsea.