Champions League 2015/16 profiles: Maccabi Tel Aviv
Israeli outfit Maccabi Tel Aviv may be their country’s most decorated club, but the Yellows are firm outsiders at 11/1 with Coral to qualify from a Group G also containing giants Chelsea, Dynamo Kiev and Porto, on their return to the Champions League proper after an 11-year absence.
Domestic League: Israeli Premier League
How they qualified: Having claimed the Israeli Premier League crown for a third successive season, Maccabi navigated their way through the Champions League play-offs, ousting Maltese men Hibernians, Czech club Viktoria Plzen and Swiss Super League side Basel to reach a perilous Pool G.
Best Champions League era performance: As one of only three Israeli teams to have represented their nation in the Champions League, the Yellows have not yet made it past the group stages, so will be aiming to make history here.
Coach: Slavisa Jokanovic. The ex-Watford coach was snapped-up after parting ways with his Hornets, with whom he won Premier League promotion. Having guided his Maccabi men to the Champions League group stage, Jokanovic now has the chance to cause former playing club Chelsea an upset.
Ins and outs: Centre back Tal Ben Haim returned to boyhood club Maccabi this summer, and is a Yellow once more after 11 seasons away from home.
Promising Serbian stopper Predrag Rajkovic was also procured from Red Star Belgrade, with Dinamo Zagreb dangerman Dejan Radonjic also arriving at the Bloomfield Stadium.
Notable exits included full back Sheran Yeini joining Dutch giants Vitesse Arnhem, while Israeli attacker Ben Reichert hopped over to city rivals Hapoel Tel Aviv.
Familiar faces: Serbian coach Jokanovic has barely been away but will return to challenge the Blues at Stamford Bridge, where he was once a defensive midfield shield. Another Chelsea old boy is Ben Haim, who also took in stints at Bolton Wanderers, Manchester City and West Ham United.
Key player: Maccabi captain Eran Zahavi is the architect of the Tel Aviv team. A former Israeli footballer of the year and ex-Palermo player, he holds the record for most Yellows strikes in a league season, and is also top scorer for the club in UEFA competitions.
Ones to watch: In addition to star player Zahavi, whose last-gasp strike in Switzerland sealed Champions League qualification, Maccabi also boast German-born Croatian goal threat Radonjic. The 25-year-old frontman was captured on loan from Dinamo Zagreb for further firepower.
Another forward who can threaten from the flanks is Tal Ben Haim II, not to be confused with his defensive namesake, who could prove wily out wide.
Emerging talent: Nigerian midfielder Nosa Igiebor (24) is increasingly influential from midfield, while most of Maccabi’s potential remains in their rearguard, with right back Eli Dasa (22) and post protector Rajkovic (19).
CL group and fixtures:
v Chelsea (Away), September 16th
v Dinamo Kiev (Home), September 29th
v Porto (Away), October 20th
v Porto (Home), November 4th
v Chelsea (Home), November 24th
v Dinamo Kiev (Away), December 9th