MOTHERWELL will take on Hapoel Be’er Sheva in Israel this evening with a place in the Europa League play-off up for grabs. The challenge facing Stephen Robinson and his players in the stifling heat of Israel is one that appears daunting at first but according to Israeli football expert Raphael Gellar, the task is not an insurmountable one.

Scottish football fans may be familiar with the Steelmen’s opponents tonight – Be’er Sheva narrowly missed out on a place in the group stages of the Champions League after falling at the final hurdle against Celtic back in 2016 – but while the Israeli outfit have enjoyed their fair share of success in recent years, the current crop are a squad in transition, with Be’er Sheva embarking on a cost-cutting exercise to slash the club’s wage bill: something that Gellar believes Motherwell can use to their advantage tonight.

“Last spring, the owner announced that she was leaving.” Gellar explained. “There was a huge process of getting rid of players with huge wages off the bill.

“They needed to get some big guys off the wage bill and they did. At the same time, they made a lot of changes to the team because even though they were reducing the wage bill, they still needed to bring in new players. They went from a philosophy of spending big money and signing big names but they don’t have that same backing now.

“In previous years this would have been an easy draw for them. They were used to playing top teams in Champions League qualifiers – they were the first team to beat Inter Milan home and away in the group stages of a tournament. They were playing at a very high level but only two or three players were part of those teams.

“It’s a new team. There are a lot of these guys that are talented but they are getting to the stage where they need to prove themselves. Some of them were playing in the Israeli second division back in June.

“It’s a team that up until last year was one of the top two teams in Israel. In the last six or seven years they’ve really cemented themselves as one of the top teams in Israel; they won three titles in a row. It’s a transition year. They have a new coach who arrived in winter last year.

“At the same time, they still have a good budget and should finish in the top three. They still have very good players but maybe the Israeli players are a step down compared to what they’ve had in recent years.”

Hapoel Be’er Sheva may be lacking in the star power that they used to be able to regularly rely upon but that does not mean that there is a dearth of quality within Yossi Abukasis’ side.

There are still standout performers that have the ability to produce match-winning moments all by themselves, Gellar stresses, with one or two in particular that Robinson’s men will need to keep an especially close eye on.

Gellar continued: “The superstar of the team is Josue. Many people say he’s one of the bet foreigners in the league, if not the best. He’s what makes the team tick.

“He’s played for Porto in the Champions League, he’s played in the Turkish Super Lig and is capable of taking over a match. He’s got caps for Portugal, which says it all.

“Another player to keep an eye on is someone they paid a transfer fee for and expect to sell for a profit one day, Elton Acalatse. He came through at Ajax and played for Club Brugge but it didn’t really work out for him.

“He’s got electric pace but he needs to be more consistent. There are some games he plays and people are asking why he is even playing in Israel. He’s an enormous talent.”

The question of how Be’er Sheva are likely to line up this evening is a curious one. Abukasis tends to favour a conservative and cautious 3-5-2 formation but given the expectation on the Israelis to book their passage to the final qualifying round, Gellar reckons a change in approach could be on the cards – one that could hand Motherwell a shot at victory.

“The coach always plays with three centre-backs and his teams always play on the counter,” he said. “He usually coaches smaller teams and has led them to success but he can’t play that way with a team that’s meant to be finishing in the top three. They’re still trying to figure out what’s the best system for them but in a game like this, they’ll play very attacking.

“Hapoel are vulnerable on the flanks with their wing-backs, and the centre-backs. It’s a weakness. Some of the full-backs didn’t play at the best level and the centre-backs are getting old. Miguel Vitor has been one of the best centre-backs in the history of the Israel Premier League but he’s not the player he was five years ago.

“The midfield has a few issues but if Motherwell attack, they’ve got a chance. They won’t want to leave the defence too exposed but if they can take advantage of the problems in defence, the new faces, the older players that are getting on a bit, then they’ve got a shot.

“The biggest thing is to keep an eye on Josue. He’s the kind of player that can produce a match-winning moment out of nothing. He’s very good at this level. He knows that he is the big name on this team and he can take control, and the coaches will be happy with that. He has the potential to be the best player in the league and he tends to run matches from midfield.”

Be’er Sheva survived a serious scare in the previous round of the Europa League, requiring two stoppage-time goals to eke out a 2-1 win over Lac in Albania.

Defeat would have been viewed as a catastrophe, and the result hints at the deficiencies within this current side. But despite the concerns raised, Gellar remains confident that the Israeli club have what it takes to see off Motherwell this evening.

“They were very bad against Lac in the previous round. They scored two goals in stoppage time – it would have been an embarrassing, monumental failure if they hadn’t got those goals,” Gellar said.

“The team hasn’t looked good, that’s the bottom line. Last season they struggled and it’s a team that’s incomplete. They still have a lot of growing to do but in the Europa League you don’t have that, you just have to win.

“That being said, it’s a disappointment if they don’t win. Even with the budget cuts, the financial disparity between the two clubs is enormous. Motherwell have a good history of producing their own players but a team in Israel with a top-three budget should be winning. They’re not the team they were three years ago but they still have players who have played for Porto and Ajax.”