The end of July seems but a distant memory. From the last gasp win by newcomers OH Leuven over the undisputed heavyweight, Anderlecht, we’ve seen games full of contentious incidents, last minute winners, weekly thrashings and a few managers callously thrown to the dole queue. Some not so.
As we approach the half-way point for the entire season, now seems as good a time as any to review the action thus far. So in typical report card fashion, here’s how each club in the top six has done in the first part of the season. Not that it entirely matters, the playoffs sorts out the true winners and losers but it’s nice to gauge where everyone’s at, I guess.
Foolishly, many (including myself) wrote off Anderlecht in pre-season. The previous campaign (and the playoffs) had really exposed Les Mauves as a team devoid of creativity, guile and spirit and many thought they wouldn’t recover so quickly – especially as they had just sold their prized asset Romelu Lukaku to Chelsea in a money-spinning move. Whilst he languishes on the bench in West London awaiting his chance, Anderlecht responded excellently with some fringe players restored to their previous best.
Bar the shaky start at Den Dreef, Ariel Jacobs’ side have only lost twice, sweeping aside most teams with comparative ease. Even more impressive has been Sporting’s foray in the Europa League, scoring maximum points in their group. This form has been largely down to Anderlecht’s midfield trio – Lucas Biglia as ever the puppeteer stringing together passes and instilling fluidity, but credit should also go to the improving and increasingly assured Sacha Kljestan alongside. The base has allowed Guillaume Gillet to assume a more advanced midfield role, contributing ten league goals to the team so far. It has to be said though, without the orchestrator Biglia, Anderlecht do lack ideas.
And they also have one of the world’s greatest players – Milan Jovanovic. If you believe Neighbours. Seriously, his return to greatness (possibly because of the level) from a dismal Merseyside spell has been interesting to watch too.
Star Player – As good as Guillaume Gillet has been, there’s only one choice here. Matias Suarez has certainly filled the Lukaku void adeptly. The 23-year old Argentinian has always been a confidence player, but with a solid spine behind him, he’s really shone throughout the first half of the season with some truly magnificent pieces of skill and goals. Quite rightly getting plaudits and suitors from across Europe, Marseille are interested apparently
Best Performance – Anderlecht’s 5-0 drubbing of Standard Liege stands head and shoulders above the rest. Every single player was at their best – the midfield completely controlling the tempo and Jovanovic and Suarez imperious The opposition failed to have a single shot in the game showing you how dominant Anderlecht were that day.
Grade – A – Keep this up and it’s title no.31
Welcoming back Norwegian manager Trond Sollied has had the desired effect on De Buffalos, igniting a fire in the East Flanders club that was extinguished in the playoffs. The team relied too heavily on Yassine El Ghanassy but this year has seen them shift towards a collective ideal. What has been most impressive for Gent has been the spread of goals across the team, particularly from set-plays. Bernd Thijs and Jesper Jorgensen have scored eight and six respectively from midfield. But there has been frustration too; often Gent have been wasteful with their chances, even with being the league’s top scorers. This squandering has cost them points against lesser teams
Star Player – A tough choice this. No one player has really stood out from the bunch, with Sollied bringing a togetherness within the squad. The buy of Christian Brüls from Westerlo though was inspired, giving Gent another dimension from El Ghanassy. He may have only scored one league goal but he was brought into the team as a provider and with ten assists, you can’t argue with his importance to Gent already.
Best Performance – Gent’s second half mauling in the 6-2 vs Mechelen was a joy to behold. Well unless you were a Mechlen fan. Five goals after half-time sealed an impressive win.
Grade – B+ – Control the slip-ups and could challenge. Out and out goalscorer needed.
Club Brugge (3rd) – 37pts
Never a club to shy away from the headlines, Club Brugge have had an eventful season so far. After the summer spending, the anticipation was high from the supporters for the team Adrie Koster had assembled. And for a while they were certainly the early pace-setters playing some wonderful stuff. But then everything fell apart and Club Brugge hit the skids in late October. Koster was culled after four defeats, almost all identical in the way the team threw away the game. The game of the year contender, a 5-4 defeat against Genk was the final straw and Koster was dispensed with.
In stepped incredibly frightening but also incredibly experience German Christoph Daum to steady the ship with a series of 1-0 wins (or now dubbed in the media as Daum-score) and Club Brugge remain in the race for the title/league leaders shield. It may not be as entertaining as before, but stability and grinding out results is really the way to a title as we all know.
Star Player – Whilst the new recruits have had fairly average success, it’s been the rise of central midfielder Vadis Odjidja-Ofoe that has really caught the eye. At times, the Ghanian-Belgian has marvelled both defensively and when given a license to roam forward. His part in this goal against Gent truly deserves the highest acclaim. A young midfield colossus. The next big thing. Mark my words.
Best Performance – The opening day massacre, 5-0 vs Westerlo certainly got the ultras excited
Grade – B- New manager has got rid of defensive lapses and they should be close in 2012.
Kortrijk (4th) – 33pts
Perhaps this a false position but Kortrijk have snuck up from nowhere to become the best of the rest. Whilst many predicted Kortrijk to be close to a playoff spot, not many thought they’d be beating the likes of Standard and Genk to it. After a poor start, Hein Vanhaezebrouck has got the team performing well at the right time, with only one defeat in five recently as the others stuttered.
Kortrijk are the Charlie Sheen of the Jupiler Pro League – they win here and they win there and that apparently is enough to remain semi-relevant. They seem to beat everyone around them by shutting them out too. Gargantuan goalkeeper Kristof Van Hout has returned and his huge presence has helped Kortrijk keep four clean sheets in five games recently. The astute loan deals for Anderlecht duo of Pablo Chavarria and ‘Big Serb’ Dalibor Veselinovic have also bolstered a side lacking in confidence after last year’s slide down the rankings. The Serbian especially seems to revel in a side based upon direct football – being a lumbering centre forward and all.
Star Player – Mustapha Oussalah stands out here for his industrious nature -whether that is getting sent off with horrendous tackles or not.
Best Performance – Kortrijk’s 4-1 away win against Lokeren. Strange to think Kortrijk hadn’t won away from home for a year, they finally got the luck they needed. Classy finishes all round too.
Grade – B – Punching above their weight for now. Blind luck how they are 4th.
Standard Liège (5th) – 31pts
Given the summer of upheaval and how much has changed at Sclessin, it’s to Standard credit that they are still riding high. The start of the season was underwhelming. The club knew Steven Defour was on his way out and had to recover quickly to really mount any sort of challenge. In fact after Defour left, Standard put together some remnants of form before getting destroyed by rivals Anderlecht. Many thought they’d be done after that, but they went on a 14 match unbeaten run in all competitions.
Jose Riga has faced plenty criticism but slowly and steadily, Standard built from the back. Felipe and Kanu’s excellent centre-back partnership and Jelle Van Damme’s general leadership drove the club on. At Sclessin, Standard play with real confidence but away from home, they have been questionable losing to title challengers heavily. More goals are needed too as Les Rouches have scored a miserly 23. Meme Tchite has been exceptional up front at times, being the only Standard player to really find the back of the net. Skilful and quite often at the centre of any move for them.
Star Player – Sinan Bolat by some distance. Acrobatically sound and the best keeper in the league.
Best Performance – The Europa League in general. Whilst European football proved a distraction to Genk, Standard put in impressive shifts in Copenhagen and Hannover.
Grade – B- Find the shooting boots and away form and Standard could replicate last season’s rise from the flames.
Genk (6th) – 30pts
Oh Genk. Last season’s title win seems lightyears away. After the shock departure of Franky Vercauteren, Mario Been struggled to get to grips with life in Belgium – plus he had the unenviable task of taking the squad into Europe, to face the might of Chelsea, Valencia and Leverkusen. Genk performed admirably at home but their European tour was the equivalent of a drunken weekend in Benidorm – consistently hammered and wanting to forget the events of the night before. An aggregate score of 14-0 shows how far the league is from fielding a decent side in Europe’s premier competition.
As good as the income and European nights were, it proved a distraction from league football. Genk stumbled in the early parts of the season and salvaged some points from impossible situations in others. It has been entertaining for the neutral but with defensive injuries not helping, Genk let in a deluge of goals. Daniel Toszer remains as important as ever to the team as the midfield marshal. The arrival of highly rated Anthony Limbombe has aided Genk’s elevation up the standings in recent weeks: a good thing considering other prodigy Kevin De Bruyne’s injuries and form. It seems his head has been turned by Chelsea, but he was instrumental in the win over Club Brugge.
Star Player – Jelle Vossen is out to prove last year wasn’t a flash in the pan and with his nine goals so far this season, he looks to be in fine fettle once again.
Best Performance – A toss up between beating local rivals Sint Truiden 4-3 or Club Brugge 5-4. Both ridiculously entertaining fixtures that Genk could have avoided had they showed some defensive ability. Yet their best performance for dragging wins out at the death
Grade – C – Don’t look like championship material but you sense they could be stirring.
Tagged Adrie Koster, Anderlecht, Beerschot, Belgian Waffle, Belgium, Benidorm, Cercle Brugge, Charlie Sheen, Christian Bruls, Christoph Daum, Club Brugge, Copenhagen, Dalibor Veselinovic, Genk, Gent, Hannover, Jelle Vossen, Kortrijk, Kristof Van Hout, Lierse, Lokeren, Matias Suarez, Mechelen, Milan Jovanovic, Mons, Mustapha Oussalah, Neighbours, OH Leuven, Pablo Chavarria, Porn, Romelu Lukaku, Sclessin, Sinan Bolat, Sint-Truiden, Standard Liège, Trond Sollied, Vadis Odjidja-Ofoe, WAFFLES, Westerlo, Zulte Waregem