A crazy old week in Belgian football. From Anderlecht’s capitulation in Cyprus to Manchester United outcast Zeki Fryers joining Standard Liege, there’s doesn’t seem to be a dull moment in Belgian football at the moment. Yet much of the talk in the global press is the talk of the stars plying their trade in the Premier League, after Marouane Fellaini, Eden Hazard and Moussa Dembele all lit up the open fixtures.
We’re cover those guys throughout the season, but let’s get back to business and focus on the Jupiler Pro League. Saturday and Sunday saw 4 games each, all of which had ramifications for the early season table. Saturday saw the bottom 6 play each other in what I’m dubbing Basement Battle Saturday, whilst a makeshift Anderlecht side travelled to Den Dreef to face Oud-Heverlee Leuven. Sunday threw fixtures containing the chasing pack. By now, we should have some ideas over who is relegation fodder and who will make Playoffs 1.
A bad week for the champions. Humbled in midweek against AEL Limassol, John van den Brom was looking for a response from his players, namely Milan Jovanovic, whose unprofessional manner in being substituted in the game made him the ideal scapegoat. With the return leg on his mind, the coach chose to rest key players and hand starts to Thomas Kaminski in goal (who played for Leuven last year), summer signing Saudi Osama Hawsawi and the Ukrainian Sacha Iakovenko. In the early going, it looked like his decision had paid dividends as Anderlecht took the lead through Iakovenko, played in by Jovanovic.
Anderlecht applied the pressure, Iakovenko and Praet both hitting the woodwork and you sensed they’d rue those missed chances. After all they didn’t beat OH Leuven last season either. Ibou, a constant menace down the left, drove Ronny Van Geneugden’s team back into the game and levelled on 30 minutes with a good finish. No doubt reiterating his desire for a response, van den Brom’s half-time team talk fell on deaf ears as OH Leuven looked the more likely to secure the three points, with Chuka guilty of two glaring misses. Van den Brom replaced the tormented Denis Odoi with Marcin Wasilewski, a bad move as it gave Ibou further license to attack. His day was curtailed by injury, but youngster Thomas Azevedo continued the trend. There was still time for everyone’s favourite Serbian to miss a sitter, the defining memory of this match despite his work ethic. Anderlecht are still looking for a win over OH Leuven since they returned to the top flight, but their minds were clearly elsewhere here.
Another dismal week for Cercle Brugge. Rocked by the departure of Igor Vetokele to FC Kobenhavn (and with Rudy likely to join him), Bob Peeters has to steady the leaking ship. They look far from what they were last season and are struggling. A game against draw specialists Lierse (3 from 4) seemed an ideal platform to leap into gear. Yet it wasn’t. At all. A fairly poor first half from both sides, with only Vetokele’s replacement, Mushanga Bakenga (joining from across the city), looking like scoring. Rachid Bourabia put Lierse into a second-half lead with a precision volley and they didn’t look back from there. The result was slightly flattering after Kevin Janssens’s rash challenge near the half-way line reduced Les Verts to 10. Dolly Menga made the points safe for Lierse before Bourabia got his second – breaking clear of the Cercle defence and lifting it over Bram Verbist. A resounding defeat for Cercle who look lost at the moment. Lierse look to kick on from here and by the signs of this game, might just do that.
Beerschot are notoriously slow starters, but the pressure was mounting on Adrie Koster to pick up wins with his new-look team. This looked like an ideal opportunity, the league’s newcomers who had just been battered by their bitter rivals Standard. This clash between two sides desperately needing the points wasn’t one for the purist as both teams put in crunching tackles. The only brief respite from this was at the end of the first half as Hernan Losada curled a free-kick past Parfait Mandanda.
But the game returned to its truncated self in the second half, complete with horrendous refereeing. Abraham Kumedor first handballed, then ran past about four Beerschot players before being scythed down by Frederic Brillant. Kumedor booked, and the entire passage of play misjudged by Bart Vertenten, unless he meant it for the handball. He didn’t though. He got Kumedor’s second yellow correct as he tripped the dangerous Losada on the edge of the box. It was settled from there, with Stijn Wuytens following up his Goal of the Season contender with a smashing drive in injury time. A big win for Koster.
Hein Van Haezebrouck’s Kortrijk were in danger of hitting a slump ever so early in the season. The opening day draw to Anderlecht and win over Cercle was followed by back-to-back defeats to Charleroi and Waasland-Beveren. Although some would say they were unfortunate in those games, they needed to stop the rot quickly. Their opponents, Waasland-Beveren have found the transition to the Pro League tough, holding a solitary point. They didn’t start well here, falling behind to Stefan Mitrovic header as nobody tracked his run into the box. They were all at sea again two minutes later, caught in the same set-piece trap by Nebosja Pavlovic.
An improved second half performance from Waasland-Beveren followed, who were unlucky not to score after Augusto da Silva’s shot was cleared by Mitrovic’s hand. Da Silva got his goal soon after, meeting Christoph Lepoint’s cross. Any emphasis WB had should have been halted with Lepoint’s second yellow, but they kept going and were hard done by refereeing decisions. Kortrijk then went down to 10 as Mitrovic squared up to the falling Da Silva. Kortrijk had done enough to get the win, Waasland-Beveren still searching for their first, but it doesn’t look far away.
Last week’s annihilation of Charleroi could prove to be the perfect springboard for Ron Jans’s team. Stuck in a rut then but now enterprising, energetic and exciting. This week also saw the rather peculiar transfer of Zeki Fryers to the club – how long he’ll last at the club remains to be seen. But he must have been impressed from the stands, seeing Standard pretty much dominate proceedings. It was a controlled first half from Les Rouches but they couldn’t find a way past Olivier Renard.
You sensed once they did, the floodgates would open and after the break, an 11 minute period saw four goals. First, former Mechelen man Yoni Buyens scored with his second bite at the cherry, after his backheel was blocked off the line. Moments later, the impressive Imoh Ezekiel reminded the fans that he was the Ezekiel to watch, breaking through the centre-back pairing and finishing nicely. Their purple patch wasn’t over as Nacho Gonzalez converted a penalty. The win looked safe so Standard took their foot off the gas. Mads Junker got his first goal in Belgian football with a trademark header and Thomas Enevoldsen scored in injury time, but Standard just did enough to hold on, courtesy of some dodgy officiating.
With European football done and dusted for this season, Trond Sollied could focus on domestic matters. Their opponents this weekend were Peter Maes’s Lokeren, who were coming off the back of a last-gasp maiden win in the Europa League against Viktoria Plzen. Clearly they were still buoyant from that game, as Jérémy Taravel’s header trickled into the Gent net in the second minute. Cue terrible Poznan. De Buffalos always do things the hard way and things got worse for them, as the terrifically named Rodgers Kola decided to lunge in on Laurens De Bock, to the ire of the Lokeren team rightly.
But Gent rallied with ten men, drawing level on 29 minutes thanks to the consistent dead-ball specialist that is Bernd Thijs. Hannes van der Bruggen who drew the penalty was at it again, playing through Christian Brüls who put Gent into the lead. Despite some close calls, they held for three points and a win that takes them above Lokeren
Genk’s steady yet uninspiring start to the season took a hit mid-week in the Europa League against Luzern, and precisely the fixture you didn’t want after that was a visit from high-flying Zulte-Waregem. Francky Dury’s team were incredibly wasteful with their chances though, Mbaye Leye the most guilty candidate. Whatever was said at half-time worked as Racing finally woke up with the introduction of Stephen Joseph-Monrose. It was a double salvo that did the trick around 70 minutes. Julien Gorius got his first goal for Genk firing past Sammy Bossut, which was soon followed by Jelle Vossen’s neat finish a minute later. Clinical Genk (minus Christian Benteke) sealed the win with that and inflicted Essevee’s first defeat of the season.
The final game on Sunday was an enticing tie pitting Enzo Scifo up against one of his former national team managers, Georges Leekens, who was seeking to claim top spot with Club Brugge. It looked like Mons would be up against it from the start as Jérémy Sapina brought down Meme Tchité. That was his second red card of the season, his last one in the last game he played against Anderlecht. But Mons more than held their own until the second half where Tchité finally put one over Olivier Werner. The standard of refereeing was brought into question again when Mons got an unexpected penalty, after ‘Iron’ Mike Almeback was adjudged to have brought down Aloys Nong. Minimal contact but Moustapha Jarju got the equaliser. Club Brugge looked devoid of ideas, but a fortuitous Victor Vazquez goal put them ahead. Substitute Carlos Bacca sealed the win by rounding the keeper, forcing Leekens to consider starting him. A close game when it shouldn’t have been – Club Brugge go top on their own.