The opening day of the playoffs provides plenty of surprises and top spot wide open. Unfancied Kortrijk go to Anderlecht and get a point.
With this fixture producing a nine goal thriller back in October, there were some scores to be settled in this Playoffs 1 opener.
That previous game centred around the glittering performance of one Kevin De Bruyne and once again he provided a starring role. Though not exactly the way he wanted. Former Tottenham player Jonathan Blondel, who has only just returned from injury was intent on stopping the boy wonder, throwing in some crunching tackles. De Bruyne, suitably irritated gave away a foul on the edge of the area and was involved in a minor fracas with the Club players.
Up stepped La Masia graduate (in the loosest term of that phrase) Victor Vazquez to curl one around the Genk wall, with shades of Xavi Hernandez. Perhaps Logan Bailly didn’t organise the wall well, but it was a expertly worked free-kick that curved round the blindside. Bailly was soon stretchered off after his head collided with Lior Refaelov’s boot after his first touch let him down.
Genk came into it late on in the first half, with Christian Benteke looking dangerous on the ball. In truth, the talking point at half time was mostly about who was the dirtiest team. Blondel was certainly out in front on his own.
The second half started in a similar way, Blondel continuing to be a thorn in Genk’s side, as was Lior Refaelov who looked dangerous throughout. Genk had chances before Club Brugge went on the break (just after De Bruyne had a shot blocked and was tripped up by guess who). Meunier crossed into the ever predatory Joseph Akpala to tap it in. Two up, but debatably after Meunier clearly fouled Tshimanga in the build-up. Goal No. 14 for the season.
Saturday’s early kickoff saw the two middle teams in Playoffs 1 square off. Sollied’s men were looking to mount a title challenge and eradicate the memories of last year’s playoffs, where they completely fell apart under Francky Dury. And as it is Sollied, he went for an attacking lineup at the Jules Ottenstadion with a front three of Elimane Coulibaly, Zlatan Ljubijankic and Mboyo Ilombe. Standard had bounced back slightly since elimination from Europe at the hands of Hannover, winning two after a fairly mediocre February.
De Buffalos started strongest and it wasn’t long before they took the lead. Brazilian right-back Rafinha putting in a teasing cross for Coulibaly to put home in the 11th minute. The home team held their own for a while but failed to take their chances. They almost regretted it too, Meme Tchite once again the driving force of Standard and he posed a real threat to Gent’s centre-backpairing of Cesar Arzo and Melli. Yet Riga’s side didn’t really test Sergio Padt too much.
The second half began in a similar fashion with Gent pressing to double their advantage. They did on 65 minutes, breaking quickly from a Standard chance. An exceptional pass from Jesper Jorgensen from deep in his half sent Ljubijankič through on goal. The Slovenian striker expertly lifted it over Bolat to consolidate Gent’s lead. The rare piece of skill from the big man certainly left Sollied with a smirk on his face.
Gent’s third had a bit of fortune about it, but Mboyo rounded Bolat excellently to give Gent breathing space over Standard, who need to go back to the drawing board ahead of next Friday’s clash against Anderlecht.
Another team looking to forget about last season’s playoffs were Anderlecht. Having seen their 6 point lead halved, they spent most of the week prior bemoaning the playoff system (I agree with them) and Hermann Van Holsbeeck playing mind games with Christoph Daum. Roland Juhasz didn’t mix his words either saying it was a shit system. But, you have to play the hand you are dealt. A lot of this week also featured reports of Matias Suarez picking up another knee injury. But their record against Kortrijk is unbelievably good if you in the archives.
Something in the air wasn’t right at the Vanden Stock. 6th placed Kortrijk came into this fixture with no fear, clearly told by Hein Vanhaezebrouck to just go for it. And go for it they did. Despite missing Anderlecht loanee Dalibor Veselinovic. Kortrijk started brightest and took the lead on 17th minutes. A suspicion of offside, but the ball fell finally to Steven Joseph Monrose who slipped Sacha Kljestan and fired home to leave the home crowd stunned. He almost had a second, sidefooting over from dead on centre. The French youngster was blistering and caused problems for Ariel Jacobs’ team.
Anderlecht improved marginally as the half wore on, but Kortrijk continued to counter well until half-time, where boos rang around the ground. Worryingly for them was the midfield dominance just wasn’t there and only Matias Suarez looked troublesome.
The second half began with more emphasis from Anderlecht, but Kortrijk still chose to take their moments on the counter, leaving three up top at points. Mbokani should have scored from two yards out, his header was downwards allowing goliath Kristof Van Hout to tip it over. The pressing continued and Anderlecht equalised. Kortrijk were caught in possession, Matias Suarez put a through-ball into Dieumerci Mbokani and the crowd took a sigh of relief.
It was end to end stuff and both teams could have won it right at the death but a point was fair. Perhaps Kortrijk aren’t in Playoffs 1 to make up the numbers and maybe Anderlecht aren’t going to run away with it.