Anderlecht 2-0 Standard Liège: Gillet ends the penalty curse to send Sporting top
Reigning champions Anderlecht put a difficult spell behind them to defeat in-form Standard Liège 2-0 in the final Clasico of the season. A brace from Guillaume Gillet ensured les Mauve et Blanc leapfrogged Zulte Waregem to return to the top of the table with three games to go.
John van den Brom named a very attacking line up on paper with Massimo Bruno, Matias Suarez and Milan Jovanovic all starting in support of Dieumerci Mbokani while Guillaume Gillet started at rightback. Mircea Rednic opted to leave leading scorer Imoh Ezekiel on the bench and play Paul-José Mpoku just off Michy Batshuayi while Jelle van Damme began on the left-hand side of midfield.
As they had last week against Club Brugge, Anderlecht dominated possession in the opening exchanges but Standard, as ever, were prepared to play the long game. Milan Jovanovic, who had a good deal of room on the left in the first half, had a shot blocked but there was not to be a single shot on target in the first 45. Sacha Kljestan had a golden chance to open the scoring but he headed Biglia’s free kick wide from inside the six yard box.
There were no changes in personnel at the break though Anderlecht exchanged their special Belle Vue kits (to mark the 100th anniversary of the brewery formerly owned by the Vanden Stock family) for their usual shirts.
Suarez fired wide on his left foot before Anderlecht broke the deadlock ten minutes into the second period. Lucas Biglia for once found his range from a free kick and Guillaume Gillet leapt magnificently above Dino Arslanagic to head into the net, well beyond a helpless Kawashima. Not for the first time, the versatile Belgian international popped up with a crucial goal in a big game.
Rednic decided to respond by bringing Ezekiel on for Diabaté while van den Brom again incurred the wrath of Jovanovic by replacing the veteran Serb with Praet in an attempt to protect the lead by exerting even more control of the ball. Cristea then came on for Buyens but again he failed to live up to his role as the conductor of the orchestra.
Paarswit extended their lead on 65 minutes with a most welcome second goal as much for how it came about as the fact that it went a long way to securing the three points. Mbokani was brought down inside the box before he could pull the trigger by Arslanagic, who had his most difficult game in a Standard shirt. Joeri van der Velde pointed to the spot and awarded a yellow card. Gillet, full of confidence following his goal, stepped up and drilled the ball low and past Kawashima, who dived to his right. Anderlecht had already missed nine penalties in the league, including a miss from Gillet against Beerschot, but he made no mistake this afternoon.
Anderlecht understandably grew in confidence, particularly going forward while Standard were rather flat, having never once taken the bull by the horns in the game. Suarez had time to strike the crossbar and though Safari and Kouyaté both came off with knocks, the final whistle brought as much relief as joy as Anderlecht reinvigorated a title charge that has in truth stuttered since February. Les Rouches need to bounce back in the games to come but PO1 has taught us not to jump to any knee-jerk conclusions. Anderlecht are back on top but if they are to retain their title, this must be a launching pad for the final furlong.
PO1: Anderlecht 42, Zulte Waregem 40, Racing Genk 39, Standard Liège 38, Club Brugge* 37, Lokeren* 31.
* denotes a game in hand.