Anderlecht’s midfield means middle of the road for reigning Champions
Growing up we were told the importance of midfielders. When someone was told they weren’t going to play as a striker, as the under ten side did not need ten volunteers to play off the shoulder of the last man, we were all told how important midfielders were. They had to defend, they had to attack, their stamina was legendary and their tackling and shooting needed to be fantastic in equal measures such was the task of the midfielder. Needless to say I was a right back, but I digress.
It was Barney Ronay who recently wrote in an article about Josep Guardiola’s coaching style that “his midfields have midfields” and it’s true, in today’s game the midfield aren’t the all encompassing utility players that I was told they were just some fourteen years ago. The depth of midfields in today’s game essentially have differing depths and textures that they could easily be mistaken for a home renovation and it’s there where you could argue that games can be won or less.
In the Belgian league it has become abundantly clear that Anderlecht’s midfield is just not up to scratch. Call the midfield what clichés you will; if it’s the engine room then there is seemingly no engine. Question the whereabouts of the quarterback to spread the balls around the pitch, well he is seemingly a free agent. The stuttering midfield that has caused Anderlecht woes all season is arguably the cause of John van den Brom’s sacking, but the signs were already there and the current situation could have been prevented.
Sacha Kljestan is a good player, on his day he can contribute with vital goals for the club and be the man to push Anderlecht on but his ‘day’ is never a particularly regular occurrence and too often his performances are below par that cause fans to question his right to the shirt. He’s a good player, but he’s not great.
Sometimes it feels like there can be a real elitist view from some Anderlecht fans. It can feel like they expect the world to go according to their plans and that they have a divine right to success because that is what they have grown up with. While it’s easy to hark back to the time players like Pär Zetterberg, Enzo Scifo even Walter Bassegio and most recently Lucas Biglia played for the club and lament how far the club have fallen they do have a genuine concern that there isn’t really a midfielder in their club with that touch of class a championship winning side needs. Standard Liége and Club Brugge both rely heavily on their creative wide players in Paul-José Mpoku and Maxime Lestienne while the relative stability in the middle can be provided from the likes of William Vainqueur and Vadis Odjidja-Ofoe respectively but Anderlecht just don’t seem to have that consistent, reliable player to turn to. Denis Praet and Massimo Bruno have both waned over time due to long exposure on the field, as young players tend to do and it would be argued that van den Brom should have accounted for this rather than squeezing his two ripe fruits of all their football juices until they had none left. It may have been enough to help the team get over the line last season but this year the pair have not recreated the performances they achieved consistently last season and is a big reason for Anderlecht’s attacking midfield having little consistency.
Youri Tielemans is much lauded, especially right here by BeNeFoot but it would take exceptional misjudgement for a coach to think that a blossoming sixteen year old could prove to be a relied upon player so young, but it seems that might be what van den Brom did. A midfield of Tielemans, Bruno and Praet can be exciting when they are all on song, and in five years time if all three of them are playing for the national team then Belgium will still rightly be feared as much as they are now but it is far too early and far too foolish to think that this is a settled midfield.
Luka Milivojevic has been a strong addition but falls into the same category of Kljestan. Is he good enough? And if he is, should Anderlecht even be settling for ‘good enough’? Sure they have some talented, in fact they definitely have some very talented players, but what they lack is star power. A true menace. A threat. A player who can create something from nothing and it seems Anderlecht just do not have one of them.
Andy Najar is a bright spark for Anderlecht but like others he is young. His inexperience and rawness make reliance an issue for de paarswit. Cheikou Kouyaté’s return to midfield from defence is also a bonus, his defensive nature adds an extra element, a new layer to the midfield. The team have the capable strikers, Mitrovic is more than capable should the opportunity arise and at the other end they have steady defenders in Bram Nuytinck and season standout Chancel Mbemba but their lack of a superstar midfielder is aching for their fans. Perhaps stand in coach Besnik Hasi should don the purple and white once more to help the midfield. After all, Anderlecht don’t just want a big named star in their midfield. They want one on their touchline as well, and for many, the Albanian who made 107 appearances for Anderlecht may just not be the man to take them back to the top.