European woes highlight Club Brugge flaws
In less than ten minutes on the pitch Thomas Meunier did more than the rest of the entire team combined in the entire match for Club Brugge. An insipid performance from a team that performed so well in Europe last season was not expected but at no point in the match did Blauw-Zwart look interested.
It compounded a miserable day for Belgian football with Anderlecht losing in Azerbaijan to Qarabag, a team spearheaded by two former Sporting strikers in Reynaldo and Samuel Armenteros. It would be folly to suggest that these players should never have been released by Anderlecht but the result gives further weight to the prevailing problems with 33-time league champions; they don’t know their strongest team.
For Club Brugge there is really no excuse. A frustrating 3-1 loss against Danish side Midtjylland which saw last season’s semi-finalists play the whole match stationary with the handbrake on, let alone in first gear. Michel Preud’homme opted for Davy de fauw at right back, Leandro Pereira lead the line with Izquierdo, Vanaken and Diaby backing him up. Preud’homme was furious at the officials and also offered his views as to where his side came up short:
“We knew they would make it tough for us to create chances and then you’re hoping for some individual brilliance but it went wrong with the final pass or touch,” he told VRT.
“On the other hand we were warned that they were strong at set pieces and we weren’t alert enough in our own box. We practised them in training but I can’t make my players eight inches taller.
“As long as there is hope, we must continue to go for it but I have to admit that we’re not playing at the same level as last year.”
Hans Vanaken has rightly come in for criticism at Club Brugge. Since his high-profile transfer in the summer from Lokeren he has failed to find any kind of form and despite playing in his more natural number 10 role he fails to inspire Club Brugge in the same way the Spaniard Victor Vazquez does. In fact Club’s problems seemingly all come down to creativity and a lack of it. When Vazquez doesn’t play, like tonight, the club are decidedly less impressive and capable and the only consistency in their style of play is that it was ineffectual.
Abdoulay Diaby was a proven goalscorer last season with Royal Mouscron-Peruwelz but has been marooned on the right side in favour of Leandro Pereira whom Preud’homme seems intent on shoehorning in at all costs. The problem then comes to the fore that Club Brugge have a very talented and impressive squad but no way to accommodate all their players in a balanced system. Preud’homme likes two holding midfielders, usually the veteran Timmy Simons and Ruud Vormer; the Dutchman being Club’s player of the season so far. While Club Brugge may be off the pace in Europe they are capable of good performances domestically – taking full advantage of a dreadful Standard to demolish their rivals 7-1.
Vanaken’s woes have been highlighted and Jose Izquierdo has been beset by injuries in his time at Club Brugge leaving him a largely bit-part player. In an ideal world Preud’homme would have Felipe Gedoz fully fit and the Brazilian has returned to training and is nearing full fitness. Preud’homme would also love to have a fully fit Victor Vazquez on hand too, while the Spaniard can often be profligate in set pieces his ability to unlock defences with critical passes is without question.
Jelle Vossen started on the bench against Midtjylland but has found the net early in his career. The question remains whether a two-striker system that he revels in is the best for the team as a whole. Tuur Dierckx may be raw, but he is having his finest season yet and is only getting better with each match, he is unable to get a regular run in the side. There is also the physical power of Boli Bolingoli who has recently been sidelined following his breakthrough season last term.
It’s premature to say that Club Brugge are in a crisis. Certainly any aspirations of performing in Europe have been dealt a fatal blow but after last year’s mammoth season they may be more than happy to concentrate on domestic affairs. They are just four points off leaders KV Oostende, which is effectively a two-point gap given the play-off system. They have, when fit, the strongest most impressive squad in the league and it will be a true test on Sunday when the superstar team of theirs faces reigning champions and Champions League representatives KAA Gent, a well oiled team lacking ego but with a supernatural understanding of how a team should play.