Half-Term Jupiler Pro League Report 2013-2014
After 15 games we’re now half-way through the Belgian season with Standard top of the league, with Racing Genk, Zulte Waregem, Anderlecht and Club Brugge all breathing down their necks. Standard Liège started this season in furious fashion with nine consecutive wins. Guy Luzon, coach of Standard Liège, was unknown in Belgium and stunned everybody as his team set the early pace. Despite the good start, a lot of analysts were not sure of the qualities of the Israeli and many experts were surprised that the players of Standard Liège never analysed their opponents. Michy Batshuayi and Imoh Ezekiel’s goals were the central reason as to why Standard Liège impressed at the beginning of the season.
Champions RSC Anderlecht and John van den Brom had a difficult start to the season . Anderlecht sold Lucas Biglia and Dieumerci Mbokani this summer, with Luka Milivojevic and Aleksandar Mitrovic facing the difficult task of replacing the two former stars. The Serbian striker has started well and already scored 6 goals, which isn’t bad if you know that he has already missed several matches this season. Luka Milivojevic has had it more difficult than his compatriot; after his first matches we all saw that he would need some time to adapt in Belgium. When John van den Brom’s reign almost ended at Anderlecht, that was when his players started winning points for him and the manager can especially give thanks to Chancel Mbemba, Anderlecht’s best player this season. Anthony Vanden Borre was revived again at Anderlecht against PSG and Guillaume Gillet could have a problem at right-back.
Club Brugge sacked Juan Carlos Garrido not long into the campaign and brought in Michel Preud’homme. The fans of Club Brugge are hoping that Preud’homme can do with their club as he did with Standard Liège; winning the title after a long trophy drought. The issues were highlighted at Club Brugge early on and we all hope that Preud’homme can concentrate now with training his club and push on to give us a good title race.
KV Oostende and certainly Cercle Brugge were the surprise packages of the first fifteen matches. Cercle Brugge and Lorenzo Staelens have had an easier season than last year where they struggled throughout the campaign. Oostende will probably have to fight until the final week to avoid relegation, but since everybody expected them to be propping up the league at this stage, their performances have been admirable. Mons is almost certain of a Play Off 3 ticket and Bob Peeters will have a lot of sleepless nights thinking about the problems that plague his latest employers, Waasland-Beveren.
Best coach: Mario Been, Racing Genk
We have to admit that Mario Been was lucky to keep all his best players during the transfer period this summer, Vossen is always in the crosshairs of other European clubs and Tshimanga looks set to build on another good season. The Dutch coach not only kept his core squad together, but built on it. Fabien Camus showed why Racing Genk bought him in 2009, his loan period to Troyes has done him and Racing Genk both a lot of good. Been and the fans will be happy when Ilombe Mboyo returns to full fitness; the former AA Gent striker could form a beautiful duo with Vossen. Benjamin De Ceulaer will probably have to move to the bench to accommodate Mboyo but in the meantime is doing a solid job up front for the side, although not scoring regularly. Been has control of his team and players and seems to keep everybody happy and it’s this recipe that has them flourishing while van den Brom’s Anderlecht flounder.
Best Goalkeeper: Mathew Ryan, Club Brugge
Club Brugge signed the Australian goalkeeper this summer from the Central Coast Mariners after helping them become A-League Champions. The New South Wales outfit finished second in the league to Western Sydney but defeated them 2-0 in the Grand Final with Ryan keeping a clean sheet. Despite his achievements, Ryan came to Belgium a relative unknown due to the A-League’s lesser reputation in Europe, but he has already impressed in his first few appearances for Club Brugge. The side paid €1.000.000 for the Plumpton born goalkeeper, a bargain, but with his contract due to expire a day later it was an act that saw Brugge steal a march on a goalkeeper who would have been much sought after. It also allowed Central Coast to pick up some money for a prize asset meaning everyone came out a winner. With Michel Preud’homme, the best goalkeeper in the world in 1994, Ryan will only become a better player learning at the knee of one of the best.
BENEFOOT TOP 5:
Ivan Santini, Striker, KV Kortrijk
Ivan Santini has surprised us all with his clinical finishing. The Croatian striker has already scored 11 goals for KV Kortrijk this season. His club have scored a total of 23 goals this season which means Santini is responsible for 48%, an extraordinarily high amount. Last season, Ivan Santini scored just the one goal in 24 matches for SC Freiburg. Changing clubs can do a lot for a player, especially a striker, and Santini is a great example of someone who has gained confidence in new surroundings. He links up well with Elimane Coulibaly, who has also found his best form at Kortrijk after some difficulties in recent years. Hein Vanhaezebrouck asked for a real goalgetter in the transfer period and his president really delivered by giving him Santini. If Croatia can best Iceland in the World Cup Play Offs and Santini can continue to score with the regularity, he could well be a contender to travel to Brazil with his national team.
Chancel Mbemba, Central/Right Defender, RSC Anderlecht
Last season Anderlecht were a stingy defence, conceding few goals. Bram Nuytinck and Cheikhou Kouyaté were a terrific duo at the back for Anderlecht but this season, things have taken a turn for the worse as Anderlecht have let in far too many for a title candidate. Nuytinck and Kouyaté weren’t the reliable pair anymore and Chancel Mbemba started to get his first real playing time for Anderlecht. The Congolese defender combines technique with pace and is so comfortable in possession. He is also good in launching attacks for his team making him a brilliant transitional player. The central defender, who has also played as a right back, has already scored three goals this season as he looks to continue his great start to his Anderlecht career.
Hamdi Harbaoui, Striker, Sporting Lokeren
Sporting Lokeren are lucky to have a striker like Hamdi Harbaoui. He’s very strong and wins a lot of aerial duels making him an ideal target man. However he is much more than that. We’ve talked about him previously on this website as possibly the most complete striker in the league and the Tunisian has scored freely this season for his side. Harbaoui started his career in Belgium at Mouscron on loan, and in 2008 moved to Visé. Via a stay at OH Leuven, he finally arrived at his current destination; Sporting Lokeren. Head coach Peter Maes is a big fan of Harbaoui because he makes it much easier for his talented wingers Ayanda Patosi and Nill De Pauw. Those three, along with Hans Vanaken, will undoubtedly deliver the fans of Lokeren a lot more goals this season than they already have. Sporting Lokeren are certainly a candidate for Play Off 1 again this season, likely pushing for 5th or 6th come the season’s end. Harbaoui would pull off a major coup this season if he could win the “Golden Bull” award, which goes to the top goal scorer in the Pro League.
Thorgan Hazard, Attacking midfielder, Zulte Waregem
Thorgan Hazard is building further on his excellent season last year. The younger brother of Eden is once again showing his potential and just like last season he is the most decisive and influential player at Zulte Waregem and the creative force behind most of their attacks. Thanks to some clauses in his contract, Hazard takes every penalty, free-kick and corner for Zulte Waregem and to be honest, he even deserves getting them without those clauses. He also became a real playmaker after Franck Berrier left for KV Oostende this summer, picking up after the Frenchman and ensuring that the fans of Zulte are not wanting for a creative outlet. Hazard showed that he has all the tools to become a great player and giving him all those responsibilities has already made him better.
Michy Batshuayi, Striker, Standard Liège
Michy Batshuayi is a shining star in Belgium at the moment. He and fellow striker Imoh Ezekiel are a fantastic duo up in front for Standard Liège. While Ezekiel beats his opponents most of the time with his pace, Batshuayi is more unpredictable – in a good way, and it’s the Belgian’s goals that put him a few steps ahead of his Nigerian teammate. Batshuayi has a large repertoire of dribbles, moves and is always one step ahead of the opposition. He’s also very strong – despite his wiriness – which makes it almost impossible for the defenders to challenge him in a physical battle. For me, Michy Batshuayi is at the time the best striker in the league but Aleksandar Mitrovic at Anderlecht is getting in his slipstream and beginning to prove his worth. Standard Liège did a good job to extend the contract of one of their most talented strikers from the last few years and one of their brightest stars for the future.