JPL Round 3: Bring on Manchester United? Not yet!
Zulte Waregem 0-0 Racing Genk
KV Kortrijk 0-0 Lokeren
KV Mechelen 3-1 Royal Mouscron-Péruwelz
Westerlo 3-2 OH Leuven
Sint-Truiden 1-1 KV Oostende
Anderlecht 1-1 KAA Gent
Charleroi 0-0 Club Brugge
Standard Liège 1-0 Waasland-Beveren
“My wish has come true. A boyhood dream becomes reality.” These were the words of winger Tuur Dierckx when his Club Brugge drew Manchester United in the Champions League play-off round on Friday morning. When his teammate Timmy Simons who is old enough to be his father at 38, calls it a ‘dream tie’, you have a real sense of the reach of England’s record champions. Even coach and ex-Benfica star Michel Preud’homme, who understandably wanted Sporting CP, admitted ‘We couldn’t have drawn a bigger name’. Ruud Vormer will be reunited with Louis van Gaal, Thomas Meunier has had over 100 requests for tickets and a whole host of others have scarcely been able to hide their delight.
That’s all well and good but there are two legs to be played and as it stands, Club are as far from firing on all cylinders as their Champions League opponents were from the title last season. Quite how their game with Charleroi ended scoreless is a mystery as both sides contrived to squander several gilt-edged chances. Hans Vanaken, who misses some sitters for such a good midfield goalscorer, and Abdoulay Diaby, whose killer instinct doesn’t yet match his dazzling movement, were the guilty parties before the break. Diaby was denied by a superb goal-line clearance from the excellent Sébastien Dewaest who is off to Genk. Charleroi had much the better of things in the second half with the speed and trickery of Dieumerci Ndongala and Neeskens Kebano causing plenty of problems and Blauw-Zwart often looked pedestrian in comparison.
Where can Club improve? Sébastien Bruzzese was one of the better performers on Sunday but a top goalkeeper he is not. Sinan Bolat’s return keeps being pushed back but he should play at Old Trafford a week tomorrow and he represents a significant upgrade, which should inspire greater confidence in the defence. The centrebacks weren’t confident with the ball at their feet and long-term casualty Bjorn Engels is a big miss. Simons has all the experience one could wish for but there are times when his reading of the game cannot compensate for his lack of mobility – that’s not to say he’s on borrowed time yet. Victor Vázquez hasn’t looked fully fit all season and is toying with the idea of leaving, which would deprive the side of guile and creativity but at least provide a solution to the Vázquez/Vanaken question. They also need to find the right balance on the flanks with Diaby ill-suited to a wide role as he leaves his fullback completely isolated. He is, however, a more dynamic option than the more static Tom De Sutter through the middle.
If it sounds like Club are in a major crisis and have no hope of challenging for honours, of course they remain a good side. As we have documented elsewhere, the early start to this season and the hangover from last has done them no favours. Indeed, none of the top teams have hit the ground running. They are also without a number of key players including the aforementioned Bolat, Engels and Vázquez as well as Thomas Meunier, Brandon Mechele, Felipe Gedoz, Jose Izquierdo and Lior Refaelov among others. They have the best squad in Belgium and although they won’t have anything like a fully fit squad to face Manchester United, they are assured of the Europa League group stages.
Elsewhere last weekend, Anderlecht drew 1-1 at home to KAA Gent. The home side begun on the front foot and swarmed forward putting the champions under pressure. Idrissa Sylla’s third goal in as many games threatened to be the start of a dominant display but Gent have more resolve than when they were accused of wilting in the big games. Buffalo’s coach Hein Vanhaezebrouck accused his men of playing like superstars and eschewing the ugly side of the game that makes winners. After the break, they created the lion’s share of the opportunities and while they took a point thanks to Laurent Depoitre, they will feel they could and should have taken all three. Dennis Praet looked out-of-sorts for Les Mauves et Blanc and is inching closer to a departure if you believe the papers. Standard Liège replaced Ivan Santini up front with Mohamed Yattara but on early season evidence need to pair the new signings together, at least at Sclessin. Anthony Knockaert continues to impress and his free-kick was headed home by Ricardo Faty for the only goal to inch past Waasland-Beveren.
The ‘top-of-the-table’ clash between Sint-Truiden and KV Oostende was refreshing to watch as both sides went for the three points and played without fear. Junior Edmilson scored his second this season after a crazy passage of play while Jordan Lukaku was subbed days after one pundit named him the best leftback in the league. His replacement Antunes laid on the equaliser for ex-Club striker Joseph Akpala. There was plenty of entertainment on Saturday evening as it happened with KV Mechelen picking up their first win of the season against pointless Royal Mouscron-Péruwelz. Milos Kosanovic scored Malinwa’s second from a free-kick and looks set to stay despite being linked with Genk. OH Leuven took the lead at Het Kuipje through Jovan Kostovski, who later added a second but only after Westerlo had replied with three goals of their own.
Kostovski, who will wear the ‘golden bull’ on the back of his shirt next week as the league’s leading scorer, had scored the weekend’s opening goal after two scoreless draws in which goalkeepers took centre stage. Köteles László stood out with a superb individual display as Zulte Waregem and Racing Genk drew blanks. Genk coach Peter Maes has lost Kara to Anderlecht but his side’s problems lie further forward and there will be no quick fix in Limburg. Kortrijk and Lokeren also drew 0-0 with Sporting’s #2 goalkeeper Davino Verhulst saying ‘he’d never been angrier and more disappointed’ after being dropped for the flamboyant Ivorian Copa.