JPL Week 7 Preview: One last dress rehearsal for Anderlecht
The transfer window is shut, the international break is behind us and Belgium need one point to qualify for Brazil 2014. Time of course keeps marching on and next week sees the start of the Champions League and Europa League group stages. Anderlecht are in the former, with Standard Liège dark horses in the latter, taking their place alongside Genk and Zulte Waregem.
Anderlecht have once again not been handed an easy draw and a group with PSG, Benfica and Olympiacos is looking ever more difficult by the day due to an alarmingly leaky defence. Guillaume Gillet said what most were thinking that to repeat such haphazard displays at the back will lead to annihilation in Europe’s top competition. KV Mechelen at home shouldn’t be anything like as stiff a test but it’s the champions’ last chance to build some confidence in their backline before the Benfica game next week. Silvio Proto looks set not to be risked meaning Thomas Kaminski gets a rare chance between the sticks. New leftback Fabrice N’Sakala and Aleksandar Mitrovic should both start for the first time with the €5m striker setting the pulses of many fans racing after his encouraging debut and a goal for Serbia that did Belgium no harm. Given Deschacht’s abysmal form of late, N’Sakala doesn’t exactly have giant shoes to fill but he will need to adapt quickly. Naturalised Dutchman Harm van Veldhoven marks his 250th game as a coach in Belgium tonight and though he’s without Thomas Enevoldsen and Joachim van Damme, Trajkovski is in line to make his debut.
The pick of this weekend’s games, however, is undoubtedly Zulte Waregem‘s trip to Racing Genk. The home side have received a boost with the news that Jelle Vossen has recovered from his knee injury far quicker than expected, something Mario Been puts down to his outstanding general level of fitness. Vossen, who was the subject of what was deemed a derisory deadline day bid from Middlesbrough, admitted he was fortunate there was no damage done to his cruciate ligaments. Benji De Ceulaer and Kim Ojo are out, while young hotshot Siebe Schrijvers is doubtful but everyone else is fit for Genk. As for Essevee, fear is not a word in their vocabulary as they showed in the epic win over Anderlecht. The club have been given the go ahead to play their Europa League games in the Jan Breydelstadion in Brugge and Wigan Athletic will be Essevee’s first opponents. Before then, they have a tough trip to Limburg but Thorgan Hazard and Ibrahima Conté were outstanding last time out and could cause Genk real problems at the back.
Club Brugge were busy strengthening their attacking options at the end of the window and Polish winger Waldemar Sobota has gone straight into the squad for the home game with Lierse. Tom Høgli misses out on the chance to add to his goalscoring tally due to concussion after he sustained a blow to the head on international duty but red card machine Laurens De Bock is available and must surely now begin to showcase the excellent form he consistently displayed at Lokeren. There will be a warm welcome from the home fans for one Lierse player in particular – Carl Hoefkens makes a quick return to the ground where he spent four seasons. Hoefkens doesn’t expect to start but that won’t disappoint him anywhere near as much as his failure to win a league title at Club, though he says they would have had Christoph Daum stuck around for another season. There are no places in the squad for the injured Hernan Losada or newcomer Tony Watt.
Standard Liège have set the pace thus far with a perfect six wins from six. Few would back against les Rouches making it a magnificent seven when they travel to KV Oostende tomorrow afternoon. Vainqueur, Cissé and ex-Wigan man Ronnie Stam are all fit, Mehdi Carcela is ready to play and Laurent Ciman has signed a new contract though Yoni Buyens is out. Standard were never pushed against Kortrijk and they take on a KVO side shorn of Mushekwi who has not been able to return from international duty due to visa problems. De Kustboys’ player/goalkeeping coach Cédric Berthelin will take his place on the bench as his side’s substitute goalkeeper. Franck Berrier’s motivation for signing for one of the relegation favourites has been questioned but as we’ve seen before, he can get up for games against his former side.
Enzo Scifo is now the odds-on favourite to win the sack race but he remains defiant ahead of Mons‘ game with Waasland-Beveren tonight. He believes he can see the light at the end of the tunnel and admitted that the international break came at the right time, allowing him to take a step back and assess which players he can rely on. Goalscoring has been a major problem but Jarju scored twice for his country and will be looking to pick up the baton for his embattled coach. A sixth defeat may be one too many, particularly against a direct rival. Glen De Boeck might take a point given he’s without Belhocine and Gershon at the back while Oumarou starts a two-game ban.
There’s good news for KAA Gent in the form of Nicklas Pedersen’s return to fitness for the trip to KV Kortrijk. De Buffalo’s good start has raised hopes of a return to the top six, as should rightfully be expected but they can still go up another gear or two and be a more ruthless attacking outfit. Quite a few players on both sides know each other well and Kortrijk’s Elimane Coulibaly is one goal away from 50 in the top division. He will have to play second fiddle to the fast starting Ivan Santini though. Gent will be hoping that their young starlet Benito Raman has a quiet game – he is a player to keep an eye on. Branimir Petrovic joined KVK on a free and is in the squad.
Against KV Oostende, Lokeren were able to welcome back Ayanda Patosi from nine months out with injury. He is finally pain free and was cheered on enthusiastically from the stands, showing just what a popular figure the amiable South African is. Jérémy Taravel is set to miss a game that will see Koen Persoons chalk up 300 top flight appearances. There was more good news for Sporting as they sold their 5000th season ticket, which is a significant milestone for a club aiming to grow their supporter base in a congested region. Lokeren’s opponents Cercle Brugge face a difficult task but they are at least better placed than twelve months ago. Kristof D’Haene is touch and go after a hamstring injury but should return.
The final game sees OH Leuven take on Charleroi. OHL name Ibou in the squad alongside their new striker Jovan Kistovski, who scored in FYR Macedonia’s World Cup qualifying defeat at home to Scotland. There will be some attention on Charleroi’s new signing Neeskens Kebano, who is in the squad and likely to at least make his debut from the bench. Charleroi boss Felice Mazzu is impressed with the youngster, who was named after the Oranje great Johan. Mazzu has been trotting out all the clichés in the build up but he knows that his side need to tighten up at the back.