Jupiler Pro League Previews: The Contenders
After sealing Title No.32 in dramatic fashion on the final day, Anderlecht have said ushered in a new ‘streamlined’ era at the Constant Vanden Stock. The deadwood has gone; the unfancied Sasha Iakovenko, Denis Odoi and Behrang Safari have all gone to pastures new; and the enigmatic Milan Jovanovic has departed, still without a place to call home.
The club’s hierarchy have also parted with prized assets. Premier League moves failed to materialise for the perennially gossip column-listed Lucas Biglia (joining Serie A’s Lazio) and Dieumerci Mbokani, now residing at Dynamo Kiev. In truth, Les Mauves have cashed in at exactly the right time. Biglia’s importance to the team has gradually diminished over time while Mbokani’s form since the conclusion of the African Cup of Nations has been uninspiring.
Unfortunately for coach John van den Brom, he’s not been able to add to his squad as much as he’d like, to have a full tilt at the Champions League. The only notable new recruits are Demy De Zeeuw, extending his loan in Brussels, and Fede Vico, the highly-rated Spanish teenage midfielder from Cordoba, who shone this summer in the U19 Euros.
Anderlecht look quite short up front, and reliant on Gohi-Bi Cyriac and Matias Suarez. Both are capable enough, but also have a long medical history. The decision to let Tom De Sutter join Club Brugge on the face of it may seem foolish, but he was a drain on the wage bill and needed a new club. Anderlecht’s pursuit of Gent’s Ilombe Mboyo has ended without an agreement, leaving a lot of pressure on Samuel Armenteros to find the back of the net.
It will be a big season for starlets Massimo Bruno and Dennis Praet who are looking to show their first full campaigns weren’t just a flash in the pan. Ultimately, the core of the side remain and are used to winning titles. They’ll be the ones to beat once again.
After two seasons of near misses (or big failures depending on your view), the people upstairs in the Jan Breydelstadion must be pretty expectant. This will be Juan Carlos Garrido’s first full season in charge, allowing him to firmly put his mark on the side. Yet most of the summer has centred on who has made their way through the exit door.
The goals of Carlos Bacca will be sorely missed, with the Colombian finding the net 24 times in 34 appearances in 2012/13. The aforementioned De Sutter has been given the honour of following a class act, who has joined Sevilla. Ryan Donk, Bojan Jorgacevic and Bjorn Vleminckx have all gone to Turkey, while Jordi Figueras is now at Real Betis.
Of the newcomers, the signing of Timmy Simons should provide a reliable experience head in midfield. Holding 93 international caps, the 36-year old will become an important voice both on and off the field and will become a coach after his final season in football. There’s a lot of promise about Australian goalkeeper Mat Ryan too.
Much of Club Brugge’s success this season will hinge upon winger Maxime Lestienne, who was sensational in the playoffs, providing memorable goals. Without him, Blauw-Zwart look a little toothless. Big seasons need to come from Lior Refaelov, Victor Vazquez and others if they are to mount a serious challenge.
Oh for a quiet summer at Sclessin. After rather harshly dispatching Mircea Rednic, just after emphatically sealing European football with a 7-0 win, President Roland Duchâtelet unsurprisingly found himself on the receiving end of the Standard supporters’ ire. Unproven Israeli Guy Luzon has been parachuted in and found himself in the middle of a battleground, literally. His first press conference saw a group of fans bang on the media room walls and throw firecrackers. Hardly the ideal welcome.
Yet amidst all this chaos, Standard have actually managed to hold onto their most important players. Duchâtelet says he’ll be leaving the club once he finds a buyer, cooling the situation somewhat. The young striking partnership of Imoh Ezekiel and Michy Batshuayi has been retained, after murmurs both wanted out. Belgo-Brazilian Igor De Camargo has returned to the league in hope of securing a World Cup 2014 spot, so will eager to break up the pair. Igor De Camargo to find goalscoring touch – could upset Batshuayi/Ezekiel. Keeping the midfield engine intact is important too. William Vainqueur made a swift u-turn after trying to break his contract, and will be pivotal to their chances alongside Yoni Buyens.
You never know what to expect with Standard. Last season they started slowly under Ron Jans before a late surge got them into Playoffs 1. The same could happen again here with the reasonably untested Luzon in charge. Trouble is only around the corner at Sclessin.
Prediction – 5th
Belgium’s cup winners have been remarkably quiet in the off-season. The only arrival is 18-year old striker Albian Muzaqi from PSV Eindhoven.Elyaniv Barda is the only major departure, returning to Israel after failing to persuade the Genk board he was worth his salary.
Mario Been has money to spend but has placed his faith in his reliable and balanced squad, and has crucially signed a new deal at the club. This stability, in terms of personnel and finances bodes well for the club. They’ll be hoping for a strong performance in the league and perhaps Europe.
De Buffalos were grazing most of last season, before Ilombe Mboyo provided the inspiration in Playoffs 2. The striker looks very likely to stay, as Gent’s asking price is too high. It’s easy to see why he’s been linked with some big clubs, after finding the net 20 times last campaign. The arrival of Dane Nicklas Pedersen from Mechelen might complicate matters up front, but should provide a lethal striker one way or the other.
After being exiled, the brash Yassine El Ghanassy has been forgiven and could become the fulcrum for the side. With a dash more consistency, the technically-gifted winger could link up well with his new attacking teammates, as he searches for his plane ticket to Brazil. Gent’s problem has always been defensive lapses and profligacy in front of goal. One of those should have been sorted but the backline still needs a little more confidence. Uruguayan Carlos Diogo could provide the answer to the soft centre.
The biggest change however is the new state-of-the art stadium, the Ghelamco Arena, which has finally been completed, hosting its gala match against Stuttgart. With a new home, Gent could be this season’s biggest movers.
Prediction – 3rd