Jupiler Pro League Week 3 Preview
In a surprising statistical twist, no side in the Pro League took two wins from their first two games for the first time since 1986. And in a measure of just how competitive the opening fortnight has been, every team has at least managed to put one point on the board. Among the title contenders, Club Brugge have looked the most impressive but that did not prevent them from being the victims of a stunning Sint-Truiden fight-back as the Canaries battled back from 3-0 down to win a point. Anderlecht and Standard both won, getting back on track while Gent and Genk laboured to draws.
KAA Gent – Standard Liège
De Buffalo’s have only taken one point from their two games and have arguably deserved more. Trond Sollied’s side have been the victim of two highly questionable penalty decisions, however, one cannot deny the fact that their defence remains their biggest Achilles heel. Standard produced their best display of the campaign last weekend against Lokeren and Mbaye Leye, who scored two in that game will be up for the match against his former side. Fellow striker Memé Tchité has an excellent recent record against Gent and will fancy his chances of scoring, even though the home side will have Valery Nahayo back in defence. Bernd Thijs and Zlatan Ljubijankic have shrugged off slight injuries to be fit for Gent, while Standard are definitely missing playmaker Nacho Gonzalez and Steven Defour is in the squad but is yet to play a competitive game this season.
Club Brugge – OH Leuven
Last week saw both the best and the worst of Adrie Koster’s new-look Club Brugge side in what is honestly one of the most amazing games I have ever witnessed. At times, Blauw-Zwart looked as if they were playing their own club’s academy team and yet when STVV piled on the pressure, Club caved in, with Michael Almebäck doing anything but living up to his “Iron Mike” sobriquet. Everyone is available for Koster with the continued exception of Frederik Stenman, who has plenty of cover at left-back. OH Leuven have been a welcome addition to the Pro League so far although they followed their conquering of Anderlecht with being brought back down to earth in Waregem. Nevertheless, they displayed good spirit against one of the stronger sides in the league although they will have to be wary of a backlash from the home side. Former Manchester United reserve player Floribert Ngalula could be in line to make his debut for OHL and while a draw should be beyond them, in Patrick Amoah and Jordan Remacle they have goalscoring threats.
Racing Genk – Zulte Waregem
The champions seemed to be steadying the ship, having done well to limit the departures of key players and overturning a deficit during the first leg to knock Partizan out of the Champions League qualifiers. However, they have been hit with a triple blow – Kevin De Bruyne’s injury, a lacklustre point against relegation candidates Lierse and most crucially, the impending departure of title-winning coach Frank Vercauteren, who rescued the club from mediocrity, to Al-Jazira. Vercauteren will stay until at least the first leg against Maccabi Haifa but in the light of the club’s transfer embargo, it is difficult to see how the players can still believe in him. Striker Marvin Ogunjimi joins De Bruyne on the sidelines but new signing Khaleem Hyland could debut against his former club. Essevee have begun well with four points from two games and have a very impressive looking outfit under new coach Darije Kalezic. At times their movement and link-up play against OHL was superb and they will feel they could have scored more than two. They will be confident going into the match and while Genk remain favourites, Zulte Waregem are well positioned from the recent crises afflicting the Limburg side.
Beerschot – Westerlo
With a whole raft of new signings exceeding the number that even Club Brugge have brought in over the summer, the Antwerp-based side are potential dark horses. They have had a tough start to the season, losing to Genk and then drawing with Gent, however, this home game with Westerlo is very much a winnable fixture. Jacky Mathijssen’s men will be looking to tighten up a defence that has conceded five in two games and have all the big guns available including talented attackers Ibrahima Sidibe and Guillaume François. Westerlo have several absentees including Dieter Dekelver, although the dangerous Liliu plays and Gent loanee Stijn De Smet is set to make his first appearance – he could be an astute signing going forward.
Kortrijk – Cercle Brugge
Hein Vanhaezebrouck’s men displayed superb tenacity last week when they drew in Westerlo despite having two men sent off, securing their second point of the season. Goals have been hard to come by with just one in two games but KVK have added to their attacking options by loaning Dalibor Veselinovic from Anderlecht, who could be described as a very poor man’s Jan Koller, at least in the context of the Brussels giants. Cercle are missing a number of key players in Rudy, who has been one of the stars of the season thus far and Dominic Foley, the veteran Irishman who is still good for a goal, while their Portuguese under-20 World Cup stars are not yet in the squad.
Mons – Sint-Truiden
The home side have drawn both matches so far and have reason to be pleased with their displays. A lively performance against Standard earned them a point and they did well to take a point away to Cercle thanks to a goal from supersub and arch-poacher Jeremy Perbet. STVV are on the crest of the wave after coming from 3-0 down to draw with Club Brugge and have been boosted by the news that coach Guido Brepoels will reject any potential overtures from rivals Racing Genk. Reza upfront looks a tidy player with his skill and pace while Ruben Okotie is added to the squad for the first time since his move from Nürnberg.
Lokeren – Anderlecht
It was a surprise just how convincingly Standard won last week against Lokeren, although they did have their chances, including hittig the post early on. With one point so far, last year’s surprise play-off 1 side have yet to get going and face their third tricky game on the spin but they retain the core group of quality players such as De Ceulaer, De Pauw, Persoons and Tshimanga. Anderlecht have had an excellent week, waving the perfect goodbye to Romelu Lukaku with a 3-1 win over Mechelen and signing Milan Jovanovic and Dieumerci Mbokani, though neither are yet in the squad. Still, despite a number of absences, Matias Suarez is looking the best he has ever been since coming to Belgium and he should spearhead les Mauves to a second successive win, though don’t count out Lokeren, especially at Daknam.
KV Mechelen – Lierse
Our final game is what will be a hotly contested Antwerp derby with both these sides coming from the province named after its major city. Mechelen lost in Brussels last week but remain a more than solid side with Julien Gorius in fine form this season once more, pulling the strings in midfield. Lierse have surprised me by taking two points from their two games to date and though they’ve only found the net once, they were on top for considerable periods against champions Genk last week. It would therefore be dangerous to write them off Achter de Kazerne but I fancy Marc Brys’ side to win the bragging rights early in the season.