Standard Liège 3-0 Racing Genk: Here come les Rouches
Standard Liège produced their best performance of the season at Sclessin to propel themselves into the most unlikely position of title contenders after a 3-0 win over Racing Genk.
Mircea Rednic decided to recall Paul-José Mpoku after his impressive showing as a sub against Zulte Waregem while Imoh Ezekiel began up front at the expense of Michy Batshuayi. For Genk, Steeven Joseph-Monrose came in for the injured Benji De Ceulaer, Kara kept out Kalidou Koulibaly and Brian Hamalainen was in at leftback.
Kensuke Nagai had the first real opportunity of the evening when he unsurprisingly outpaced Kara but again his composure let him down and a poor touch meant Köteles was able to narrow the angle sufficiently and deny the Japanese. Köteles’ opposite number Kawashima was to prove a key figure as he kept yet another clean sheet under Rednic and he was twice on hand to deny Buffel.
Standard opened the scoring after 25 minutes. Ezekiel’s shot was blocked and it ricocheted into the path of Yoni Buyens who with a good deal of agility, volleyed home first time from 15 yards. It was a significant goal for the underrated midfielder – as it was the first his side had scored at home since January.
The 1-0 lead was fragile but fortunately for the hosts, Kawashima was in top form. He made two outstanding stops to his left, each time denying Monrose, who is known for his particularly powerful shot. Standard went into the break ahead but anticipating a Genk response in the second period.
When the game resumed, there was yet again another moment of refereeing controversy and one with potentially adverse consequences for Mario Been’s side. Kanu’s challenge on Genk skipper Jelle Vossen was bad enough in that it was late but to compound matters, the centreback came in over the top – his studs landing flush on the boot of the Belgian international, who was in considerable pain and eventually had to go off injured. Referee Joeri van de Velde candidly admitted afterwards that he misjudged the situation and that a red card would have been more appropriate than the yellow shown to the Brazilian.
In contrast, the second goal was superb. Mpoku, who has come on leaps and bounds under Rednic, found the corner of the net with a powerful free kick from just outside the box, which was too good for Köteles. Vossen had bravely tried to soldier on but he was part of a double substitution made by Been on the hour. Rednic also brought the stronger Batshuayi on for the speedier Ezekiel.
It was a change, which would pay off for the home side with Batshuayi scoring a wonderful individual goal. He latched on to a ball forward from van Damme before evading a wild challenge from Kara out on the left-hand touchline. The Belgian under-21 international then incisively cut infield and into the box before unleashing a fiercely-struck shot beyond Köteles, which capped a memorable evening for the demanding but joyous home support.
As Mircea Rednic pointed out after the game, it was not simply a case of Standard taking advantage of a poor Genk side – the visitors had a number of opportunities in the first half but were kept at bay by an inspired Kawashima. Genk coach Mario Been, with some justification, highlighted the injury to Vossen as the point, which at the very least made it almost impossible for Genk to recover. Rednic may publicly deny his side’s title credentials and Mpoku has called on his team to remain humble but having piggybacked on the format their fans oppose so vigorously, here come les Rouches.