Standard Liège 2-4 Club Brugge: Lestienne shines again to end les Rouches’ title hopes
This was not the match for anyone with a suspect ticker nor the occasion for anyone trying to rid themselves of that most terrible habit of nail-biting (as I have done myself recently after 20 years). However, it was the latest episode in the never ending serial drama that is the Jupiler Pro League play-offs as Club Brugge came away with a 2-4 win at Sclessin against Standard Liège.
Standard coach Mircea Rednic was without the ill Frédéric Bulot, who was surprisingly replaced by young Anil Koç. The 18-year old had done well coming on as a sub against Kortrijk but today was his first start. George Tucudean was an eyebrow-raising pick at Michy Batshuayi’s expense. Club Brugge boss Juan Carlos Garrido decided to leave €3m man Laurens De Bock on the bench. Victor Vázquez retained the captain’s armband and Blauw-Zwart were at full strength in attack.
The home side were quick out of the blocks with Tucudean going down inside the box in the first minute having escaped the clutches of two men but referee Delferière waved the play on. It didn’t take long though before the deadlock was broken, though it was Club who drew first blood and not Standard. A poor clearance from Daniel Opare landed at the feet of Thomas Meunier, who beat three men before finding Maxime Lestienne. As in the previous two games, he cut inside à la Robben and curled the ball beyond the goalkeeper. It was nice to see the still makeshift rightback Meunier reminding me of his attacking qualities but make no mistake, Lestienne should win the Players’ Player of the Year award.
Ezekiel missed a great opportunity to equalise when he shot wide on his left foot and Mpoku failed to connect with Koç’s cross. Standard were to pay for not capitalising on these chances. Carlos Bacca helped a Victor Vázquez free kick on and Oscar Duarte headed home from close range for his third goal since joining in January – not too shabby for a centreback. Club Brugge were handing Standard a lesson in ruthlessness and it got worse still on the stroke of half-time. In what was shaping up to be a carbon copy of the first goal, Meunier found Lestienne but this time the ex-Mouscron man cut inside in order to cross to Bacca at the far post and the country’s leading scorer headed in a third. It comes as no surprise that the home fans made their feelings known upon the half-time whistle.
Standard needed a response and they got one five minutes into the second period. Tucudean did well inside the box to find Ezekiel and in his attempts to deny Standard’s leading scorer, the unfortunate Duarte achieved the dubious accomplishment of scoring at both ends in the same match, inadvertently heading the ball past Kujovic. Tucudean then made way for Batshuayi and suddenly Standard began to believe they could emulate the comeback of Zulte Waregem a day earlier.
Things went up a gear on the hour mark. Ezekiel, who was beginning to cause Club more and more problems, drove into the penalty box and was needlessly brought down by Jesper Jørgensen. In Paul-José Mpoku, Standard have a cool head from twelve yards and the Belgian u21 international drove his penalty high, beyond Kujovic into the net to cut the deficit to the solitary goal.
With Standard very much in the ascendancy, Garrido, often criticised for his changes, introduced Eidur Gudjohnsen, who swiftly had the desired impact. The veteran showed good awareness to find captain Victor Vázquez, who knew exactly where Eiji Kawashima was and the Spaniard deftly lobbed the ball over the Japanese goalkeeper, whose frantic attempts to prevent a fourth goal were always going to be in vain.
Despite a succession of corners in the latter stages, Standard were unable to mount a second fightback and they are all but out of the title race. Club Brugge have now won four on the bounce and they remain in the mix. They are currently top on goal difference and with a better record in PO1 than Zulte Waregem but Genk and Anderlecht, who are currently in action, make up the now four-way title race.