How Standard surprised Club Brugge and can beat Anderlecht

No-one expected to see Standard win. Club Brugge had won three games in a row and were unbeaten for a total of six. Les Rouches had experienced a difficult few weeks and their results against the other sides in PO1 didn’t bode well.

However, Mircea Rednic had reminded us that the play-offs are almost an entirely new competition. Everything is still possible with European qualification being the first objective. In this mini-league, which sees every team approach each game like a final, it should make for a great spectacle. However, the first 20 minutes were terrible. A game spoiled by repeated mistakes and a lack of technical quaity meant it wasn’t the most pleasing start. In that time, however, Standard were able to implement their tactical plan and having survived Bacca hitting the post, les Standardmen came more and more into the game.

It was in fact one of Standard’s best games on Monday and when I say “best”, I clearly mean tactically. That’s no surprise in itself when we recall that the best games this season were all away from home and what’s more, against the top sides – Rednic’s first game when they won in Genk and the superb draw away to Anderlecht when Standard deserved better. How did Standard manage to upset the odds? Through organisation, structure and commitment. As Hein Vanhaezebrouck said on La Tribune, Standard are not a side who like to take the game to their opponents but they’re a more patient team, who know how to counter their opponent’s gameplan.

Rednic’s side put in a real defensive shift and the back four, in spite of regular changes in personnel, they kept a 14th clean sheet of the campaign. We all know the quality of Kanu and Ciman (nominated for VOO/DH Player of the Month) and their magnificent showing was no surprise. On the other hand, the assured performances of Opare, coming back into the side and Diabaté most certainly were. Former Real Madrid youngster Opare has had a difficult few weeks. He had to be satisfied with a place on the bench or in the stands despite signing a new deal recently but he took his chance following Ibrahima Cissé’s recent misdemeanours. Diabaté, who is on loan with an option to buy, did his chances of a permanent move no harm. The versatile defender owned by Dijon is one of the players Rednic requested in January but he will make way for captain Jelle van Damme today.

Pour la 14e fois de la saison, Kawashima n'a pas pris un but

Eiji Kawashima kept his 14th clean sheet of the season last time out. (Photo: ©  R. Absolonne)

Standard have some good cover at the back but what about the options further forward? In Brugge, Rednic brought on Ajdarevic, Cristea and Nagai towards the end of the game. It’s difficult to criticise the trio too harshly on the basis of the game because they did what was asked of them by the coach: keeping the ball as much as possible, stiffening up the midfield area and not exposing the defence. The worry, however, is whether these players can make the difference going forward. Ajdarevic and Nagai both had chances to kill Club Brugge off and they both wasted them.

However, those who did make the difference were responsible for two superb goals, both the products of hard work on the training ground. For the first, Ciman produced a wonderful long pass for the first goal, inch-perfect and onto the chest of Ezekiel, who threaded the ball through three Club players to Batshuayi, who finished with aplomb. For the second, Mpoku flummoxed the Club defence by finding Opare unmarked down the right and the Ghanaian’s cross was perfect for Yoni Buyens, who headed home to cap a fine game.

With Anderlecht coming to Liège this evening, what about at home? The Mons game was typical of Standard’s recent malaise at Sclessin. They dominated the ball but could do nothing with it. When the roles are reversed and Standard have to make a game of it and find the gaps in a packed defence with ten men behind the ball, they are sorely lacking in creativity and flair. Standard must build on the win over Club but they’ve only beaten the top six twice this season – one of those of course coming in that memorable home Clasico against Anderlecht, who never came to terms with the highly charged atmosphere, which resulted in the game being stopped.

The play-offs are a unique animal. There’s no so-called easy game against an OHL or a Waasland-Beveren. Anderlecht have had their problems in recent weeks, especially replacing the suspended Mbokani upfront. A win tonight for Standard is clearly important for the fans and would shake the play-offs up still further after a number of interesting results to date. More than that, however, it’s the psychological boost it would give, which could have major knock-on effects for the rest of the season. Three points against the champions and Standard will be flying.

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