Why Anderlecht lost against Benfica in the Champions League

Anderlecht suffered a 2-3 defeat to Benfica last night in their penultimate Champions League clash, despite the Portuguese side not playing their best football. After the match, coach John van den Brom and the players  said they were satisfied with their performance but admitted that luck wasn’t on their side. However, if you only score three goals and concede 14 in five matches then there’s more to blame than just the absence of luck.

Chancel Mbemba

Chancel Mbemba

First of all, Anderlecht miss experienced quality in their squad to be of any meaning in the Champions League. They sold some important players in the transfer window and the only recruits they brought in, although talented, are very young. Fabrice N’Sakala is the only transfer from this summer who has added any significant strength to the club. Aleksandar Mitrovic and Luka Milivojevic both need more time to integrate to the side. Some of their youth players also moved from the U21 squad to the senior squad. Chancel Mbemba is already one of the most important players and Youri Tielemans just needs more playing time under Van den Brom.

Van den Brom started with seven(!) defenders against Benfica. Anderlecht is known in Belgium as an attacking club who always play their own game, a mentality the coach shared in the early stages of his tenure. As he comes closer to the end, however, he has started playing with a more defending formation. Denying goal scoring opportunities have become more important than playing attacking football. I have to admit, he’s the first coach at Anderlecht who can afford to do this, so far…

We all still remember Benfica from last year who narrowly lost out to Chelsea in the Europa League final in Amsterdam. Benfica were the better team and played a fantastic match against Eden Hazard and co. Chelsea won in the end, but the Portuguese powerhouse showed Europe that they were ready to compete with the biggest clubs on the continent. This season Benfica is certainly not the team from last season and with Oscar Cardozo absent they missed their best player against Anderlecht. Conceding three goals at home against a weakened Benfica should never happen.

Guillaume Gillet was captain again after he was out for a few weeks with an injury. John van den Brom said at the beginning of the season that he didn’t want a goalkeeper as his captain. We agree with him as a goalkeeper is not always involved with what is happening on the pitch. But this season Van den Brom had no alternative. Silvio Proto is not the best captain either, but he is the best they have at this time.

Aleksandar Mitrovic (Photo: De Standaard)

Aleksandar Mitrovic (Photo: De Standaard)

Anderlecht paid €5 million for Aleksandar Mitrovic this summer. In Belgium, when a club pays such a high amount for one player, everybody expects an immediate return. They have forgotten that the talented striker is only 19 years old and needs some time to adapt like everybody else. Yesterday, Mitrovic was the only striker in the squad against Benfica. That’s not a good sign to awake your player or to entice him to improve. Why Goh Bi Cyriac wasn’t in the selection is another mystery.

Getting knocked out the Champions League is nothing to be ashamed of for a club with a budget of €45 million. But you have to be honest with yourself. I know that saying as a coach that you made a mistake probably means the end but only blaming Lady Luck and your players doesn’t help either. This is not only John van den Brom’s fault but also Manager Herman Van Holsbeeck and President Roger Vanden Stock’s. If you want to give chances to youth you have to buy at least three key players who have a lot of experience and leadership capabilities. Sacha Kljestan, Guillaume Gillet, Olivier Deschacht and Demy de Zeeuw aren’t able to do that.

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