Tonight Anderlecht play Malaga in the Champions League. They will be aiming to win their first match atthe Constant Vanden Stock stadium – in that competition – since November 2003. Admittedly, they haven’t played a Champions League match at home since December 2006 – a draw with AEK Athens – but even so, it’s a hard cross to bear.
The difference now is that Anderlecht are starting to believe in themselves and it’s due to one man, John Van den Brom. The Dutch coach, who arrived at the start of the season, is a confident man who tries to win every game. His approach has been taken up by the players who have responded to his attitude with a string of good results. They are unbeaten in 11 games in all competitions with six wins and five draws. Their most notable result was a 0-0 draw at the San Siro against AC Milan. They could easily have won the game after an impressive display, particularly in the first half when the Italians must have been surprised to be under attack from the Belgians.
Van den Brom has been playing either 4-4-2 or 4-3-3 dependent on the opponents and he’s introduced players, such as Massimo Bruno and Sacha Iakovenko, who never got a chance under Ariel Jacobs. Even Milan Jovanovic has become a team player and ex-captain Olivier Deschacht has had a new lease of life. Only one new player has joined the squad, Dutch centre back Bram Nuytinck brought in from NEC. Typically, he’s good going forward and pretty solid at the back.
Tonight will be tough, especially as Malaga are four points ahead of Real Madrid in La Liga and, like Anderlecht, are unbeaten in all competitions. In the Champions League, they beat Zenit 3-0; an excellent result despite the Russians having problems in recent weeks. Players to watch include keeper Willy Caballero (two goals conceded in eight games), 20 year-old Isco in midfield, Joaquin (51 Spanish caps) and Argentine international Javier Saviola.
One thing I like is Van den Brom’s ability to surprise the media. So even if the team below is the one expected, there is no guarantee. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Kouyaté in midfield again but that probably means it won’t happen. If I was a betting man, which I am, I’d go for 2-2.
Anderlecht: Proto; Gillet, Kouyate, Nuytinck, Deschacht; Biglia, Kljestan, Kanu; Bruno, Mbokani, Jovanovic.
Anderlecht bench: Kaminski, Wasilewski, Juhasz, Canesin, Iakovenko, Praet, De Sutter.
Malaga: Caballero; Monreal, Weligton, Demichelis, Gamez; Iturra, Camacho, Joaquin; Eliseu, Saviola, Isco.
Malaga bench. Kameni, Jesus Gamez, Onyewu, Javier Lopez, Recio, Portillo, Santa Cruz.