With Anderlecht and Standard Liege already qualified for the knock-out stages of the Europa League, many eyes will be on the Jan Breydel stadium on December 15 when Club Brugge meet Braga needing a draw to make it through to the knock-out stages.
Last Wednesday and Club Brugge looked down and out, losing 3-0 at NK Maribor with 15 minutes to go. New coach Christophe Daum decided to throw his legendary caution to the winds and sent on Nigerian striker Joseph Akpala, switching to a somewhat desperate 4-2-4. The rest is history as the Blauw en Zwart scored four times to put them joint top with Braga. Long-standing fans were reminded of the halcyon days of 1987-88 when Brugge regularly came back from impossible positions in Europe: most notably scoring heavily against Red Star Belgrade and Borussia Dortmund.
So Club Brugge look set – assuming it doesn’t all go pear-shaped on the 15th – to join Anderlecht and Standard Liege in the last 32. Standard had a fairly comfortable win over Hannover last week with twin strikers Meme Tchite and Gohi Bi Cyriac taking the eye with a goal each. Man of their season so far though is French midfielder William Vainqueur, bought for a song in the summer and who could be snapped up by a bigger club if he keeps performing like he has been. Liege fans are no longer talking about Witsel and Defour.
As for Anderlecht, they’ve won all five Europa League games so far. That’s a remarkable record and they’ll be hoping to make it six when Lokomotiv Moscow come to Brussels on the same night as Brugge face Braga. Guillaume Gillet was their unlikely hero in Athens and he outshone Matias Suarez who just needs one goal to equal the record number of goals scored in the Europa League group stages: last season when Porto’s Falcao hit seven.
With 11 wins out of 15 matches in the Europa League, Jupiler League clubs are showing that there could be good times ahead. Most of Georges Leekens’ squad play outside of Belgium but who knows what gems could be lurking, waiting to be unearthed in the next two or three years. But first, Club Brugge need to get that point when Braga come to town.