Now, there are just four games to go before the JPL playoffs start. With six clubs qualifying, three – Club Brugge, Gent and Anderlecht – look nailed on to be there. Four clubs are in with a shout – Oostende, Racing Genk, Charleroi and Zulte Waregem – while it will take a miracle for Standard Liege to make the cut.
1. Racing certainties
Club Brugge are on a roll, having won their last six games. Michel Preud’homme was struggling a couple of months ago but it’s all come good. Lior Refaelov and Jose Izquierdo are both firing while Hans Vanaken has profited from the departure of the fragile Vazquez. The defence is looking solid with new keeper Ludovic Butelle aiming to make fans forget Maty Ryan. Preud’homme will be happy his team quit Europe early but the only danger is that they may be peaking too soon.
A couple of weeks ago, Gent were flying high and looking like favourites to retain their title. Since then they lost twice to Club Brugge (in cup and league), lost to Wolfsburg at home in the Champions League and signed Boussoufa – who has returned to Belgium on loan after an unhappy but highly-paid sojourn in Russia. It’s all a bit odd. Hein Vanhaezebrouck did not want Boussoufa and did not put him in the Champions League squad, as he doubted his fitness and probably his commitment. Boussoufa’s arrival disrupted the harmony in the squad for a while but he looked good in his one brief appearance. This will run and run. As for the league title, they are now just one team in three with a chance.Rather like Club Brugge, Anderlecht were being heavily criticised a few weeks ago. With poor results and performances, it took the President, Roland Vanden Stock, to visit the dressing room and knock a few heads together. But that wasn’t all; the club also signed a few players, most notably Djuricic and Alexander Büttner. Senegalese international midfielder Stéphane Badji also came in and the results have been positive. Competition for places has increased and performances on the pitch have improved. Coach Besnik Hasi was under pressure – at least from the fans – but he will get the chance to win another title. The big losers so far have been Imoh Ezekiel, totally out of the picture, and Youri Tielemans – everyone’s favourite youngster – who has dropped to the bench and could remain there for some time.
2. Four into three won’t goIn fourth place going in to the weekend are Oostende. Yves Vanderhaeghe’s men are the season’s surprise package, although it has to be admitted that the club has made some shrewd signings. In the last few weeks, Vanderhaeghe has tried changing things around in an effort to get back to winning ways but Oostende have only taken five points form five games. Furthermore they have not won any of their last three home matches.
Racing Genk are hard to fathom but it looks like the January signings have done the trick for new-ish coach Peter Maes. Greek striker Niko Karelis has looked particularly useful, already with three goals to his credit. Genk are – along with Club Brugge – the club in form – with 13 points from their last five games.
Felice Mazzu’s Charleroi have over-achieved on a small budget. They have not been consistent in recent weeks and it’s going to go to the wire in regard to the playoffs. New signing Cristian Benavente, signed from MK Dons, has become a crowd favourite but Mazzu is using him sparingly.
Zulte Waregem are in sixth place thanks to Standard, as the Liege club’s form has been worse than theirs. Francky Dury has to build a new team every year and it’s remarkable that he usually manages to get them into contention for the playoffs. Their stand-out player has been Onur Kaya, with the 10 assists, the most in the JPL.
3. Yet another season of transition for StandardStandard Liege fans will not be happy but it looks like yet another season of transition. It’s been continuous change at Sclessin. Bruno Venanzi has replaced Roland Duchâtelet, they’ve already had two coaches this season – Slavoljub Muslin and Yannick Ferrera – and in the last few days they’ve appointed a new Technical Director in ex-Standard keeper Olivier Renard. And that’s ignoring the impact of Daniel Van Buyten who acts as a ‘consultant’. Ferrera took a few weeks to settle at the club and to find his preferred starting eleven. He had an excellent run towards the end of the year but it’s all gone pear-shaped recently. Standard have lost three of their last four games and Ferrera has never fielded the same team in consecutive games. Buying a number of players in the January window improved the quality of the squad – including Valdes, Edmilson Junior and Giannis Maniatis – but did nothing for stability. Valdes was soon in the treatment room and it should not be forgotten that Anthony Knockaert jumped ship to Brighton just months after arriving from Leicester City.
4. The Playoffs – current situation and how it works.
The top six clubs qualify for the playoffs. The clubs receive half of the points that they gained in the “classic” season.
The current situation after 26 matches is:
Club Brugge 55 points, Gent 55, Anderlecht 51, Oostende 43, Racing Genk 41, Charleroi 38, Zulte Waregem 37, Standard 34.
5. This weekend’s relevant matches are:
Zulte Waregem-MKV Mechelen