This Saturday sees the ‘Clasico’ – or at least the Belgian version – as Standard Liege face up to Anderlecht at Sclessin. It will doubtless be a full house and, in contrst to the weather, the atmosphere will be hot. The Standard fans are often referred to as the club’s “12th man” and they can certainly make a difference. Against Anderlecht though, it could have a negative impact. With their fans roaring them on, Standard could throw caution to the winds and Ariel Jacobs’ men are most dangerous on the counter attack.
Going into the match, Anderlecht lead the table on 53 points with Standard 4th, nine points behind. A win for the home side will make the gap six points – or as regular readers will know – three points going into the playoffs. Anderlecht will start favourites but there’s a doubt about Dieumerci Mbokani, who is said to have a back problem. If he does miss the game and Tom De Sutter starts, Standard’s Laurent Ciman and Kanu will be much more comfortable. As for Standard, they will hope that their twin strike force of Michy Batshuayi and Gohi Bi Cyriac can get amongst the Anderlecht defenders and cause havoc.
It’s time to get off the fence. If Mbokani is fit and plays, I’m going for Anderlecht to take the match 2-1 (Cyriac; Matias Suarez, Mbokani). If he’s missing, I think they’ll struggle away from home and Standard could sneak it, say 1-0, with a Batshuayi goal. But what do I know? Let’s hope for a game that a good advertisement for the Jupiler League.
Let’s have the look at the likely teams.
Standard Liege (4-4-2)
Keeper Sinan Bolat is one of the best in the Jupiler League and is rarely at fault. At right back, Regi Goreux has taken the captain’s armband in the absence through injury of Jelle Van Damme. Goreux has filled in well and is keeping Daniel Opare out of the team; he’ll never be a world-beater and somewhat foolishly called Anderlecht players haughty and big-headed this week.
With Brazilian Felipe out suspended, a centre-back pairing of Laurent Ciman and, another Brazilian, Kanu could find Anderlecht’s front four hard to handle. Kanu lacks match practice and although Ciman has looked the part recently, he’s often been a surprising choice at right back in the national team. At left back, Sebastien Pocognoli should have been in the Belgian team but, for some reason, Leekens doesn’t fancy him. The ex-AZ defender is excellent going forward and no slouch when defending.
Standard have no Van Damme and the excellent William Vainqueur was stupidly booked last week so misses the match through suspension. That leaves a likely pairing of Yoni Buyens and Karim Belhochine in midfield. In the first clash, in Brussels, Standard went 4-5-1 and started with Vainqueur, Luis Seijas and Franck Berrier in midfield; the result was catastrophic as Anderlecht scored five without reply. Buyens and Belhochine will bring some muscle to the party but they could still struggle.
On the right wing, ex-Wolves winger Geoffrey Mujangi Bia has been on top form. He’s fast, skilful and has contributed a couple of goals. On the left, it will probably be on-loan Togo international Serge Gakpé – he’s looked useful since arriving in the last window.
Standard’s strength lies in its fast and strong strike force: Michy Batshuayi is 18 and has already hit seven goals in all competitions. It shouldn’t be forgotten that he had a spell at Anderlecht but they couldn’t tame his ‘wild child’ behaviour. Ivory Coast striker Gohi Bi Cyriac is three years older than Batshuayi and also has seven goals; his form has made him the first choice striker this term. That means no place for Meme Tchite, just back from injury – or perhaps he just wanted a rest; whatever the reason, he’s not played for several weeks. He’s said to be fit now though!
The Standard bench will look a bit thin if Luis Seijas fails a fitness test. Tchite will be there and Israeli defender Rami Gershon may feature. Others could include newly-arrived Icelandic midfielder Birkir Bjarnason and Paul-Jose Mpoku who briefly flirted with Spurs.
Silvio Proto is a goalkeeper you either love or hate. He can make some costly mistakes but usually manages to look competent. Sometimes he can be a bit haughty.
At right back, Marcin Wasilewski is suspended and remarkably they could miss him. Dennis Odoi, who arrived in the summer, has said that if he doesn’t play he’ll get the message he’s not wanted. Ariel Jacobs doesn’t seem to have much confidence in the player and may opt to move Guillaume Gillet back from his marauding right wing position.
Cheikhou Kouyate and Roland Juhasz are usually a solid central defensive pairing but the former looked a bit fragile last week. Kouyate’s been a revelation since moving back from midfield and maybe that was just an aberration. Swedish left back Behrang Safari has displaced former captain Olivier Deschacht and is looking the part, especially going forward. Overall though, defence is Anderlecht’s Achilles heel and they will have to be on the top of their game.
In central midfield, Anderlecht have Argentine international and club captain Lucas Biglia and American international Sacha Kljestan. Kljestan in particular has been having an excellent season, running, tackling and generally sweeping up for his more skilful – but less conscientious – colleagues. Playmaker Biglia is undoubtedly the best player in the Jupiler League but still needs a few more games under his belt after his shoulder operation.
In attack, Guillaume Gillet – on the right wing – had a purple patch earlier in the season (11 goals so far) but that seems to be on the wane. Nevertheless, he always puts in a good shift and never stops trying. On the left, Milan Jovanovic has some good days and some bad ones. He tends to go missing when Anderlecht play the lesser teams away from home and then complains about his colleagues doing the same thing. The Liege fans will want to give the Serb a warm welcome on his first return to his former stomping ground. He says it’s just another game but it may not be. He can be a bit haughty.
Up front, Dieumerci Mbokani – also returning home – has been brilliant in the last few games but may not play due to a back problem. If he does play, he could be a match-winner but there’s no guarantee. Golden boot winner Matias Suarez should start just behind the main striker and he’s having a super season now that Jacobs has finally shown some confidence in him.
On the bench, Anderlecht will have – among others – Deschacht, the talented Fernando Canesin, the on loan TP Mazembe pairing of Bedi Mbenza and Patou Kabangu, and De Sutter. If Gillet does drop back, then Kabangu could get a run. The Congolese forward has hit four goals in six games for the national team.