The top six clubs in the Belgian first division qualify for the Championship Playoffs and so far Club Brugge and Anderlecht have crossed the line. Zulte Waregem just need a point and they should get that when they play Westerlo at home on Saturday. Oostende and Charleroi look good for two of the other places, with home games this coming weekend. That leaves the battle for the sixth place to be between Gent, Racing Genk and KV Mechelen.
Gent and Genk firmly in the spotlight
Racing Genk’s defeat at Anderlecht last week together with Gent’s win over bottom club Mouscron meant that Hein Vanhaezebrouck’s men leapfrogged Genk and now look the likelier of the two to make the Championship Playoffs.
With just two games left in the regular season, the race for the Playoffs has been given an additional twist by Genk and Gent being drawn together in the Europa League quarter finals. The first leg will be played at Gent between the last two games of the season. Both teams have had successful Europa League campaigns but Gent have had a larger share of the headlines thanks to their victory over Spurs.
One striking difference between the two clubs has been their work in the winter transfer window. Vanhaezebrouck brought in a couple of decent players from Kortrijk (Samuel Gigot and Birger Verstraete) and signed keeper Lovre Kalinic from Hajduk Split. All three featured at Wembley. Racing Genk sold Leon Bailey and Wilfried Ndidi for a lot of cash and are now paying the price.
A three horse race for the sixth place?
It’s then a three horse race – Gent, Genk and KV Mechelen – for the remaining place. Both Genk and Gent could have that Europa League tie on their minds and Genk have a difficult fixture next weekend, at home to Club Brugge. If Genk don’t win that game and Gent win at Beveren – who have nothing to play for – then it’s all over for Genk and they can focus on the Europa League.
If that does happen, then there could be a virtual playoff for the sixth and final position in the Championship Playoffs when KV Mechelen go to the Ghemalco Arena on the final day of the season.
Missing member of the ‘Big Five’
For anyone asking about the missing member of the ‘Big Five’, Standard Liege, their season has lurched from bad to worse and they currently lie ninth in the table, four points behind Racing Genk. Daniel Van Buyten has left the club after being brought in as a consultant and a man with Standard blood in his veins. His main achievement was to work closely with his agent Christophe Henrotay who gained a monopoly of Standard’s transfer dealings with little success.
Standard Liege’s owner Bruno Venanzi may also have a few concerns about his decision to exchange coaches with KV Mechelen with Yannick Ferrera doing an excellent job at Mechelen while Standard’s new man Aleksandar Janković looks as if he is on borrowed time. It’s sad to see a great club in such a bad situation; Standard have had 13 different coaches in the past 11 years.
The Championship Playoffs – how they work
The Championship Playoffs start with the six clubs receiving half of the points that they gained in the regular season. The current situation after 28 matches is:
Club Brugge 58 points, Anderlecht 58, Zulte Waregem 50, Oostende 48, Charleroi 47, KV Mechelen 45, Gent 44, Racing Genk 42.
If the Playoffs started now, the points would therefore be: Club Brugge and Anderlecht 29 points, Zulte Waregem 25, Oostende and Charleroi 24, KV Mechelen 23. Note that where teams have an odd number of points, they are rounded up, i.e. 45 becomes 23.
The key games in the final two weekends
Saturday March 4
Genk – Club Brugge
Charleroi – Kortrijk
Sunday March 12
Gent – KV Mechelen
Eupen- Zulte Waregem
And then there were other playoffs
It would not be Belgium without other Playoffs in the offing. All of the above relates to the so-called Championship Playoffs, to decide who wins the title and automatic entry to the Champions League. There are also the Europa League Playoffs – new format this season – where the clubs finishing from 7th to 15th in the league (now known as Belgian First Division A) are joined by three clubs from Belgian First Division B (i.e. the second division) in a competition to decide who plays against the club coming fifth in the Championship Playoffs for a place in the Europa League.
Yes indeed, a club finishing fourth in the second division (there are now only eight clubs there) can qualify for the Europa League on merit.
The other interesting aspect of the second division is that it is split into two ‘tranches’ (roughly before and after the winter break). This season the first tranche was won by Roeselare and the second by Royal Antwerp. The two clubs will meet over two legs to see who gains promotion to the First Division A. However, if the two tranches were added together to make a regular season, Lierse gained the most points – but they have to be satisfied with a place in the Europa League Playoffs, see above.
For those who would like the complete picture – apart from the Second Division ‘Playdowns’ – the club finishing last in the regular season of the Belgian First Division A (currently Mouscron) will be relegated directly to the Belgian First Division B.