The infamous playoffs start today. The top six (Anderlecht, Racing Genk, Ghent, Club Brugge, Lokeren and Standard Liege) will play each other twice in the next six weeks. The clubs start with half of the points gained in the “classic” season. So the clubs start as follows: Anderlecht 33 points; Genk 32; Ghent 29; Club Brugge 27; Lokeren 25; Standard Liege 25.
That points scoring system, though heavily criticised, has set the scene for exciting playoffs. Anderlecht and Genk start favourites but almost anyone could win the title, with the possible exception of Lokeren. Anderlecht will miss Boussoufa, Genk look solid, Standard could turn on the style with Defour and Witsel, while Club Brugge are notoriously unpredictable. Then there is Franky Drury at Ghent and he may just spring a surprise, if they can just start winning against the ‘big’ clubs.
Here’s a look at three of the teams – Lokeren, Club Brugge and Ghent – with the other three clubs to be reviewed on Sunday.
Lokeren (5th with 25 points)
The outsiders, Lokeren had an excellent start to the season, before fading slightly. Peter Maes, their coach, was in charge at KV Mechelen prior to moving to Lokeren in 2010. Maes has a solid reputation and has recently been mentioned as a possible replacement for Dominique D’Onofrio at Standard Liege. Lokeren’s most consistent players this year have been Barry Boubacar Copa in goal and captain Killian Overmeire in midfield. ‘Copa’ is Ivory Coast’s regular keeper and started his career in Belgium with Beveren, as part of Jean–Marc Guillou’s battalion. Overmeire is a one-club man, who has been with Lokeren since he was nine.
The team has hardly changed all season with Benjamin De Ceulaer, ex RKC in the Eredivisie, converted from the wing to main striker (9 goals so far). One to watch is Icelandic striker Alfreð Finnbogason who joined Lokeren in the winter break. Aged 22, Finnbogason has played twice for his national team and has scored three goals in four games for Lokeren. The team also features the highly-rated Derick Tshimanga at left back, a regular Belgian U21 international.
Club Brugge (4th with 27 points)
After a terrible start to the season, there are reasons for Club Brugge to be cheerful. A backroom revolution has been coupled by a decision to bring several old club servants back, especially to scout for new blood in all parts of the globe. The club is already planning next season and Bjorn Vleminckx has been brought back from NEC in the Eredivisie, where he is the top scorer this season.
Unfortunately, Club Brugge have lost Ronald Vargas to a long-term injury. The Venezuelan was one of the Jupiler League’s leading scorers and the team has done well to continue to get results. Basically they have no main striker and have been lucky to see Vargas (15 goals) and Ivan Perisic (16 goals) weighing in from midfield. Croat international Perisic is being watched by several clubs, most notably Borussia Dortmund.
The club has also been hit by several “scandals”, most notably Stijn Stijnen’s attempts to get the fans on his side via an Internet campaign orchestrated by his girlfriend and brother. The ex first-team keeper went too far though and his insults against several of his colleagues led to him leaving the club. Apart from that, the talented Nabil Dirar has been thrown out of the first-team squad and re-instated so often that no one knows his actual status. Add to that Vadis Odjidja, Wilfried Dalmat and Jonathan Blondel who have all been in various kinds of “trouble” and it’s a miracle that the team qualified for the senior playoffs.
A player who shuns the limelight is Jeroen Simaeys, 25, with a degree in psychology. He joined from St Truiden and has settled into midfield, in front of the back four. He’s played three times for the national team but the competition may stop him getting many more caps.
Ghent (3rd – 29 points)
Ghent’s revival started under Michel Preud’homme who surprisingly took over as coach after leading Standard Liege to the championship in 2007-2008. In his second season, Preud’homme then took Ghent to the runners-up spot in the championship and also won the cup. With that, he said goodbye and joined Twente in the Eredivisie. His replacement was Francky Drury, another Belgian coach with a big future. Drury has kept the club going despite losing its best player – Bryan Ruiz – who followed Preud’homme.
Ghent have no stars, unless you count Yassine El Ghanassy (20), who had an extremely bright start to the season on Ghent’s left flank. He’s now being talked about as a possible replacement for Mbark Boussoufa at Anderlecht; that talk may be going to his head. In midfield, Ghent keep it tight via two old stagers – Bernd Thijs (32, ex Standard, Genk and Monchengladbach) and Tim Smolders (30, ex Club Brugge, Charleroi).
Creativity comes from the right flank with Ivory Coast’s Yaya Soumahoro (21), who joined from Thailand, and Slovenian international Zlatan Ljubijankic, converted from striker to attacking midfield. In the main striking role is Elimane Coulibaly, who doesn’t get the respect he deserves (8 goals so far). Finally, in goal is cult hero and Serb national keeper Bojan Jorgacevic. Franky Drury rotates his squad quite often and that my give new signing Petit-Pele Mboyo a chance to make a mark in the playoffs.
Saturday 2 April: Ghent – Club Brugge
Sunday 3 April: Anderlecht – Standard Liege
Sunday 3 April: Racing Genk – Lokeren