It could be the first time that the Belgian League started before the Tour De France had reached the Alp d’Huez. But hey, that’s football.It will be an open competition this year. Normally Anderlecht start favourites but after failing to qualify for the Champions League and losing some important players – Alexsander Mitrovic and Chancel Mbemba – the squad looks unbalanced. It’s heavy on creative forces but lacking a little quality in defence and attack. Nevertheless, Anderlecht will be keen to avoid missing out on the title for a second consecutive season – it would be the first time since 2009.
The other club hungry for success is Club Brugge. Michel Preud’homme’s men were exhausted after fighting on three fronts last season. General Manager Vincent Mannaert does not want that to happen again and he’s made it plain that it’s the title or nothing. The Blauw & Zwart have not won the trophy since 2005!
Reigning champions Gent have a largely unchanged squad but will find it tough to repeat the heroics of 2014-15. Doubtless Hein Vanhaezebrouck will be planning new tactics but it ain’t easy the second time around. Standard Liège appear to be in rude health. With Roland Duchâtelet just an unhappy memory, the club has a new owner and, yes, another new coach. There’s a feeling of optimism about the place and – new to Sclessin – almost a sense of continuity about the squad.
Racing Genk – the final member of Belgium’s ‘Big Five’ also have a new coach in Peter Maes and are in the process of cleansing the Augean stables. They will have a little cash to spend – some from Christian Benteke’s move to Liverpool – and they may need to go to the shops.
Outside of those five, there are three teams likely to be fighting for the elusive sixth place in the playoffs: Charleroi, KV Mechelen and Oostende.
Charleroi were last season’s surprise packet and so far they’ve managed to keep midfield maestro Neeskens Kebano. KV Mechelen have ambitions and finished last season in style. With Algerian Sofiane Hanni in midfield, and Belgium no. 3 keeper Jean-François Gillet, they should have a reasonable season. Oostende are also ambitious but are beginning to look like an Anderlecht ‘B’ team now that Gohi Bi Cyriac has joined Jordan Lukaku and Fernando Canesin all settled on the coast.
Lokeren will have Boob Peeters in charge this season, and he’ll have big boots to fill after Maes’s achievements. Kortrijk have welcomed Vincent Tan and a new coach in Johan Walem who has moved over from the Belgium U21s.Mouscron-Péruwelz are no longer a Lille feeder club and it’s hard to forecast their future. Waasland-Beveren also look like struggling, while Westerlo will be hoping that Filip Daems and Benji De Ceulaer can bring some experience to the proceedings. Zulte Waregem are not the team they were when Thorgan Hazard and the late Junior Malanda were there, but they should be safe under Francky Dury.
Of the two promoted clubs, Sint Truiden would seem to have the most promising future. A synthetic pitch, a great crowd and a useful find in French schemer Jean-Luc Dompé should do the trick. The other newcomers, OH Leuven, will feature John Bostock but could be upset by major ground developments halfway through the year.
New (and nearly new) to the Jupiler Pro LeagueAnthony Knockaert – arriving on a Bosman from Leicester City and already having a big impact at Standard.
Johan Walem – the ex-international midfielder has taken over at Kortrijk, his first club coaching post.
Slavoljub Muslin. The tough Serb was at Lokeren about 10 years ago but he’s the new coach at Standard.
Guiliaume Gillet – was on loan at Bastia and the Anderlecht midfielder would like to leave again.
Yoni Buyens – arriving at Genk from Charlton.
Bob Peeters – back to Lokeren after five clubs in five years.
Stefano Okaka – to Anderlecht from Sampdoria.
Mohamed Yattara – to Standard from Lyon.
Enes Üna – on loan at Genk from Manchester City.
Gone but not forgotten
Alexsander Mitrovic to Newcastle United, along with Chancel Mbemba.
Club Brugge’s Maty Ryan to Valencia – a big loss,
Kortrijk’s Teddy Chevalier – to Rizespor.
Genk’s Sergej Milinkovic-Savic (to Lazio)
Genk’s Jelle Vossen – to Burnley.
OH Leuven’s Logan Bailly – to Celtic.
Mehdi Carcela – from Standard to Benfica.
Great preview, John. Look forward to reading your insight for many years to come. In the medium term, Gent winning the title will prove to be a real boost for the league in my view. What we now need is a Standard Liège with the administrative and managerial competence to match the passion (and more) of its supporter base.