Any review of the Jupiler League at the winter break stage has to focus on Gent. After winning the title last season, many people expected Hein Vanhaezebrouck’s men to concentrate on the Champions League at the possible expense of local considerations. It was not to be. Not only have Gent qualified for the knock-out stages of the Champions League, they also led the Jupiler Pro League (JPL) as the teams went into hibernation for a few weeks.Gent have been brilliant. I thought they would suffer ‘second season’ syndrome but it hasn’t happened. Sven Kums (six assists and 10 goals) has been outstanding in midfield and the Gent captain is favourite for the Golden Boot (Player of the Year). Matz Sels and Nana Asare have also been prominent while striker Laurent Depoitre, called up by Belgium and once thought to be in the running for the Golden Boot, has not been so consistent after refusing to sign a new contract.
Anderlecht have been inconsistent. There has been the occasional good display – such as the destruction of Club Brugge at the Jan Breydel stadium – but they are always likely to disappoint after such a result. There has been no standout player but, as usual, Silvio Proto has made few errors. Steven Defour and Dennis Praet have both improved on their performances of the previous season but both have lacked that extra sparkle that is important for the demanding Anderlecht fans. Leander Dendoncker has looked the part in a defensive midfield role, ironically at the expense of Youri Tielemans. Hasi has been criticised for his team’s displays and he needs to win the title to keep his job.
At the start of the season, Club Brugge General Manager Vincent Mannaert said it had to be the title or nothing. It could be nothing based on the club’s form so far. Club Brugge were dire for a long period and it looked like Preud’homme could be on his way out. A couple of good wins have helped but the team does not look as strong as last season. Maty Ryan has been missed with Sebastien Bruzzese not proving to be a good enough replacement. There have been no outstanding performers but Dutch midfielder Ruud Vormer has grown in strength and confidence. Jelle Vossen came in late in the transfer window and has scored some vital goals. Abdoulay Diaby has scored 10 goals without looking the real deal.Standard Liege had a new coach at the start of the season but he didn’t last long. Now Yannick Ferrera has moved in from Sint Truiden and initial results have been promising. At one stage, Standard were bottom of the league but now they are just outside the top six. They have enough talent to make the playoffs but it’s not guaranteed. Anthony Knockaert arrived from Leicester City and looked like the real deal. He then faded, looked good again and has now moved to Brighton. That’s football. Standard have been busy in the marketplace, bringing in a couple of useful players from Sint Truiden and taking Gabriel Boschilia on loan from Monaco. Captain Jelle Van Damme looks like he is on his way to LA Galaxy.
When Peter Maes was put in charge at Racing Genk, hopes were high but it looks like he may need more time to make the team real contenders. Sébastien Dewaest came in from Charleroi and has looked the part at centre back but their record of 23 goals scored in 21 games says it all. It is to be hoped that the highly-rated Siebe Schrijvers’ loan spell at Waasland-Beveren turns him into the player that he should become.
Sporting Charleroi finished in sixth place last season. That was a brilliant performance given the overall budget and the loss of Dewaest and Neeskens Kebano, with the latter also joining Genk. Felice Mazzù has confirmed his promise as a coach and French midfielder Clément Tainmont has had a useful season to-date.
Oostende were one of my outsiders to reach the playoffs but they have exceeded my expectations. Lying fourth at the time of the winter break, Vanderheaghe’s men look odds-on to finish in the top six. The coach used to play in midfield for Anderlecht and his team is littered with players who endured miserable times at the Constant Vanden Stock stadium. Sebastien Siani, Fernando Canesin, Jordan Lukaku and Gohi Bi Cyriac were all sent packing from the Brussels club but Siani and Canesin have been consistent all season while Cyriac is the joint leading scorer in the league with 10 goals.Now Yassine El Ghanassy has joined the party – that could mean anything.
Zulte Waregem could make the top six which would be an exceptional result for Francky Dury. He has totally revamped the team since the heady days of Thorgan Hazard and the late Junior Malanda. Midfielder Christophe Lepoint – ex Gent and Charlton Athletic – has been a top player, as have keeper Sammy Bossut and striker Mbaye Leye. Leye is the league’s joint leading scorer. Waregem also have ex-Charleroi schemer Kaya Onur, who has 10 assists – the most in the JPL by far – and has been involved in 40% of Waregem’s goals.KV Mechelen started badly but have improved to hold a mid-table place. Jean-Francois Gillet has shown his worth and has done enough to ensure he will be with Belgium at the Euros.
Bob Peeters’ time at Lokeren was short-lived and Georges Leekens has come in – for his third time at the club – and performed miracles. Unbeaten in five games, Lokeren are up to ninth, just three points of a playoffs spot. Lokeren are unbeaten in five games, and are one of the form teams – along with Anderlecht. Leekens’ arrival has had a good impact on Ayanda Patosi (now on six goals). Westerlo are struggling and now have Peeters in the dugout.
Mouscron-Peruwelz’s horrific home form – no wins since September – has placed them in the relegation zone. Now owned by Pini Zahavi, their outstanding player has been Julien Michel, once of Lille.
Waasland-Beveren have done as expected, no better, no worse. Stein Vreven is still in charge and they have taken Siebe Schrijvers – once one of my players to watch back in 2012- on loan. Schrijvers is 21 and was once ranked alongside Musonda and Bakkali.
Sint Truiden are still recovering from Yannick Ferrera’s decision to move to Standard. The promoted club should be safe this season with William Dutoit having an excellent time as first-choice keeper. New coach Chris O’Loughlin has been given a tough task and the move of Junior Edmilson and Jean-Luc Dompe to Sclessin has not helped. Rob Schoofs is the youngest captain in the league at 19 and Sint Truiden also have Marc Wilmots’ son Reno on the books.Emilio Ferrera, Yannick’s uncle, is the new man at Leuven – following Matthijssen’s sacking – and things have improved. John Bostock has been relatively quiet and there has been a lot of attention on Leandro Trossard, on loan from Genk. The Limburg club want him back but Leuven are playing hardball. Trossard got a bagful of goals for Lommel in the second division and is one to watch.
Vincent Tan’s Kortrijk, coached by Johan Walem, had a solid start to the season with one of the best defensive records in the league. Then it all went wrong and Kortrijk lost the last four games before the break. They also have the lowest number of goals scored – 21 in 21 games.
League positions at the winter break stage
There are nine games to go before the end of the classic season. Then, the top six will go into the playoffs with points gained to-date being halved. These are the points at the 21-game stage.
Gent 43 points, Anderlecht 41, Club Brugge 40, Oostende 38, Zulte Waregem 33, Charleroi 30, Racing Genk and Standard 28, Lokeren 27, KV Mechelen, Sint Truiden and Kortrijk 25, Waasland-Beveren 24, Mouscron-Peruwelz 21, Leuven 19, Westerlo 16.
10 – Diaby (Club Brugge), Cyriac (Oostende), Kums (Gent), Leye (Zulte Waregem)
9 – Hanni (KV Mechelen), Okaka (Anderlecht), Perbet (Charleroi)
8 – Gano (Waasland-Beveren), Gounongbe (Westerlo), Musona (Oostende)
Leading number of assists
10 – Kaya (Zulte Waregem)
6 – Knockaert (Standard), Kums (Gent), Langil (Waasland-Beveren)
5 – Berrier (Oostende), Edmilson (Sint Truiden), Foket (Gent), Michel (Mouscron-Peruwelz), Patosi (Lokeren).
The league’s top rated players.
Every week, Sport/Foot magazine rates all the players in the JPL. At his stage of the season, the magazine has looked at the four categories of players. With teams playing 3-4-3, 4-3-3 and 4-2-3-1 it’s sometimes difficult to differentiate between categories; for example, the top three forwatds were all wingers rather than strikers. However, these were the players with the highest average scores.
Keepers: The top three rated keepers were Sin Truiden’s William Dutoit, Gent’s Matz Sels and Oostende’s Didier Ovono.
Defenders: The top defenders were Gent’s Nana Asare, Oostende’s David Rozehnal and Kortrijk’s Maxime Chanot.
Midfielders: Top of the pile were Gent’s Sven Kums, Oostende’s Sebastien Siani and Sint Truiden’s Rob Schoofs (the league’s youngest captain, at 21).
Forwards: highest rated were Oostende’s Fernando Canesin, Sint Truiden’s Edmilson Junior and Standard’s Anthony Knockaert.
• Oostende had the most players rated in the top 10, for each of the four categories, with nine (Ovono, Rozehnal, J. Lukaku, Capon, Siani, Jali, Canesin, Musona and Cyriac).
• Next best team was Gent with six (Sels, Asare, Nielsen, Kums, Neto and Depoitre).
• Highest three individual ratings for outfield players were Kums 6.60, Canesin and Siani 6.37.
• Top keeper ratings were Dutoit 6.42 and Sels 6.40.
• Four teams had no players in the top ten ratings for each category – Westerlo, and rather surprisingly, Charleroi, Club Brugge and Racing Genk.