If this was a horse race, the commentator would be saying that the leaders are bunching together approaching the halfway mark. There are just three points covering the first four teams and the second (Zulte Waregem) visits the third (Anderlecht) on the fourth day of the championship playoffs. This is one of three midweek games.
The presence of Thorgan Hazard in the visitors’ camp will add a little spice to the proceedings as the Brussels club did all they could to take the playmaker from Waregem in January but to no avail. Hazard is now back on song but Anderlecht are a strong side at home. In the other fourth-day matches, Club Brugge play Genk and Standard Liege are at home to Lokeren. You would expect three home victories but playoff games are hard to predict with any certainty.
Last weekend was all about referees and their decisions. It’s a bit of a cliché to say that these things even out over the season but there really were some bad decisions last weekend – and in previous weekends. Anderlecht won at Lokeren but there was a definite penalty – not given – when Cheikhou Kouyaté handled in the area. The Lokeren fans were so sure of things that they immediately waved their wallets at the TV cameras. Then when Standard went to Genk, Yoni Buyens was sent off for a second yellow card after in Jelle Vossen’s words, “standing on his toe”. Vossen added, “You need to be smart. It would have been stupid for me to stay on my feet. I can understand why Van Damme is angry but that’s football.”
There have been other bad decisions but in a weekend of confrontations, two coaches – Michel Preud’homme and Guy Luzon – took criticism to an extreme level. Preud’homme continually harangues any officials in his vicinity while Luzon feels that all referees are anti-Standard. Strangely Luzon severely criticised Johan Verbist but he’s refereed Standard five times this season (four victories and a draw for Les Rouches).
On the positive side, there were top performances from several young Belgians: Siebe Schrijvers, Thorgan Hazard, Pieter Gerkens, Michy Batshuayi, Dino Arslanagic and (not as good as last week) Youri Tielemans. It’s great to see young players staying in the league and raising the level of the Jupiler Pro League rather than hot-footing it to the ‘best league in the world’ aged 15, with their parents.
And finally Silvio Proto was absolutely brilliant in goal for Anderlecht despite – or because of – being pelted with rubbish by the Lokeren fans. There are repeated calls for him to go to Brazil but I feel Wilmots will want a promising youngster as number 3 keeper.
Standings: Standard 38, Zulte Waregem 36, Anderlecht 35, Club Brugge 35, Lokeren 27, Genk 25.
15 April: Anderlecht-Zulte Waregem
16 April: Club Brugge- Racing Genk
17 April: Standard-Lokeren
20 April: Lokeren-Zulte Waregem
21 April: Club Brugge-Standard
21 April: Racing Genk-Anderlecht
In Group ‘A’, Gent got back on track and there was another good win for Oostende. In Group ‘B’, Charleroi and Kortrijk are walking away with the group after they both scored four goals against weak opposition.
It’s all over now, baby blue. Mons are in the second division after losing to Leuven for the third time. Leuven need to get ready for division 2 playoffs – probably against Eupen, Sint Truiden and Mouscron. But hey, that’s not certain; nothing is in the land of the playoffs.