Yesterday was the day that many die-hard football fans dreamt about: the kick-off in the Pro League. Champions AnderlechtÂ are looking to defend their title while close contenders Club Brugge are always on the lookout for a slip from Belgiumâ€™s No 1. Today, we will have a look at the possible title contenders and search for this yearâ€™s revelation.
The obvious one. Holding the record for most Belgian league titles and widely acknowledged as the most consistent, high-flying club of the country, winning two titles in the last four years, has set the bar very high. All thanks to previous coach Ariel Jacobs? Not quite. Yes, they would have been champions two more times (making it four out of four) if it werenâ€™t for the play-offs, but there is no doubt that they should thank their guardian angels. Performances were top against the top teams, but it was, at times, dreadful to watch when they were competing against the smaller teams. The so-called â€˜champagne footballâ€™ has long left the Astridpark, leaving behind a lot of â€˜starsâ€™ struggling.
Anderlecht will be looking towards the likes of Milan Jovanovic, Dieumerci Mbokani, Tom De Sutter and a recovering Ronald Vargas to bring them new glory under the management of newly appointed John Van Den Brom. And if all goes well, they might get to see a new rising star: Jordan Lukaku. The young defender has huge shoes to fill but has already shown the potential to make it at Belgiumâ€™s highest level, arriving just in time to strengthen an increasingly weak defence.
The hopeful one. Club has changed its face: they became more professional, ambitious and, most importantly, better. At least, thatâ€™s what they themselves said at the beginning of the previous season. After a bleak start, Club didnâ€™t quite meet expectations and were mocked for the transfers of Victor Vazquez, Lior Refaelov and losing Vargas to Anderlecht. They soon improved though, becoming Anderlechtâ€™s biggest threat and ending second in the league. They seem even better and more confident this season. If anyone has the qualities to beat Anderlecht in the race, itâ€™s Brugge.
Club will mainly focus on delivering the ball to newcomer Meme TchitÃ©, who is to replace Bjorn Vleminckx and Joseph Akpala as starting striker. Their prize asset in midfield, Vadis Odjidja, only lacks the consistency to become one of Belgiumâ€™s finest midfielders – if he plays well, Club will do great. One of their stronger zones is definitely the defence: the arrival of Jim Larsen will certainly prove to be a great boost for the lines in front of him. Last but not least is their new trainer: Georges Leekens. Stolen from Belgiumâ€™s national team according to some, won from, according to others. One thing is for sure though; they have a fine trainer in Leekens.
The one in transition. Last season started off reasonably well but their finish was rather weak. After having lost a lot of their talent they seemed to have found solutions in nearly every area. It worked well, but only for half a season before the struggle really started. Things arenâ€™t looking much better for the upcoming season either, having lost their two finest strikers (TchitÃ© and Cyriac Gohi Bi) to their competition (Club Brugge and Anderlecht respectively). New trainer Ron Jans will have a tough time balancing out an inexperienced squad, but if he were to succeed, Standard might go far.
Having bought half of the Danish national squad, Mechelen are looking to be one of the outsiders for Play-Off 1. They scored most goals of all the first division teams in the preceding friendlies and managed a 3-0 win against Getafe, who had beaten title contenders Club Brugge 5-1 only a few days earlier. New trainer Harm Van Veldhoven has high expectations to live up to after many years of successful management by loved trainers Peter Maes (now Lokeren) and Marc Brys (now Al-Faisaly).
Mechelen will be looking towards Alessandro Cordaro, whom had a terrific first season for Mechelen, David Destorme and the Danish newcomers Thomas Enevoldsen, Mads Junker and Nicklas Pedersen to produce the goods and fill in the gap that Julien Gorius has left with his move to Genk.
My personal outsider for Play-Off 1. Newly promoted teams usually do well in their first season and W-B will not be an exception. They will have to live up to the standard set by teams such as Cercle Brugge, Sint Truiden, Mechelen and OH Leuven, but have good chances of succeeding with the likes of Jurgen Cavens, Kristof Lardenoit and Rachid Farssi, not to forget trainer Dirk Geeraerd. A newly promoted team usually is spirited and hard-working, certainly assets in a competition where there are three major teams and thirteen â€˜smallerâ€™ teams.
Revelations (young players)
The Anderlecht youngster raised high expectations for himself and duly delivered in the few games he got to play. The 18-year old will be the title-holderâ€™s devil in a box.
The younger Lukaku is a talented left-back. He didnâ€™t manage to get a regular starting place in the previous season, but if he keeps playing like last year, he might just become Chelseaâ€™s new transfer target.
The talented Kortrijk midfielder was courted by many top teams both inside and outside of Belgium. He chose to stay however, for which he received a large sum of money, coming directly from the KV Kortrijk fans. He has a magnificent shot and looks incredibly intelligent on the pitch.
There are three prizes to earn in Belgium (Anderlecht already won the Super Cup last week in an uninspired victory against Belgian-cup holders Lokeren) and they will all be heavily contended for. Anderlecht is the top favourite yet again, but nothing is certain in the beautiful world of football, especially not in a competition that contains at least twelve possible title contenders. If Anderlecht have too many off days, they might just lose their chance.