In Part One, I took a brief look at each of the top five contenders for the title. In Part Two, I will briefly assess the chances of the chasing pack, some of which are strong contenders for the sixth and final spot in Play-Off 1, some of whom will be happy to avoid a relegation battle.
Peter Maes made a bold step by leaving KV Mechelen for Lokeren, however, his bravery paid off as they had a superb season last time around, finishing sixth and earning a spot in the play-offs. The club have doggedly stuck to their plan not to allow any key men leave – for the time being, meaning that the likes of Koen Persoons, Benji De Ceulaer and Katuku Tshimanga remain at Daknamstadion. It will be tougher this season as they are very much a known quantity but Hamdi Harbaoui, who shone last year for OH Leuven, should add further punch to the attack. Prediction: 8th
The chairman of the club says that Play-Off 1 is once again the aim for the Yellow and Reds but that it is not a must. Blessed with a tight defence led by potential Standard target Boris Pandza, they should score significantly more goals than last term. Jaime Ruiz is a talented but injury-prone striker and Kevin Vandenbergh, son of the prolific Edwin, impressed in pre-season against his old club Utrecht. The industry of Yoni Buyens has been lost to Standard but crucially they somehow managed to fend off Gent and Standard to keep goalscoring midfielder Julien Gorius, who netted 13 times last year. Furthermore, Alessandro Cordaro looks an astute acquisition from Charleroi. Prediction: 7th
No longer Germinal Beerschot but just Beerschot AC, Jacky Mathijssen’s men have achieved the impossible already – buying more players than Club Brugge. Fourteen newcomers are having to adapt to life in Antwerpen, a wonderful city in Belgium deserving of a side who can mix it with the best in the Pro League. Led by former Real Madrid youth defender Gary Kagelmacher, they are a dark horse. Central midfielder Uros Delic is highly-rated, Ibrahima Sidibé should be a handful upfront and Jon Gudni Fjoluson is one of a talented generation of new Icelandic footballers. Throw in the talented young goalie Thomas Kaminski and you have a side who should be rejuvenated after a relegation battle in 2010-11. Prediction: 10th
Hein Vanhaezebrouck’s desire to push on this season was hit by the twin departure of midfield dynamos Davy De Beule and Sven Kums, the latter being a real coup for Heerenveen. Experienced captain Karim Belhocine is another loss, which will be keenly felt, as he is a real professional who sets an example in the dressing room. However, a number of useful signings have been made in talented ex-Debrecen midfielder Czvitkovics Peter and France youth international Steeven Monrose. Giant ex-Standard keeper Kristof van Hout and South African Darren Keet will battle it out to replace Espinosa champion Glenn Verbauwhede between the sticks. Prediction: 11th
Groen-Zwart’s partnership with Sporting CP paid dividends last season with the arrival of talented players such as Neto and Nuno Reis and the duo are back again for another year although Neto (and another loanee from Lisbon in striker Amido Baldé) miss the start of the season due to U20 World Cup duty. The canny and experienced Irishman Dominic Foley will therefore be relied upon to stick the ball in the onion bag early doors. If new signing Rudy can step into Reynaldo’s shoes, they should do no worse than repeat last year’s ninth spot. Prediction: 9th
A well-run club, it was a pleasure to see them qualify for Europe via the Beker van België/Coupe de Belgique last season. They have seen several pillars of the team embark upon a new adventure, namely Paolo Henrique, Oleksandr Yakovenko and Adnan Mravac, which will make it tough to better or even equal last year’s eighth spot. Despite his last-minute winner in Europe, defender Geoffrey Cabeke will not solve the goalscoring problems though Stijn De Smet should flourish with more responsibility than he had in Gent. With the spine of the team weaker, they may have to settle for a spot in the bottom half. Prediction: 12th
The former part-time club are still suffering a post-Dury hangover but while the possibility of a return was mooted at one point, the club instead plumped for De Graafschap boss Darije Kalezic, described as “the international version of Dury”. In Davy De Fauw, they curiously have a Belgian about to make his debut in his native domestic competition at 30 but the ex-Roda man is a good operator. In Teddy Chevalier and Habib Habibou they have two dangerous strikers upfront. Khaleem Hyland is a fantastic player in the middle of the park and if his class is supplemented by the likes of Aleksandar Trajkovski, who snubbed Anderlecht, they could once again punch above their weight and the early signs from pre-season are encouraging. Prediction: 6th
Stunned by the departure of Roland Duchâtelet, the club nevertheless are left with the legacy of their new stadium at Stayen, which boasts an increased capacity and an underground car-park. The advantage of playing on an artificial surface could be neutralised by the loss of key men Denis Odoi and Ibrahima Sidibé while new striker Bruno Andrade faces four months on the sidelines with a foot injury. On the plus side, Nils Schouterden did not leave for Standard, they should be strong at full-back and Reza Ghoochannejhad is ready to make the step up from Dutch Eerste Divisie side Cambuur. Prediction 13th.
The 1997 league champions only managed to stay up by the skin of their teeth, with the move to hire Trond Sollied in January reaping dividends. However, once the Norwegian was in Gent’s sights, the Egyptian owners took pre-meditated action and decided to promote his assistant Chris Janssens. Given his lack of pedigree compared to Sollied, it could be argued that Lierse are already living on borrowed time. The defence has been strengthened and Eiji Kawashima remains in goal, however, other sides have more quality. The side from just outside Antwerpen will once again have to scrap for their lives. Prediction: 15th.
Their promotion is a relief as it means a second side flying the flag for football in French-speaking Belgium. Back in the top flight after a short absence, they held their nerve in a dramatic test-match to win promotion at the expense of Waasland-Beveren. However, the summer has not been an easy one for Dennis van Wijk. Key attacker Mustapha Jarju will ply his trade on the west coast of Canada from now on and defender Jeremy Sapina will miss the first few games at least. Though defensive reinforcements were sought, and bought, there is a lack of outright class in the squad, which means it promises to be a difficult season. Prediction: 16th.
Leuven is a fantastic little place, with a beautiful town-hall, an outstanding university, the Leuven Institute for Ireland in Europe where I stayed many years ago and for those who enjoy a tipple, it’s the home of the world-famous Stella Artois. Common sense recently prevailed when the Pro League gave OHL permission to sell Stella inside the ground, despite the league being sponsored by rival beer Jupiler. As for the team itself, they went up as champions and while they lost leading scorer Hamdi Harbaoui, they boast some useful players. Take Jordan Remacle, a right-sided attacker, who blossomed last year and Patrick Amoah, who will be relied upon upfront. Full-backs Frederic Boi and Christophe Diandy (on loan from Anderlecht) should settle in well and if Kevin Roelandts can play more often than not, OHL could just about stay up and even sneak a spot in Play Off 2. And what a start they have tonight – at home to near-neighbours Anderlecht in den Dreef. Prediction: 14th