FC København – Club Brugge
It was the draw the neutral desperately wanted. FC København against Club Brugge. Ariël Jacobs up against opposition from his native Belgium. And up against Georges Leekens, to whom he was once assistant coach for the Belgian national team. The tie pits together two former Anderlecht coaches who, for different reasons, have proved to be unpopular, most particularly in recent times. Jacobs was consistently accused of failing to extract the maximum from his Anderlecht side in his four and a half year spell in Brussels. His counterpart Leekens left the Belgium team behind to join Club Brugge, where he had previously played and coached, resulting in a warm welcome back to the Jan Breydelstadion.
Jacobs must love being in Denmark. The fans have taken quickly to the media friendly coach, who delivers eloquent interviews and press conferences in English. For the moment, the Danish “superclub” have had two wins in the league, including a memorable 4-2 opening day victory over FC Midtjylland and a 3-0 victory last time out. Jacobs has played his side’s chances down though, claiming that the extra competitive action his side have under their belts delivers a minimal advantage at best.
FCK are not the side they once were in their pomp under Stale Solbakken, who led them to the knockout stages of the Champions League. Dame N’Doye has departed for Russia and the impressive Stuttgart midfielder William Kvist has proved his worth in the Bundesliga. However, the likes of Bryan Oviedo at left-back and Costa Rican wideman Christian Bolaños have attracted interest from Club and an array of other foreign sides. Nicolai Jørgensen has also settled in quickly to life in the picturesque Danish capital.
Blauw-Zwart bounced back from their embarrassing 5-1 defeat in pre-season to Getafe to brush aside Waasland-Beveren with a 3-1 win. As impressive as they were in the first-half, in no small part thanks to Lior Refaelov and Thomas Meunier, they allowed their opponents back into it after the break. It is imperative that the defence is much tighter tonight but Carl Hoefkens was suspended and Ryan Donk and Jim Larsen remain a central-defensive partnership in its infancy. Leekens has pledged a positive approach this evening, while Jacobs has stressed the importance of keeping a clean sheet. It promises to be an intriguing first leg.
RSC Anderlecht – Ekranas
If the group stages would be a hugely welcome bonus for Club Brugge at this stage in their development, they are an absolute must for Anderlecht for both sporting and financial reasons. As the pre-eminent club in Belgium, they should have dined more recently and more often at Europe’s top table. New coach John van den Brom tastes the Champions League for the first time and has left no stone unturned having already flown out to Lithuania to run the rule over Shamrock Rovers’ conquerors.
There was a clear gulf in class between Ekranas, now unbeaten in 23 matches and the Eircom League outfit. Paarswit have had some worries regarding their makeshift defence at the start of the season. Full-backs Marcin Wasilewski and Oli Deschacht have been forced to fill in for the absent Cheikhou Kouyaté and Juhász Roland. They will have to be on guard against the dangerous runs of midfielder Marko Andelkovic, whose brace proved crucial in the last round.
Ekranas possess a fair bit of experience in their ranks and while they begin the tie as clear outsiders, they will not rule out the possibility of a shock given Anderlecht’s past wobbles in Champions League qualifiers. They will have Yani Urdinov at left-back, who was born in Mechelen and spent time there in the youth system. He should be feeling fresh for tonight’s encouter as he was rested at the weekend. “The pressure is on Anderlecht and if they don’t score in the opening stages, it will soon become more difficult for them. Who knows, we could even sneak a goal ourselves,” he told journalists during the pre-match press conference.
van den Brom has targeted a win by at least two clear goals in order to avoid any potential banana skins in the away leg. The Belgian champions were far from their best at the weekend, drawing 1-1 away to Kortrijk, whose pace troubled the Anderlecht defence. Les Mauves et Blancs also lacked fluidity in midfield and attack, even if there was further evidence of a more patient approach than under Jacobs. Dennis Praet misses out with an ankle injury but Kanu will be hoping to continue his generally good start to life under van den Brom.
There may be changes from the weekend with Reynaldo looking vulnerable and tonight’s game, being at home, may provide van den Brom with the chance to experiment with a strike partner for Dieumerci Mbokani. Milan Jovanovic was underwhelming at the weekend, proving yet again that a role on the left is not best suited to his talents. Anderlecht should have more than enough in the tank to dispose of Ekranas, though as they will have seen with KAA Gent against Déifferdeng, nothing can be taken for granted in Europe.