And so despite the quietly exciting speculation that Zulte Waregem would prove to be shock champions d’autonme / herfstkampioen, it’s the reigning title holders Anderlecht who sit atop the Jupiler Pro League at the halfway stage. Moreover, they did it in style, capping the best week of John van den Brom’s still short reign at the Constant vanden Stock by quite some distance. If the deserved 1-0 win over Zenit in the Champions League was measured and controlled, the 6-1 annihilation of Club Brugge was clinical and ruthless. Anderlecht were in no mood to pass up the opportunity to rub heaps of salt into their bitter rivals’ wounds.
From the moment it became clear that caretaker boss Philippe Clement had omitted the outstanding Carlos Bacca from the starting eleven, there was an air of resigned defeat around Club Brugge. They were outplayed from start to finish by a rampant Anderlecht, who thanks to the experienced Milan Jovanovic and young guns Massimo Bruno and Dennis Praet, showed the sort of champagne football that van den Brom was lured from Vitesse to bring back to the Brussels side. Midfielder Sacha Kljestan has justifiably had his share of critics but in recent weeks, he has added energy and dynamism to the midfield, working seamlessly in tandem with captain Lucas Biglia. The likeable American wouldn’t be the first to finally find his feet after a long time ; witness Matias Suarez’s slow progression.
Perhaps the biggest contrast between the two sides today (apart from the degree of stability off the field) was the degree to which Anderlecht appeared to enjoy their football. Club Brugge were laboured and sorely lacking in inspiration as the early semblance of defensive organisation gave way to sheer implosion. Only Maxime Lestienne can emerge from this afternoon’s sorry state of affairs with his head held high. Jordi Figueras’ performance was a disgrace and his days are surely numbered once Club’s full complement of central defenders are available.
The greater the sheer scale of the task at hand for the next Club Brugge head coach becomes clear, the more frustrating it becomes that Christoph Daum, who made such a favourable impression during his short stint last season, does not want to return to the Jan Breydelstadion. However, it would be wrong to blame the entire malaise of the club on Daum’s successor, Georges Leekens. The buck has to stop with the chairman and now owner, Bart Verhaeghe and the general director Vincent Mannaert. Neither have covered themselves in glory since winning their power struggle inside the club and if Verhaeghe’s wish to see the glory days return is to be fulfilled, they cannot afford another (expensive) misstep. It is indeed a damning indictment of how Blauw-Zwart have been run that even after such fundamental changes, they remain in need of emergency surgery and are as far away from Anderlecht as at any time since Trond Sollied’s departure.
If a lot of attention has been focused on the likes of Zulte Waregem, OH Leuven and Kortrijk overachieving, the split inside the so-called “G5” is equally striking. On one hand you have Club Brugge, Standard Liège and KAA Gent all dramatically underperforming and wielding the managerial axe, on the other Anderlecht are moving serenely along with their greatest challenge coming from the east and Racing Genk.
Despite a tough trip to face their former boss Franky Vercauteren in Lisbon on Thursday, during which they acquitted themselves very well, they eventually tore Mons to pieces, beating Enzo Scifo’s men 5-1. Mons may not be the side even this Club Brugge are but it remains nonetheless a very impressive response by Genk to Anderlecht’s laying down of the gauntlet earlier this afternoon. Jérémy Perbet showed he is as good a finisher as there is in Belgium, and that Genk’s defence is not as strong as Anderlecht’s, but thereafter Mons found it impossible to cope with the plague of blue shirts swarming forward with numbers in attack. In the absence of Barda and De Ceulaer, and with Joseph-Monrose on the bench, captain Jelle Vossen was superb in scoring two goals and FC Twente loanee also chipped in with a brace of his own. Many neutrals will be shedding no tears at Club Brugge’s demise but this one wishes Mario Been every success that comes his way.
Every team has now played the others once this term and the league table looks considerably different to how the vast majority of fans and observers had expected from the outset. The heenronde has not been short of shocks and talking points. I take comfort from the fact that those clubs who run their affairs competently have translated this onto the field of play, irrespective of their financial power. It will be fascinating to discover whether the surprise packages can continue to punch above their weight and whether the embattled underachievers can get their act together before the play-offs.