Before the match, Standard Liège boss Mircea Rednic had lit the blue touchpaper by implying that former Rouches, Mbaye Leye and Franck Berrier, now with Zulte Waregem, were unable to come to terms with the pressure that comes with playing for a club like Standard. During the much-anticipated game itself, the ex-Romanian international was determined to submit just Berrier and Leye, but the entire Zulte Waregem side to a rigorous examination of their credentials.
Standard made three changes from the deserved defeat in Lokeren last week. Frédéric Bulot came back in after injury, Ezekiel was united with fellow prospect Michy Batshuayi upfront and Paul-José Mpoku began just his second league game of the campaign in a diamond formation in midfield.
What Standard may have lacked in terms of experience in attacking areas, they made up for in terms of pace and willingness. There was a clear gameplan to unsettle Zulte Waregem and to get in behind their defence (missing father-to-be Steve Colpaert) at every possible opportunity. Rednic has made a point of demanding that his men pressure the opponent higher up the pitch and he will have been pleased to see how they got at the home side, interrupting their rhythm and thus blunting the impact of Berrier.
In fairness, Rednic had pinpointed a lack of intensity in Standard’s play under his predecessor Ron Jans and had set about fixing this. Ezekiel had one particularly good opportunity when he raced into the box but he was denied by an excellent block from Anderlecht loanee Bryan Verboom.
Surprise selection Mpoku more than justified the faith placed in him by Rednic. He popped up in the centre and on both flanks, firing off an early warning sign as he raced clear only to be thwarted by D’Haene. Most impressive was his ability to link with his team-mates as well as looking to commit defenders and run into space. At times the ex-Leyton Orient and Spurs youngster was a little too eager to shoot from distance but his desire to impress and win a regular first-team spot cannot be faulted.
The question must be asked then as to why the approach did not pay more dividends. First and foremost, it is difficult to maintain such a high tempo throughout the course of the entire game. Secondly, Zulte Waregem are a good side who are excellently coached by Francky Dury and as the game became more stretched in the second half, it was inevitable that they would respond. Les Rouches still need to work on their automatismes going forward and this will come with time spent on the training ground. Some reinforcements in the transfer window are required with an experienced and proven goalscorer to help out the youngsters surely high on the list of priorities. Nacho Gonzalez is also to return to the starting line-up and his quality will undoubtedly help to make a difference.
As the game opened up and became more stretched, Standard became less effective in terms of their overall gameplan, to the benefit of Zulte Waregem who had chances to steal all three points. To their credit, Eiji Kawashima and Kanu stood firm at the back – they had to as Goreux committed two terrible gaffes, evoking memories of the blundering defender who would infuriate the demanding and passionate supporters watching on in the stands. In the end, with both sides lacking that clinical touch, 0-0 was a fair result. Rednic looked happy with a point in what was a tough game on paper and he has every right to be, as he knows that he’s a lot of work to do if he’s to remain at his beloved Sclessin beyond the end of this season.
Standard under Jans: P11, W4, D1, L6, F21, A21
Standard under Rednic: P4, W2, D1, L1, F5, A 1