Spanish football is understandably all the rage at the moment due to the overwhelming recent success of Barcelona and the Spanish national team. It is also financially ruined below the very elite sides. This has led to an exodus of players and coaches from below that top level, strangely enough to the Jupiler Pro League and the last game this week-end pits ex-Villarreal coach Juan Carlos Garrido against Gent’s new boss, the more experienced Victor Fernández.
Both clubs have performed below expectations so far this season ; KAA Gent much more so than Club Brugge despite the financial muscle of the latter. Both have sacked their coaches (Gent have sacked two) and both have been extremely active in the January transfer window.
Club Brugge pulled off the most high-profile move when they signed the outstanding Eidur Gudjohnsen from relegation-threatened rivals Cercle and have also brought Enock Adu, Oscar Duarte and promising Lokeren defender Laurens De Bock to the Jan Breydel. I suspect though that long-term, their most shrewd acquisition of recent times will prove to be their new sporting director Arnar Gretarsson, whose influence was evident when it became clear that Gudjohnsen could not fulfil his ambition of playing in the United States. He will take a lot of the burden from Vincent Mannaert and it’s little surprise that Mannaert’s counterpart at Gent, Michel Louwagie is also looking to go down the same route.
Gent have made a string of shrewd signings on the surface, mostly on loan. They have not been shy in bolstering their Thijs-less midfield by bringing in David Hubert, Renato Neto and Christophe Lepoint (back from W-B). Elimane Coulibaly returns to add physicality upfront, the talented Hervé Kagé will want to prove himself after stuttering at Charleroi and Ervin Zukanovic is an ostensible upgrade at the back.
The fixture list has not been kind to Fernández, who took over at the start of the year. Gent were dull and uninspiring in last week’s 0-0 draw with Standard and their task is even harder this afternoon. The Cup Winners Cup winner (back in 1995 with Real Zaragoza) is aware of the need to add attacking potency to their defensive organisation – easier said than done given Gent’s chronic scoring problems.
Gent will take some encouragement from Club Brugge’s absentee list however. Ryan Donk is suspended and Jim Larsen did not make it meaning we will see at least one debutant in the Blauw-Zwart defence. On the other hand, after Fernández had candidly admitted he would rather the young Belgian were not there, the buzzing presence of Maxime Lestienne takes his place in the matchday squad. Zambian forward Rodgers Kola’s stop-start career at Gent has hit another hurdle with a hamstring injury that will keep him out for two weeks – Fernández clearly sees more positives in training than most fans have out on the pitch itself. Coulibaly may not fit Fernández’s style of play but he brings experience upfront and should for me start this afternoon.
Perhaps the most interesting aspect of today’s game for me though is what attacking combination Garrido will plump for. He can choose from Meme Tchité, Carlos Bacca and Eidur Gudjohnsen as strikers or use them on the flanks with consequences for the likes of Lior Refaelov and Ivan Trickovski, for Lestienne if 100% is undroppable on current form. While I would like to see Gudjohnsen play off Bacca, Victor Vázquez has begun to show signs of blossoming as a playmaker in midfield. We’ll find out soon enough.
Laura’s prediction: 2-0
Club Brugge hand debuts to Adu and De Bock (preferred over Duarte), who has to fill in at centre-back and Gudjohnsen. KAA Gent go with Mboyo and Brüls as genuine attackers with van der Bruggen, Lepoint, Neto and Hubert in a strange sytem for Gent, perhaps a diamond but with the intention of stifling Club Brugge.
Club Brugge: Kujovic, Høgli, Hoefkens, De Bock, Stenman, Adu, Vadis, Trickovski, Vázquez, Bacca, Gudjohnsen
KAA Gent: Boeckx, Rafinha, Arzo, Zukanovic, Maréval, Neto, Hubert, Lepoint, van der Bruggen, Brüls, Mboyo