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Player Profile: Alexander Maes

I thought seeing as I’ve got time, and plenty of it for once, I’d give credit to a player who I was honestly going to write about a couple of weeks ago. Since then he has shone quite brightly against two Pro League clubs and has scored two in two. He looks to be a manager’s dream looking at where he can play, be willing to play and put in a shift as well.

Alexander Maes has played almost every minute in the league this season, missing just 146 minutes in matches he could be selected for. He is vital because of his versatility, as Maes has played anywhere across the pitch, showing us that the utility player isn’t dead! You could say scoring just two goals and chipping in with three assists isn’t outstanding, but like I’ve just said, he is pivotal in that he doesn’t need those kind of stats to be selected and to be important to the team. To play football for a footballer is the main objective, with other aspects being a bonus. Although there are many positives that I’ve just mentioned, you do have to question the yellow cards he is getting. Whether its through petulance, mistimed challenges or anything else, he has managed to get seven in all competitions, missing a game through suspension by accumulating too many, and he managed to get sent off versus Cercle in the promotion playoff, missing the second leg! Obviously I primarily focus on the JPL, so if anyone actually reads this, they’ll know more, but missing the return leg, who knows if Alexander Maes could’ve made a difference if available? Moving onto the here and now, he has the aforementioned two goals against teams Beerschot would’ve been looking to beat if promoted. Scoring a header and a penalty, it again shows he is a goalscorer if in those positions, although with one of the biggest foreheads in the land, he should get his head onto crosses. Up against Antwerp, it’s a huge match for the area with with just 5.8miles separating them! This derby will be huge in the fight for that playoff spot, even though both teams may be slightly out of the picture right now. It’ll be tough because it is a derby, but also because Antwerp have been impressive this season, even though they’ve taken a downward turn this year. Being defensively vigilant will be key for the team, and with Maes not only hoping to play, he’ll want to help make a difference too, whether it’s performing in one of his many positions he can play, or personally, scoring another vital goal for a team hoping to get their first win. He is a fighter. To start off so well at Willem II and then work your way back up the pyramid, Maes is clearly a battler who is still striving to do well in his native country and I can’t see why not at KFCO Beerschot, if not elsewhere.

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Player Profile: Gaëtan Hendrickx

We’ve finally reached the Playoff stage in Belgium, with the six best clubs reaching Playoff 1, whether they deserve it or not. Standard Liège and Genk squeaked into the top six and Gent and Anderlecht slowly got their acts together after an awful start, two teams have been nailed on for the Championship Playoffs all season. Club Brugge and Charleroi have tussled all season, even though Les Zébres have occasionally faded, they’ve deservedly stayed amongst the front runners and are in with a shout of Champions League football next season, and Gaëtan Hendrickx has been key to that.

The young man has been a mainstay in the starting line up since late September, after having a fair spell out of the team. With Hendrickx showing maturity and calmness on the ball, above everything he has shown quality. As a defensive midfielder, that maturity has been proven by only receiving two yellow cards in the league all season, displaying that he isn’t rash with challenges and isn’t getting silly bookings, as they seem to come in or around halftime.

Adding to that he has chipped in with three goals and an assist too. Goals aren’t always a sign of a good player because his first job is to snuff them out, but netting the odd one is helpful. Even though he has just one assist, that may not show everything too as he may start attacks rather than threading the killer ball. As you can tell, I really rate Gaëtan and with his young age, and Roberto Martinez having a look at home as well as abroad, you can’t rule out a call up to the national squad in the future surely?

Up next for the barcodes are Standard Liège who may (or may not) have taken their eye off the ball after the cup win. If they are told to play with freedom and enjoy themselves it could prove more difficult than a team who are too intense. Both matches this season have ended as a draw, and you could say they’re evenly matched because Les Rouches are a decent team. I guess it gets a bit cagey because the fear of losing might overtake the risk to win. Hendrickx will have a tough night with Razvan Marin, another Player I highly rate, battling in that central midfield.

When all said and done I expect a steady performance from the player who deservedly got a five year deal a couple of days ago. Felice Mazzu would’ve hoped this break could’ve dusted off any cobwebs as another winless run came this year. A top game to kick us all off for the playoffs where I still feel anything will happen!

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Player Profile: Renaud Emond

When I do a Player Profile, it’s tough to actually pick a player who’ll not only play, but make a difference. With a huge game, in this case, the Croky Cup final, this match could relieve such pressure going into the Playoffs as with Genk or Standard will be guaranteed Europa League football, just like Zulte Waregem last season. With that said, you have to feel that the difference maker could be a striker.

With today being the Croky Cup final, there’s only one Standard Liège player I can pick right? Renaud Emond has come into his own in this tournament and there’s no other player I could pick surely. After a first half of the season to forget in the league, the Belgian centre forward has been very impressive in the Pro League. It’s like 2018 is the year of Emond at Standard, scoring four and chipping in with three assists too. Now that Orlando Sa has left, you’d expect him to get more playing time, and scoring two in his last two, including in the dramatic win last weekend, he is as red hot as his hair.

But forget the league, he has taken the Croky Cup by storm. For me, Les Rouches have had the toughest run in the cup this year, playing Anderlecht and Oostende away, and then stopping Club Brugge getting to the final. The 4-1 home win will live long in the memory for Emond, as he banged in a hat trick that spoiled any chances of potential double for Club Brugge. He also hit a nail in the coffin scoring at the Jan Breydel too. As an attacker, you’d be relishing the chance to play for Standard Liège this year, as the team have managed to score three or more goals in seven matches. A far cry compared to the back end of 2017. The club will be buoyant after last weeks victory over Oostende and the fact Standard have beaten De Smurfen twice this season.

A tough test for Les Rouches in the way of getting past a strong and focused Genk side, who look totally different under Phillipe Clement. Adding to that, the strong defence including Vukovic, Aidoo and Colley, it will be difficult, but certainly a test Emond can pass, going by the opposition Standard have faced so far. With the supporting cast of Marin and Carcela, and the great width Standard have, you’d think Standard could score plenty of goals.

This final could live long in the memory. Plenty of attacking prowess on both sides, it’s Renaud Emond’s task to etch his name into the history of Standard Liège. Who says he couldn’t…?

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Player Profile: Nikolaos Karelis

When I do a Player Profile, it’s tough to actually pick a player who’ll not only play, but make a difference. With a huge game, in this case, the Croky Cup final, this match could relieve such pressure going into the Playoffs as with Genk or Standard will be guaranteed Europa League football, just like Zulte Waregem last season. With that said, you have to feel that the difference maker could be a striker.

For Genk, I have picked Nikolaos Karelis because for me, this diminutive front man is such a good striker, and given the opportunity, I feel he’ll take it. The Greek attacker really hit the ground running when he joined the club, and before his horrendous injury, he was averaging a goal every 107 minutes. Highly impressive! With him being injured, maybe Genk could’ve progressed to the Cup final last season, or even going further in the Europa League?

It’s taken him a while to get back into the action, and this time under another manager. Eased back in slowly, and picking up yet another injury between comebacks, he looks to have found his feet under Clement with three goals and two assists in his past six games. Along with that, he is picking up some serious playing time too, which I’m sure will make him even happier than anything else.

Today however, he’ll have a stern test with two of my favourite Pro League players trying to stop him. The experience and quality of Guillermo Ochoa, with the strength and power of Christian Luyindama. To get past them isn’t impossible by no means, but for Genk this season, only Siebe Schrijvers has managed to find the back of the net against Standard. With the quality of Samatta and Pozuelo in support, you’d think breaking that barrier is easily doable, but in a cup final anything can happen.

The cup run Genk have had has been bumpy. After a 1-0 win over Division B champs Cercle Brugge, penalties have had to save the day against Beveren and Mechelen. Away goals aided in the semis too. Karelis has only played 24 minutes so far, and like I said, he may not even start today. But what is guaranteed is quality and execution IF he manages to get the opportunity in front of goal. Could he be the hero? Of course he can.

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Player Profile: Evgen Makarenko

Today is a day where three clubs need to win. Standard Liege, Antwerp and especially Kortrijk. A place in Playoff 1 is at stake and in a long, arduous and unpredictable season, KV Kortrijk have put themselves into a position where I’m sure if you’d had told De Kerels fans this back in November, they’d have laughed in your face! I remember I was in a bar in Beveren looking at Twitter at the exact point it was broken that Yannis Anastasiou was relieved of his duties as Kortrijk manager. At the point, the club took an upward turn.

An ever present amongst the matchday squad this season, someone who I actually really like is Evgen Makarenko. The Ukrainian came over and I’m sure nobody knew much about him. His first time playing outside of the Ukraine, he may have felt this was a last chance for him, although that me be a bit unkind. Taken on a one year deal at the Guldensporen, he has taken his chance with both hands and it has been a success in my eyes. Playing as a left back until Glen De Boeck took charge, he has settled nicely in the holding position and is a mainstay there. I’m sure you’ll agree the 26 year old has flourished in that position.

Since moving to that position, the club have kept six clean sheets and what’s more impressive on a personal note, is that he has only received three yellow cards. Sometimes as a holding midfielder, you don’t have to dive in and just shuffle from side to side snuffing out through balls and stealing possession from in front of the player.

Maybe a negative is not the lack of goals, but maybe creating the opportunities. With players ahead of him like Perbet and Chevalier, even a long ball can get them behind and they’ll do the rest. Of course his job is stopping rather than starting, but chipping in now and again would be useful to the boss.

Last time these two played was on the first day of the season where Les Zébres won 1-0 through a penalty. Makarenko wasn’t even at the club then! Charleroi to be fair have had a great season. But since the turn of the year, you can’t help but think they’ve ran out of gas and slowed right down. Kortrijk could take advantage of this today. However, Kortrijk have lost their last two matches, albeit in the derby against Zulte Waregem and then against leaders Club Brugge.

To round of, in a match where you need a win and goals, why focus on the deep lying holding midfielder? Because you also need a cool head, a good defensive mind and patience to unlock an equally tough defence in Charleroi. Huge game today!

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Player Profile: Peter Olayinka

On a day where a lot can happen, places can be secured amongst other things, when I was thinking about who I could write about, I thought ‘why not look at the biggest match on paper on the penultimate weekend?’ Like I’ve said, other matches could potentially be more important, although sixth still isn’t impossible mathematically for Zulte Waregem, but against Anderlecht, we do have two of the biggest clubs in the land facing each other.

Peter Olayinka, for my money, has had a decent season. Going by his goal to game ratio, he is netting a goal every three matches and is just as good with assisting too. Operating predominantly as a centre forward, he is adaptable out on either flank, proving better for the Nigerian as he has scored most goals from the wing.

The club had a bad time of it this season, especially the back end of last year, and Peter missed a few games through injury where the club failed to score in two and didn’t win in those five, drawing one and losing by the odd goal in three! If Olayinka kept up his goal scoring form of one in three, he could well have grabbed a couple of goals in those matches, or assisted? Proving how key he can be to Essevee. He is so vital to Francky Dury that he tends to complete every match that he starts, probably down to his quality and endeavour.

On the negative side, he did get that red card in the 4-0 defeat to Charleroi in December, which was reduced to a two match suspension. Of course you shouldn’t lack discipline, but the rut that the club were in, the players must’ve been venting their frustration. Other than that, he’s hardly a dirty player. With those two matches on the sideline, the club picked up two big wins with Hamdi Harbaoui settling in nicely. However, the Tunisian can’t play today due to suspension, meaning Olayinka could step up!

With the young attacker on loan from Gent, he could do two clubs one favour in the same match. A defeat for Les Mauves could give Gent the chance to go third, and in the process, if results go Essevee’s way, they could go ninth and just two points off of sixth. Obviously the second part there isn’t as likely, but as I keep repeating, it’s just not impossible. With a good run individually for the Nigerian, could he get into the World Cup squad? Maybe unlikely now, but with the Onyekuru injury, and some luck, then why not?

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Player Profile: Andile Jali

After chatting with Chuba Akpom this week, I thought I’d try and take a look at one of the players whose main job this weekend will be stopping the supply to him, breaking up play and starting the odd attack. Defensive midfielder has become a thing in recent years, separating the orthodox central midfield role into attacking and defensive, and Andile Jali has proved key in that deep role for Oostende.

Playing in about 90% of this season’s league fixtures for De Kustboys, he has shown that he is trustworthy as well as quality in that battle. The other positive is that the South African has managed four assists in those matches from that deeper position, meaning that he can play the odd killer ball, creating goal scoring opportunities, mainly for defenders! Unsurprisingly he hasn’t got onto the scoresheet, but stopping efforts is the objective, not taking efforts.

A huge problem for Jali is his ill discipline. Picking up six yellow cards this season, as well as a straight red, the defensive player will need to either work on his timing or tackling. It does show commitment, and I’m certain nobody will ever doubt that, but to be suspended for three matches this season through too many yellows or a red, well three and a half matches as his red was very early against Zulte Waregem, that’s 10% of regular season matches missed in a season. He may have a reputation that referees look for too which is a worry, and not unlikely.

Last time STVV played Oostende, an extremely late Jonathan Legear winner broke the Seasiders hearts. However, that setback setup a six match unbeaten run which saw three straight victories. Sint-Truiden will be dangerous, especially late on, and defensively tight, but the recent form of KVO has been decent and will be boosted by their own little defensive run.

A turbulent season on and off the pitch this season for Oostende can end positively. A new owner, a fresh start and almost no pressure as they know they’re safe and could be a danger in Playoff 2, can the West Enders serve up a win with the determination and quality shown by Jali…?

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Player Profile: Taiwo Awoniyi

Before the start of the season I had two teams in my head scrapping for survival. One was Eupen, and I’m guessing everybody had them too. The other was Mouscron, and with them not mathematically safe yet, they’re also mathematically in with a chance of sixth. At the end of the day, both outcomes are unlikely, which is thanks to the departed Mircea Rednic, and the quality loan signings of Omar Govea, Jonathan Bolingi and in this case, Taiwo Awoniyi!

At just 20, he has already had some career. Coming from Nigeria to Liverpool, he has already played in Germany, Holland and now Belgium. Unfortunately at those previous loan clubs, he’d suffered relegation. He was probably thinking he was a jinx! The big, powerful and hard working striker can score poachers goals or take on players and produce a cool finish, just like against Zulte Waregem and his goal last week, showing strength, determination and quality beating an extremely good goalkeeper in Ochoa at his front post.

A penny for Awoniyi’s thoughts too regarding the Pro League and Eredivisie. Like Boljevic, who he’ll likely be coming up against this weekend, he said the JPL is more physical than technical. If that’s the case, maybe that’s why it’s suited Awoniyi with his power and strength. He scored two in 18 Eredivisie matches in Holland last season, but that obviously could be down to being a year younger, meaning a little less experience, and maybe a lesser team in NEC than in Mouscron.

Averaging a goal every four matches this season, he hit the ground running in Belgium, with three goals and two assists in his first seven matches. However, things did dry up a bit for the young Nigerian, but last weekend should give him plenty of optimism and confidence after a great display from the whole team, not just the striker, with another tough match against Beveren tomorrow night. Last time these two met, W-B won 2-0 at the Freethiel. The difference then to now is that Beveren have also lost their manager, so in a way, it could be a totally different match as this is Frank Defays first match in charge of REM.

Looking at the opposition, Beveren have been outstanding under Clement and now Vermant. Definitely in with a shout of Playoff 1 and drawing with leaders Club Brugge last time out, this will be tough for the hosts, and maybe a wake up call to Defays who’ll hopefully reach Playoff 2 and then can begin to put his points across.

The match to see us out of the weekend, Mouscron can definitely come up with a win. They’ve already beaten Brugge and Gent at home, so anything’s possible. But without a suspended Govea, other players will need to step up and take more responsibility, including Taiwo Awoniyi in this tough encounter.

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Player Profile: Clément Tainmont

This weekend could be make or break for two teams in particular this season. With time running out at the bottom of the table, Mechelen-Eupen takes on extra importance. Club Brugge may be licking their wounds at a cup exit and Anderlecht aren’t having a vintage season, but for the Mechelen players and fans, this could be devastating! Relegation can’t be a thought in their head, and with Clément Tainmont, he has been drafted in to help save the day, and progress the team next season too!

The Frenchman will think ‘how have I gone from 2nd…to 16th?!?‘ But in some way I’m confident he’ll be happier. He has played every minute since coming into this disjointed club and has been trusted to help dig the club out of this position. With his quality and experience, he will try his best to grab the club’s first three points this year, after being extremely unlucky last week as I felt Mechelen were the better team against Anderlecht.

Playing predominantly on the left, he is useful attacking wise, with assists, and grabbing the odd goal like his cracker against Zulte Waregem just before the winter break. Obviously I can’t read his mind, but I’m guessing he is looking around the changing room at the AFAS and wondering how this team is in this position with quality players around him. The problem is, I’ve managed to see De Kakkers against Lokeren, Charleroi and Club Brugge this season, and each time the effort and desire was questionable. But watching last weekend, maybe Van Wijk has instilled some commitment amongst the squad.

If you’re going to go down, at least give yourself a chance, and that’s what they did, with Tainmont being pivotal out wide. It must be tough though with three managers this season and an influx of players in January. You can’t say Mechelen haven’t tried in every way off the pitch to somehow get it right, but translating it into performances is different. Eupen made a change and it worked if I’m honest. Makélélé has come in and Eupen could be in an even better position frankly. The Frenchman has made the Pandas defensively better and they’re nicking points. That’s an area Mechelen could take some ideas from. As in, if you don’t win, definitely don’t lose!

With this being a home game, Mechelen may feel the need to have to attack. Of course they’ll have to to survive, but be wary of a counter attack. When the hosts are on the front foot, that’s where Tainmont comes in to provide that calmness with quality teeing up Bandé, Pedersen or even taken the chance on for himself? They haven’t scored at home for three matches now, conceding seven in that time too, so the players will know its time to change that!

Overall, with one team going down eventually, people have said to me they don’t want Mechelen going down. A huge Pro League club and the last Belgian side to win a European trophy, this could be devastating for the league in general. However, in Eupen finish fifteenth, you can’t help but congratulate them. I’ve gone for a home win, with Tainmont pulling the strings, but with this wacky season, anything can happen.

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Player Profile: Cristian Benavente

Scrolling through the teams this week, I was spoilt for choice over who I’d pick to put the spotlight on this weekend, and with the top two facing off at the Jan Breydel Stadion this Sunday, I felt that the Peruvian wearing black and white could make the difference!

Cristian Benavente for me has had a very good season. He has been classy, clinical and patient at times too, as he has delivered in matches. Not playing every minute however, he has had to come off the bench a couple or so times, but in doing so, he has made a difference. For example, he saved Les Zébres from defeat last time out, popping up with a goal. Same applied against Lokeren and Anderlecht too this season.

Playing as attacking midfielder, he has done well scoring eight goals and assisting with two in the Pro League this term. He can beat a player, shoot from in and around the box and is skilful. He’ll definitely aim to play more in the run in because of the World Cup and Peru finally qualified after years of exile, and he is key when Rezaei is having a minor drought in front of goal.

What I have noticed is that his league goals have predominantly come against the other top six sides, like Antwerp (3) Anderlecht (2) and Gent (2). What this can show is that he is a big game player and when the chips are down, he is cool, calm and collected in front of goal. With Club Brugge this Sunday, not only will Charleroi need those qualities, but they’ll want revenge for both defeats this season. The worst kinds too with a last minute defeat, and then humiliation in the cup and the hands of Blauw-Zwart.

And playing Club Brugge right now could either be a good or bad time. Good as they’re finally hitting the buffers in form, losing their last two, but will that get a response out of the leaders who have a 100% record at home in the league this season. This will be a fantastic match nonetheless and Benavente will have to be on top form if Charleroi are to stand a chance.

It will no doubt be cagey. Mazzu would’ve learned lessons from the cup loss two weeks ago. Keeping it tight and getting a positive result will be key and could prove positive as it drags Brugge back instead of racing clear. The one thing is, if the barcodes get that chance and falls to Benavente, they’ll hope he’ll have the ruthlessness to put it away against frankly, a shoddy Gabulov.