Posted in Pro League in Europe

Double Misery with Heads Held High!

With a place in the semi finals up for grabs, Anderlecht and Genk had to show passion, courage and energy to overcome their opponents. Both definitely needing a goal, that would be enough if they could defend. I’m somebody who’d rather go down fighting, and with both easing their way towards a title and a domestic Europa League play off respectively, without embarrassing themselves, if they do show will and determination, could they prove doubters and progress to the semi finals?

Let’s kick off with Anderlecht, who I’m sure would’ve expected a fast start from their hosts, hoping they may reduce United to long shots and frustrate….That lasted all of 10 minutes when the familiar face from the first leg, Henrik Mkhitaryan, popped up to take an early 1-0 lead. Man Utd would’ve loved that. Easing themselves into the match and following on from their weekend momentum. As the first half wore on Anderlecht were finding their way and could’ve drawn level a couple of times, until skipper Sofiane Hanni did just that after the half hour. Les Mauves have been written off massively in England and yet again they proved they are capable of matching anyone if they ride their luck, play their football and take their chances.

Courtesy of Getty Images

In an evenly contested first half on chances, Les Mauves would love another opportunity. Another goal would mean 2 would be needed for the Red Devils. As the second half wore on, Anderlecht were growing in confidence matching Manchester United fantastically well. The Pro League league leaders were only missing that vital goal, but still were defensively strong not to throw away their chances altogether! 

Simultaneously, Genk, who have been outstanding recently welcomed Celta Vigo to the Luminus Arena. After a goal deficit from the first leg, Genk needed all their firepower bringing back some familiar faces themselves to the starting eleven. The first half however didn’t have much to shout about. Very cagey with both sides cancelling each other out, it was perfect for the Spaniards, knowing a clean sheet was all that was needed, or even just a draw for that matter. The only worry is that De Smurfen don’t get too nervous that they don’t create more than preserving their own clean sheet. There’s no point going out with a whimper!

Courtesy of Getty Images

As the second half wore on however, Celta were hoping to take the game into their own hands, meaning Genk would have to get a goal quick. Unfortunately, Pione Sisto struck again, much like Mkhitaryan in the Anderlecht game, scoring in both legs. The problem is his goal could be more critical than the Armenian’s. A swift reply was needed, and thankfully, Sisto must’ve woken Genk as the Belgian’s took just 4 minutes to get right back into the tie! Leandro Trossard with a strike that levelled the match on the night and would hopefully swing the pendulum in Genk’s favour. 
As time ticked on in both matches, nothing changed​ with the scoreline. Anderlecht were doing so well leading up to extra time knowing a break away or a set piece would mean the tie. Genk on the other hand were slowly drifting towards elimination, where their valiant effort in the competition was coming to an end. With the last final few minutes could either take the game by the scruff of the neck and represent Belgium further into the competition?  

Unfortunately on one side of the coin, Genk couldn’t progress. Celta did what they needed to do on the night and without for the want of trying, Genk fought, just not hard enough on the night, knowing that their domestic form is their best route into Europe for sure next season. 

Les Mauves however went into extra time. Magnificent effort from themselves hoping that if the luck was with them anything could happen in that final half an hour or even from the penalty spot eventually! But with the first half over in a flash, whatever Mourinho said worked at the break in extra time, as Marcus Rashford made Anderlecht heart’s sink with a 107th minute goal. Still time of course, but much like Genk, it was a race against the clock to see if they could steal an equaliser. The only problem was that United look closer to extending their lead rather than losing their place in the competition. 

All you can say is that Anderlecht were brilliant. They matched Manchester United in both ties in that the English giants couldn’t breakdown their Belgian counterparts. Needing extra time, Les Mauves should go on domestically and control the league personally and in some way, the performance in both legs is something of a positive, knowing they were superb frankly going as far as they did. 

You could say congratulations and commiserations to both Genk and Anderlecht!

Posted in Pro League in Europe

Could It Happen?

I mean it, could it happen in the Europa League tonight? It’s certainly not impossible but definitely tough. Both teams technically have a deficit. One certainly does and the other has ONLY if they don’t score.

The side who definitely have a deficit is Genk. The team have been performing outstandingly recently and I do believe that have the capabilities of overturning the 3-2 scoreline at ‘half time’ in the tie. The team from Limburg put in a great performance Sunday evening away at Kortrijk winning 3-0 and without having to play the big guns who’ll be well rested for tonight. 

Courtesy of Getty Images

De Smurfen have only conceded 2 goals at home in Europe all season and have won every game too which is a great sign. Winning every game whilst conceding a maximum of 1 goal, if they have conceded, would progress the side as long as they win. In a way, it’s better they HAVE to win because if Celta Vigo feel they only have to draw, it’ll be a bit of a Catch 22 situation, and a goal for the home side could potentially create panic for the Spaniards. Celta also won 3-0 away at the weekend and also were able to rest players as well so this match is so finely poised, it could be the tie of the round?
Closer to my home anyway, Anderlecht travel to United with both teams on top form. Anderlecht grew their domestic lead on Sunday, whereas Manchester United won 2-0 against the champions elect in the Premier League. Anderlecht played a very strong team on Sunday, surprisingly in my opinion, but I stated on Monday that wrapping up the league is probably likelier than maybe continental success, but keeping the rust away, maybe that was Rene Weiler’s plan. 

Courtesy of Getty Images

The Red Devils had no option but to play a strong team against Chelsea Sunday, so it could be a tiring, fascinating and possibly electric tie in the form of both teams wanting success, and probably one needing it more than the other. Manchester United will feel the Europa League is theirs with the money spent and quality on show. The experience of their players shouldn’t show fear, but if it’s looking edgy, Les Mauves may capitalise on that and possibly strike and then Man United will have to show what they’re made of. Not seeing at the win in the first leg shows there are weaknesses, especially if Sergio Romero starts. Not that he isn’t a good goalkeeper, but we all know De Gea is better.
If the impossible became possible, and if both teams stayed clear of each other, the likely opponents after the first leg look to be Ajax and Besiktas. Both very tough, and one being a Belgian-Dutch derby, it could be a fantastic semi final setting up a trip to Sweden overall. But I’ll try not to get too ahead of myself and simmer down, after all, if it all stayed as it is now they’re both out, but that’s why we love football…Anything can happen!

Posted in Pro League in Europe

The Belgians Did Alright! 

With a tough night, a result for either of the Belgian sides would’ve been a tough ask. Going by this morning’s post, Genk’s dreadful form in Spain and Anderlecht facing Manchester United, hope was needed, luck and a whole lot of effort!

On a switch up from yesterday, I’m starting with De Smurfen, as Genk had a difficult away tie against Celta. For me, and them, a score draw would be fantastic and an away win would be unbelievable. And with the early exchanges, the dream start came through young Dutchman JeanPaul Boetius, picked out by Leandro Trossard. But…There is such thing as scoring too early. Celta took just 5 minutes to respond through Pione Sisto. After that, Celta took control of the half as Iago Aspas completed the turnaround. All of this before the twenty minute mark. In quite an evenly contested half, it was a case of who’d take their chances, and the Swede John Guidetti added a goal to his earlier assist to make it 3-1 before the half, making the rest of the game and the tie look beyond Genk’s reach.

Courtesy of Getty Images

With the game toing and froing, still an evenly fought second half, but with time ticking, could Genk get themselves back into the tie, let alone the match? And they did! Thomas Buffel showing his experience and with that, taking charge and being the example, bringing another goal back to the Luminus Arena! 3-2 to the Spaniards with just over 20 minutes to go. Game On! 

With the clock ticking away, this result is positive due to the away goals, and at home, Genk can be formidable and can go through which would be unreal and brilliant no matter how you look at it!
Meanwhile closer to home, Anderlecht had possibly an even tougher task against Man United. All the talk in England was about how many Manchester United would get which I thought was a bit patronising, with the only 2 players brought to the English audience being Tielemans and Dendoncker. The difference between this match and Genk’s going by the stats is that this wasn’t as even. The Red Devils controlled the chances and possession. To hold out for ninety minutes would be a big ask even at home, but one of United’s major signings of many on the night Henrik Mkhitaryan netted, grabbing that vital away goal late in the first half. Hopefully Rene Weiler can spring a surprise in the second half!

Courtesy of Getty Images

With the second half kicking off, Les Mauves would’ve preferred a quick response if that were possible, but that wasn’t to come. They needed to do something, although a 1 goal deficit to take to England isn’t awful, just not the best. The problem is, Jose Mourinho can be magnificent in Europe, home and away, and a defensive masterclass from United would probably thrill him as much, if not more, than the win. But magnificently​, the aforementioned Dendoncker sprung up to net a vital equaliser in the 86th minute, creating a grandstand finish, and if not that, a scintillating away leg at Old Trafford! 
A fantastic draw for Anderlecht, where I previously said they were written off in England, they proved a lot in Europe wrong, and a lot to themselves squaring up and taking on a huge team and equalling them! 

A wonderful night all round! 

Posted in Pro League in Europe

Flying The Flag Tonight!

And to be honest, it’s a shame only 50% of the Belgian teams have progressed this far. I know, what am I saying? Two teams from Belgium have progressed to the quarter finals. The most amount of representatives from one country has reached this far and those teams are Genk and Anderlecht, but if the draw was…erm…kinder, maybe there’d be more if Gent weren’t drawn against Genk. But unfortunately for fans of Belgian football, and of those teams, they’re out.

Both matches kick off simultaneously tonight, but we’ll start with the most successful team in Belgium versus the most successful team in England. Anderlecht vs Manchester United is a huge match tonight, with both teams coming into the match in form, well, I say form, Anderlecht definitely are with themselves topping the Pro League. Whereas United are on a long unbeaten run in the league, but due to the competition, they’re still outside the top 4! 

These 2 have had previous before in European competition, meeting 17 years ago, when Youri Tielemans was just 2! It was a Champions League group stage match, where if it were knock out, Man Utd would’ve progressed 6-3 on aggregate, but as it was a group match, Anderlecht actually ​topped the group, beating Manchester United on the way 2-1 at The Constant Vanden Stock 2-1 thanks to two first half goals from Tomasz Radzinski. 

Courtesy of Getty Images

Fast forwarding, much like some of my posts, things have changed since then. The gap between these two financially is MASSIVE, but on the pitch, even though there is a wealth of talent in the Man United ranks, I honestly wouldn’t be surprised is Les Mauves progress, as Old Trafford isn’t a place where home wins happen too often this season. As long as Anderlecht aren’t nervous then anything is possible in my opinion. 
In the other fixture, Genk travel to northern Spain, just above Portugal where they take on Celta Vigo. Genk have been to Spain already this season where they unfortunately lost 5-3 to Athletic Bilbao. But with a 2-0 reverse Genk would’ve qualified, if it wasn’t a group match. Hopefully something similar may happen again, but with no win in Spain in European competition ever, it may be a tough task tonight where Celta have never lost to Belgian opposition. 

The ask may be tougher without Naranjo up front for Genk too. The Spaniard has been in top form, scoring 2 in 2 since the play offs began, including the winner last Saturday, but coming on loan from Celta Vigo and having already played in the Europa League this season for his parent club, he is ineligible tonight. With another Spaniard in Alejandro Pozuelo, Im sure he’d love to show his talent in the Balaídos! 

Courtesy of Getty Images

If we go on form too for the respective sides, Genk are right on it, undefeated since late February, whereas Celta Vigo have lost their last 2 alone. Obviously though, this is a cup competition, 5 matches from potentially lifting the trophy, so a good performance and luck is all that matters for not only Genk, but Anderlecht as well.

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What Does the Future Hold?

Last night the Europa League results proved nothing really. On paper people would’ve said Anderlecht would’ve disposed of APOEL and after a thrashing in the first leg, Genk were already through to the next round too.

Genk vs Gent was the early fixture including Belgian sides and it was evenly contested. Not just through the result, the statistics proved it too. Genk to a first half lead which definitely put the tie to bed twenty minutes in, as Jean-Paul Boetius set up Thomas Castagne to see the game off. Gent needed an onslaught from the off but as that never happened, an equaliser was all that they could muster late in the game through Louis Verstraete. I guess they saved some face after the first leg, but nonetheless they go out with a whimper and Genk progress!

In the late game, Anderlecht just couldn’t afford to lose really, so a win or draw would see progression. Looking at the way the match went, I’m not quite sure how APOEL were to go about overturning their 1-0 deficit, and quite frankly, that never looked like happening. Man of the Europa League Frank Acheampong came up with the goods in the second half to seal the win. I personally thought he wouldn’t start, which was true, but didn’t know he’d have a big impact like against Zenit St Petersburg in the first leg of the previous round. An inspired substitution, he came on for Nicolae Stanciu and scored a minute later.

A fantastic outcome for Belgian sides to progress and hopefully a nice quarter final draw will work out for the pair…
Anderlecht vs Manchester United

Celta Vigo vs Genk

Half decent i guess but who knows…?

Posted in Pro League in Europe

The Night of Reckoning

So…Tonight we’ll find out who will be in the quarter finals of the Europa League. Is it facetious to say Genk are already through? Mbwana Samatta is red hot right now and at home, it could prove to be a step too far for Gent, even with Jeremy Perbet wholl look to make up for his penalty miss in the last match and he has been fantastic in Europe this season. 

Reading that paragraph back, i have gone straight in there and described who may be the difference, but if you break it down, a 5-2 lead for Genk looks insurmountable for the visitors to turn around. To score 4 unanswered goals they literally have nothing to lose tonight and it could be all out attack. If Yuya Kubo was eligible, it actually may prove to be different. He has been extraordinarily good since his arrival, but the turnaround looks unlikely.

Courtesy of Getty Images

If you look at league form, and that can be relevant in this case, Genk have the joint 4th best home form in the Pro League, whereas Gent have the 11th best (or 6th worst) away form in the league. Like I’ve stated, this is the ultimate of all one offs due to the circumstances, but the hill they have the climb is almost a vertical downward line!
To the later match, Anderlecht take a 1-0 away win back to the Constant Vanden Stock. Like previous rounds, Rene Weiler has tested some of his more important players and gone with Frank Acheampong and Isaac Kiese Thelin instead of Belgium’s top scorer Lukasz Teodorczyk. I think tonight may be a bit different. Not that that pairing isn’t capable, i just think going for a striker and settled line up, for the chance to be in the quarter finals, is more of a way to go. 

Courtesy of Getty Images

Bringing that away goal back home as well may prove to be key as well. Away goals in Europe are always pivotal. Let’s just hope Les Mauves take their league form into Europe and see to teams from Belgium through. Without tempting fate, I’m still confident Anderlecht won’t let Belgium down tonight, but to have 25% of the Europa League based in Belgium is a huge achievement. And let’s hope they don’t draw each other IF Anderlecht qualify, although to have a certainty in the semi final would be fantastic as well!
Talk soon

Posted in Pro League in Europe

Smash and Grab!

Wow. Another crazy Europa League evening courtesy of Belgium’s finest. Firstly Anderlecht were in Nicosia to hopefully take a positive result back to Brussels, whilst it was 7th vs 8th in the Pro League, except this time on a European scale.

We’ll start chronologically, with Anderlecht, so far, proving that their draw seemed a bit simpler than the previous round. From one of the coldest countries in Russia and Zenit, to Cyprus and Nicosia, the red hot duo of Romanian pair Nicolae Stanciu and Alexandru Chipciu were the undoing of APOEL just before the half hour with the latter assisting the former. 

A much stronger line up compared to the other round, it seems now Anderlecht believe something may happen if they stay focused, and that Sunday is the last regular season fixture of the season, they were not going to take any chances and it paid off!

With that 1-0 win done with, and a vital lead and away goal, a tight affair between Gent and Genk unfolded…RUBBISH!!! To be honest, I felt that Genk wouldn’t have as much of a chance. That sounds naive and not exactly open minded, but it’s true, and not for the first time, how wrong was I? 

Ruslan Malinovskiy set the tone, opening the scoring for Genk, only to be pegged back 6 minutes later through Samuel Kalu. Then, and so St Truiden fans, but the similarities between De Limburges Derby and tonight resonated with me with a twelve minute flurry of goals by De Smurfen. 

No mercy shown by Omar Colley, Mbwana Samata and Jere Uronen before the half may well have killed the tie. Fantastic play and game plan in the first 45 minutes with clinical finishing. Magnificent.

Khalifa Coulibaly pulled a goal back around the hour where the home fans, with any ounce of belief, could spark a comeback just short of Barcelona’s heroics the last night, and then prayers were answered in the form of a penalty. Surprisingly however, Jeremy Perbet didnt show any of his recent form and not only did he not convert. Worse was yet to come.

Approaching the last 20mins, Samata doubled his tally to make it 5-2 to Genk. To add insult to injury, central midfielder Anderson Esiti saw his second yellow 5 minutes before the end to cap off an horrific night for Gent. 

Gent 2-5 Genk 

Amazing night overall proving that the Pro League is a fantastic product of quality up front and tactical nouse regarding how to set up and win away, even when you think you know each other so well in this case. But if this week has anything to go by, this tie still ain’t over!

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European Tour on Your Own Door

Okay, that title is semi true, partly because Genk and Gent will be travelling 146km to each other tonight and next week, which in European competition terms is your own doorstep. The same can’t be said for Anderlecht who travel south to the warmer climbs of Cyprus to face APOEL tonight. 

I met with a Pro League player this week which will be revealed tomorrow, and we concurred over the fact that Belgian football is growing. The fact that there will certainly be a team in the quarter finals is fantastic, just a shame it is at the expense of another, but hopefully for Les Mauves they make lighter work of the Cypriots than of Zenit, but that’s my point!

Zenit and Tottenham Hotspur were shown the competition door (a lot of doors so far unintentionally) and they were massive scalps in my opinion, especially going by my post leading up to the first legs. Ideally, Anderlecht will conquer APOEL and get another easier tie, if you can say that, in the next round. 

Genk and Gent will be looking at this as a chance of progression and then who knows? The only problem for each team is that they must feel overall, they will have a better chance of Europe next season through the play offs, and if either let their guard down domestically, then next season may not prove to be as good on a Thursday night as they first thought. 

The exposure of the Europa League is fantastic too, meaning either big transfer fees for top players leaving or the chance to snatch better players from the same level of league e.g  Holland? Portugal? Russia? Or of lesser leagues like Switzerland, Scotland and across Scandinavia. And picking up a gem from there could prove a fantastic signing, look at Yuya Kubo for instance signed from Swiss side Young Boys, or Kalinic from Croatian outfit Hajduk Split, having a better all round improves standards at home and on the road.

All I know is that I feel more confident of 2 teams progressing rather than one last time, and it is a shame that it couldn’t be all three! 

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Mission Complete

An amazing night following on from my Europa League blog recently where all three Pro League sides progressed to the next round in Europe! Drama in one match, a fantastic game plan in another and professional performance in the third.

We’ll start with the earlier kick off where Anderlecht tried their very best to get knocked out, honest! 3-0 away to Zenit St Petersburg with ten minutes to play showed how willing Les Mauves were to get knocked out of this seasons Europa League. It really was the Giuliano and Dzyuba show in Russia as they were dismantling the Belgians, until stand in striker on the night Isaac Kiese Thelin ended the 2008 UEFA Cup winners hopes with a 90th minute away goal. Unbelievable.

Quickly, but definitely not a sidenote, Genk showed great professionalism by getting the job done at home against Astra with a simple 1-0 (3-2 on aggregate). Alejandro Pozuelo scoring the goal to wrap up the tie midway through the second half, once again proving how important he has been throughout this season. Showing real leadership too.

The final match was my most uneasy tie involving Belgium, where Gent visited Tottenham Hotspur at Wembley, and I was thankfully proved correct in that Spurs right now just can’t play there. Gent coming back twice to draw 2-2 on the night, mirroring Genk’s aggregate scoreline and same outcome with a draw away and a 1-0 win at home. Another fantastic European night all round! 

Courtesy of Getty Images

Hopefully all teams will be rewarding with a half decent draw in the next round and will prolong their stay in European competition. Genuinely chuffed for all 3!
Come on!

Posted in Pro League in Europe

Objective: Qualification

A quick post regarding tonight’s Europa League. All the Pro League teams have an edge in their respective matches leading up to the second leg. I must admit, I wasn’t as confident as the outcomes suggested. I thought 2 out of the three teams could potentially do well, but with Gent playing so well against Spurs, all three have a great chance of progression.

Anderlecht have possibly the best chance with a 2 goal cushion against a team who aren’t playing regularly enough, and have done so well in the league too, having the luxury of resting players in each game as well and picking up results.

Genk and Gent both drew at the weekend with maybe 1 eye on tonight’s matches, but with Genk having those away goals, they may have the best chance out of the 2 seeing as Tottenham did blow Fulham away on Sunday and have no real injury concerns either. With it being at Wembley, I still feel that’s what gives Gent their best chance.

I really do hope all 3 go into the next round, and I’m sure at least one will, but for the progression of the Pro League on a European scale, they’ll all need to progress really. 

I’ll write a more in depth blog post tomorrow regarding the results and performances and fingers cross, 100% progression rate at that too.

Come on!