Last season Standard Liege finished in 14th place in the Belgian Pro League, the lowest in the modern era. The once proud Walloon based side looked a shadow of the side that used to be a regular in Europe and challenge for silverware in Belgium. New investors came in and they decided to bring in former Celtic and Valerenga manager Ronny Deila. The Norwegian had a monumental task ahead of him, with a club that could not afford to spend money in order to revamp the squad.
No one would have expected them to be knocking on the door of the top four and play-off one. What has been so impressive about the job Deila has done is that he has barely had any money to spend, whilst also losing key players. Selim Amallah refused a contract and was therefore sent to the B team before moving on to Real Valladolid, while Nicolas Raskin went the same way and ended up with Rangers.
They key for Deila has been giving extended play time to William Balikwisha. Prior to this season, the 23-year-old did not play a single game for the first team during the 2021/2022 season. This season, the midfielder has three goals and three assists in 22 league matches. Balikwisha has been the driving force in midfield for Standard and Deila deserves credit for seeing the potential.
The side have also had success in spite of not having a striker finding the net regularly. They are the lowest scoring side in the top six, which is hardly surprising when you consider that their top scoring striker is Stipe Perica with four goals. Perica is underperforming his xG by just over two, hence why Deila does not start the Croatian regularly. Instead, it has been the attacking midfielder Phillip Zinckernagel who has provided the most goals with six, plenty of which have been goal of the season contenders.
Deila has also helped reconnect the team with the fans. His passion on the touchline has clearly been appreciated by a fan base known for the expressive nature of its support. He is clearly overachieving given the resources available to him, yet with wages off the books there should be more opportunities for the club to strengthen in the summer. Its unlikely that the hierarchy foresaw this level of success straight away, but it should give them confidence that sticking with Deila and backing him in the summer is the way to go.
Deila has a good thing going on in Liege and it will be exciting to see what he could do with the club if given the right tools.