We have reached the halfway stage of the Jupiler Pro League regular season. In what is the last campaign where the Belgian top flight will have 18 teams, there is much drama at the top, in midtable, and at the bottom. Here is a look at what is going on in each part of the league table as the teams go on a month-long hiatus for the FIFA World Cup.
Genk runaway leaders
If there has one team that has truly impressed so far, it is Wouter Vrancken’s Racing Genk. They have raced to a 10-point lead over nearest challengers Union St. Gilloise. The Smurfs are on an 11-game winning streak in all competitions, 10 of which coming in the league. They also hold a 15-1-0 record in the league since their matchday 1 reverse to Club Brugge.
They also have the best attack league, spearheaded by Paul Onuachu’s 13 goals, all coming within the last eight games. Mike Trésor also has 18 goal contributions, 13 of which being assists. They also have the best defense, as they are the only team to have conceded less than a goal a game at this point. Seeing that they are 16 points ahead of fifth place Gent, playoffs 1 football is looking quite promising for the Limburg club.
Playoff 1 challengers
The closest challengers to Genk at the moment are last season’s runners-up Union St. Gilloise. The team they are in pursuit of was the last team to defeat Carel Geraert’s side back in mid-September. Since then, it has been seven wins in nine for Union, good enough to keep them chasing in second.
Antwerp (35 points) and Club Brugge (33) complete the top four. The pair met on the weekend, The Great Old coming from two goals down to steal a point at Janbreydelstadion. Antwerp won their first nine games in the league before going through a turbulent stretch after. They have gone 2-2-4 since, seeing them drop to third.
As for the defending champions Club Brugge, they also started off very well with a 6-1-1 record through eight games. They have only won four of nine since though, being unable to consistently show the level they did in the Champions League. They are three points ahead of their Flanders rivals Gent, and will have a month to sort out their domestic struggles as they play catchup to Genk.
Speaking of De Buffalo’s, they are in fifth spot after an unconvincing start. They have gotten their act together now, as Hein Vanhaezebrouck’s team is on the door for the title playoffs. Despite losing star Tarik Tissoudali less than a month into the season, last year’s Croky Cup winners have been able band together and improve over time. If they keep form in the second half of the campaign, they are in a convincing position to sneak into the top four.
Rounding out the Playoff 1 competitors are Standard Liège, who have managed to be a match for anyone under Ronny Deila. Five points behind Club Brugge, De Rouches have been able to show up in the biggest matches. They have a 2-1-2 record against the teams above them, and also defeated their
heated rivals Anderlecht via a forfeit. They have struggled against those below them, which is why they are currently on the outside looking in.
Playoffs 2 competitors: Westerlo leads pack
Jonas de Roeck’s Westerlo is enjoying a wonderful return to top flight football. Currently seventh in the rankings, but have struggled for consistency. That aside, they have some impressive scalps so far, including victories over Anderlecht, Standard and Club Brugge. Regardless, this is an ideal position for De Kemphanen to be in at this point.
Leuven and Cercle Brugge are level on 25 points, though it is the former who holds eighth spot on goal difference. The contrast could not be anymore different between the two. Leuven started the campaign on fire, collecting 17 of their 25 points in their first nine fixtures.
As for Cercle, it took them a coaching change to turn their fortunes around. Dominik Thalhammer was sacked nine games in and was replaced by Miron Muslic. Since then, Cercle has gone 6-1-1, with only Genk boasting a better record in that period. A continuation of that form could see them end up in the top eight at the end of the regular season.
Sint-Truiden has had a steady season so far and can be satisfied in 10th spot. They have the fourth best defensive record, with just 19 goals conceded in 17 games. Their issue comes on the other side of the pitch. Only Seraing and Kortrijk have found the back of the next less than De Kanaries (17). An improvement in that department will be needed to see them properly challenge for a top half finish.
While not quite official yet, KV Mechelen will be 11th following the abandonment of their weekend match from Charleroi. De Kavé will benefit from a 5-0 forfeit score. It has not been an amazing campaign for Mechelen, who was hoping to build on their Playoffs 2 showing last April and May. They are only four points back of Leuven, with plenty of time available to catch up to them.
The biggest underachievers, however, is undoubtedly Anderlecht. Winners of three of their opening four, things took a dramatic turn for the worse at Lotto Park. Bringing in Felice Mazzú over from cross-town rivals Union over the summer, there was much ambition for the club to challenge for the title.
It has been anything but though. The final straw for the Italo-Belgian came at Standard, where the match was abandoned due to crowd troubles while the hosts were up 3-1. He was sacked the next day
U23 coach Robin Veldman is currently the interim, but it is unlikely he will remain in the post after the World Cup. A top four spot looks highly likely at this point as they are 13 points back of Club Brugge. To put things in perspective, Anderlecht’s U23 team in the second tier has three more points than the senior team despite having played four less games.
Equidistant to eighth and 16th in points, Sporting Charleroi has also failed to ameliorate their performances from last campaign. Forfeiture in their weekend game in the return of Mazzú at the helm, Les Carolos have struggled. They are one of three JPL teams to have already been eliminated in the Croky Cup alongside Eupen and Westerlo. There is still fine for them to do better, but Mazzú certainly has his hands full at Mambourg.
Relegation candidates: bottom five six points apart
Seeing that this is a transition season in Belgian football, there will be three teams going down come April. Right now there are five sides in danger of losing their top flight status.
KV Oostende has let in the second most goals, a stat that does not bode well for De Kustboys. They shipped six goals twice, the more recent one coming on Saturday at Westerlo. Thalhammer, who as previously mentioned was at Cercle to start the season, took over from Yves Vanderhaeghe at the beginning of this month. Time will tell whether that was the right move.
Eupen was always expected to struggle this season despite having Bernd Storck at the helm. The German did not even reach the end of October before getting the axe. Three points and one place above the relegation zone, the Pandas have the joint-most defeats on the campaign with 12.
The only team in this relegation scrap not to have sacked their coach thus far, Zulte Waregem also knew that survival would be the goal in 2022-23. Mbaye Leye’s men have shipped 40 goals in 17 games, a league worst. They have kept just one league clean sheet, coming in their first game. Quite a bit of faith is being shown in Leye, but could that be Essevee’s demise?
Right below them is Kortrijk, who has not won in the JPL since ending Antwerp’s perfect start to the campaign. That cost Adnan Custovic his job, the Bosnian becoming the second gaffer to be dismissed by the club so far. Whoever succeeds Custovic at the Guldensporenstadion will have to make some drastic changes to help De Kerels get out of this precarious position.
It comes as no surprise that Seraing is at the foot of the league table. Since shocking Standard in the Liège derby at the end of September, they have a 0-2-5 record in the league. Seraing barely escaped demotion last April, but it is already looking like they will be doomed this time around.