More NBA than Premier League: Club Brugge’s 19th title shows value of play-off performances over regular season consistency

Anyone with no knowledge of Belgian football would be pretty baffled when looking at the final table for this season. Club Brugge sit top of the table, despite having won less games than both Union St Gilloise in second and Anderlecht in third. Union won 25, Anderlecht won 22 and Club Brugge won 21. During the regular season, Union finished a whopping 19 points ahead of Club Brugge.

Yet in many ways, the Belgian Pro League works more like the NBA than it does the Premier League. After the regular season, the best teams then have to play each other to decide who really is the top side. Instead of seeding and home court advantage, the points are halved. The sides with the better record still have the advantage of being a few points ahead, but now everyone still has a chance of winning. The top six this year began the play-offs with Genk 11 points behind Union, despite having finished 23 points behind after 30 games. Club were nine points behind Union, a big margin to overcome in just 10 games.

Like in the NBA, a lower seeded side can win the title. This year only the Boston Celtics remain of the sides that finished in the top two in each conference. Injuries can play a big part, and for Anderlecht they were unable to cope with some key ones. Club, under caretaker head coach Nicky Hayen, had nothing to lose. Like the Dallas Mavericks this season, they may have been a lower ranked side but everyone could see the potential was there. They were my title favourites to start the season under Rony Deila, but it was Hayen who was able to really unlock the sides potential and turn them into title contenders.

Whether or not, as football fans, we can be happy with a side winning a league title without having gathered the most points in a season overall is not the fault of Club Brugge. When it mattered most, they came to the party. Union lost their nine point lead within the first four games. If they could have just turned one of those losses in the first four games of the play-offs into a draw, they would have been celebrating the title on Sunday evening.

In the end, the Pro League got what it wanted for a second season in a row. Going into the final game, three sides could still win the title. The side did just enough during the regular season to remain within striking distance when the play-offs came around. Antwerp won in dramatic fashion last year, while Club won in a far less Hollywood escue way this time around. Going into the year, everyone knew that something like this could happen. Club showed that the play-offs are where the league is really decided, not during the regular season.

GBeNeFN | Ben Jackson

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