It may have been Real Madrid and Barcelona dominating the headlines earlier this week, but the term ‘El Clasico’ has another meaning in Belgium. It unites Anderlecht and Standard, two of Belgian Football’s heavyweights, who will come together this Sunday in one of the fiercest rivalries in the modern game.
It may be 31-time Belgian Champions Anderlecht who dominate the record books, but Standard have their fair share of titles and enjoy the better head-to-head record between the two in recent years.
Let us rewind to October. Standard had endured a four match losing streak, seeing them slump to 12th with five defeats in their opening nine matches. On the other hand Anderlecht came into the game unbeaten in the league. Five wins and four draws meant they were within two points off top-spot. The bookies backed Anderlecht all the way and their point was reiterated as former Liverpool striker, Milan Jovanovic, opened the scoring for the visitors inside ten minutes. The home fans grew restless and soon the pitch was littered with smoke bombs and flares before the referee sent both sets of players back down the tunnel.
The game did resume and it was the Standard players that benefited from the delay, equalizing through Frederic Bulot whose header trickled past a stranded Andelecht keeper. The home side were now in the ascendency and it was Bulot again with a brilliant volley from the edge of the area to send the home fans into raptures. The game turned on its head, and it wasn’t even half-time.
The second half was going to be a battle of wills – the home side looking to hold on to a potentially ‘season-defining’ victory. Down to 10-men they conceded a penalty, also having their crossbar to thank on a couple of occasions. Nevertheless Standard held on to a priceless victory.
That was earlier this season, and since then Anderlecht have bounced back and in emphatic style – winning 12 of their 13 games since, including an 11-match winning streak making them Europe’s form team. Standard have edged nearer their best, seeing them climb to 4th in the league with six games to go.
The two sides have well and truly dominated Belgian football in recent years – sharing the title between one-and-other for the last seven seasons.
The derby comes at a vital time. Anderlecht know that a victory will end their rival’s title chances and could see them within a couple of games of retaining their own crown for the fourth consecutive year.
However, when it comes down to it statistics and history mean nothing. Two teams battling for a nation’s pride just as Barcelona and Madrid, Milan and Inter or United and City would.
Ahead of the game, Anderlecht face a race against time to see whether star-man Dieumerci Mbokani will return in time for Sunday. The Congolese international had been on duty with Congo who were eliminated after a 1-1 draw with Mali earlier this week. With 15 goals in 15 appearances in the league, as well as 6 Champions League goals to his name – John van den Brom will be hoping his top-scorer is available. Anderlecht have no new injury concerns ahead of Sunday.
Standard on the other hand could offer debuts to Ivorian Zie Diabete and Adrian Cristea who both signed earlier in the week. They too have no fresh injury concerns.
Players to Watch
Dieumerci Mbokani, Anderlecht: As mentioned above Mbokani is undoubtedly Anderlecht’s talisman – his presence, or lack of it, could prove the difference come Sunday. Lukaku-esque in build, Mbokani poses a real physical presence upfront, a handful for anybody. Now something you probably didn’t know, Mbokani first moved to Belgium back in 2006 on loan to Anderlecht, only to join Standard at the end of season where he scored 35 goals in 80 games.
After a brief and unsuccessful spell at Monaco, he was then sold to Anderlecht in 2011 for a fee believed to be in the region of €3 million.
Not many players have appeared for both clubs, as you would expect. However, he’s already inscribed himself in Anderlecht hearts with 29 goals in 41 games this time around.
The Belgian player of the year however is again the center of transfer speculation with the club revealing he will be allowed to leave in the summer.
Although Premier League clubs such as Liverpool, Tottenham and Southampton have inquired about his services, the chairman is reluctant to let him leave for less than his valuation (€20 million).
UPDATE: Mbokani is out of this fixture as he missed his flight back from South Africa where he was on International duty with Congo at the African Cup of Nations.
Eiji Kawashima, Standard Liege: Yes, the goalkeeper. Standard are well and truly blessed with this man between the sticks. After being picked up by fellow-Belgian side Lierse in 2010, Standard completed the signing of the Japanese international and offered him the number-one shirt. Although Standard themselves may have not been enjoying the best of seasons, Kawashima still has the most clean sheets in the league.
You may remember Kawashima playing in Japan’s 2-1 defeat against England ahead of the 2010 World Cup. Kawashima had a brilliant game keeping England at bay for long periods of the game, including a Frank Lampard penalty save, before he was beaten by a couple of own-goals. He is very highly rated among the Asian circles and has become a very notable figure of Asian football
With Anderlecht in such fine form I would expect to see Standard on the back foot for long periods of the game, it could be up to this man to keep Anderlecht at bay.
It could all come down to a moment of individual brilliance on Sunday.
I know I said that form counts for nothing, but given Anderlecht’s current run I think they could prove too strong for Standard.
Prediction: Anderlecht 2-1 Standard
Full list of Jupiler Pro League fixtures:
Saturday 2nd February
AA Gent – Germinal Beerschot (18:00 CET)
Cercle Bruges – Zulte-Waregem (20:00)
KV Kortrijk – KV Mechelen (20:00)
Lierse – Lokeren (20:00)
Mons – Waasland-Beveren (20:00)
OH Leuven – Charleroi (20:00)
Sunday 3rd February
Genk – Club Bruges (14:30)
Anderlecht – Standard Liege (18:00)
This article was written by Jack Willows. You can follow him on twitter @willowsj.