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The Jupiler Pro League Preview

As is tradition Belgium is one of the first leagues to get back on the field for the new season after only eight weeks of rest. The first league match in the Jupiler Pro League is scheduled for Friday 28 July. Union Saint-Gilles will face Anderlecht in a classic Brussels derby. A tough game for both. A new season, a new competition format. The Belgians made, again, half a dozen compromises and ended up with a wildly complicated competition.

Let me explain, briefly, a few changes in the rules for the new season. Not so good news for us Sorare managers: Midweek football will be scaled back, which is possible because only 16 clubs will play in 1A next season. We had three relegated teams: Seraing, Zulte Waregem, and Ostend went out and only RWDM comes up.


As you might know in Belgium there is a playoff system to crown the winner and settle the European spots. This year Play-off 1 & Play-off 2 will be again with 2x6 teams, instead of the 2x4 of last year. And the four teams that finish last in the regular season, will play the relegation play-offs. A minimum of two and a maximum of three teams drop to the Challenger Pro League.

That being said, here is our fast and easy Sorare x Jupiler Pro League preview, with of course a small segment about the goalkeepers.


Antwerp FC

The Great Old won the title, the cup, and the Supercup, sooner than they had expected to do so. Architects of this amazing achievement are Dutchies coach Van Bommel and director of sports Marc Overmars. They did not have a lot of time to celebrate as the preliminary round of the Champions League lies ahead for the ambitious club.

They kept the core team (only Pacho left) and added a few necessary players. Goalkeeper Butez is being linked with several teams and might still leave. A new backup goalkeeper is added to the roster. Talented goalkeeper Senne Lammens joined from Club Brugge. Antwerp needed a second striker and ended up buying French/Nigerian striker George Ilenikhena. Six million for a 16-year-old but famed as a left-footed rough diamond. Jacob Ondrejka also joined from Elfsborg.

Overmars is also looking to find an agreement with the clubs of Kerk, Keita, and Stengs, who were all on loan and all three had a foot in the success of the team. Prediction: Play-off 1 - It'll be very hard to reproduce the tremendously successful season of last year.

RC Genk

Two minutes separated Racing Genk from a national title at the end of last season. Nobody would be upset if RC Genk ended up winning the league, coach Vranken had the team play attractive football. Fortunately for RC Genk, not much transfer news to discuss, as they feared a buyout of their best players. Newly Red Devil Mike Tresor is still being linked with a few teams (Rennes, Burnley, Leicester, Brighton, RB Leipzig, ...). Genk needs an extra striker as they only have Arokodare and the jury is still out on him.

New players added to the roster are leftwinger Alieu Fadera, who was relegated with Zulte-Waregem but is far too talented to play in the second division, and left-back Joris Kayembe from Charleroi. I also think/hope it is time for Luca Oyen's breakout season. First goalkeeper will remain Sorare u23 goalkeeper Maarten Vandevoordt. It'll be his last season before transferring to RB Leipzig. The backup will be Van Crombrugge. @Elbelga and I will be watching the goalkeeper situation closely as we are trying to figure out if the addition of HVC to the roster is a sign of no confidence in the backup goalkeeper Tobe Leysen.

Prediction: Play-off 1 - The ambition of the club is a European spot and they are more than capable to do so.


Union Saint Gilloise

Let's talk about the elephant in the room. Yes, Teddy Teuma (Reims) has left het Dudenpark. A sad day for the people who follow the Belgian League, but an even sadder day for the Teuma Card holders. Other players that left the club are Adingra (Brighton), Kandouss (AA Gent), El Azouzzi (Bologna), and Siebe Van der Heyden is a Mallorca player. And of course, Victor Boniface is the second most expensive transfer out of the Belgian League. He'll join Leverkusen. Boniface accounted for 17 goals and 12 assists in 51 games last year and played some very impressive games in Europe. Clearly too good for the Belgian League. A lot of incoming transfers as well. As we know Union uses a very intricate scouting/data system. Some of the new players are left-footed defender Fedde Leysen (PSV), Charles Vanhoutte (Cercle Brugge), Alexis Mac Allister (Liverpool) his brother Kevin also joined the club. And a few others I never heard of, including a Belgian striker from the second division in The Netherlands and a German left winger from the third division.

The first goalkeeper will remain Antony Moris. Prediction: Play-off 2 - The exodus at Union SG continues. It's very unclear what the strength of this team will be. The unknown players are not necessarily a bad thing, history has shown Union knows what they are doing.

Club Brugge I'm not sure if last season was so horrible from Brugge. Sure they had three different coaches and only ended fourth, but their Champions League campaign was spectacular.

A new season, a new coach. Coach Deila overperformed with Standard and after some drama joined Brugge. There was a need for a complete overhaul. This resulted in Brugge being very active in the transfer market this summer, it seems they are being named with a new player every day. OUT: Rough diamond Sylla (Strasbourg) for 20! million, talented goalkeeper Lammens (Antwerp), excentric left winger Noa Lang (PSV) and right back Clinton Mata (Lyon) are some of the names that left.

IN: Norway's top talent Hugo Vetlesen, Brazilian striker Igor Thiago. Also 'newish' is left-back Maxim De Cuyper, back from his two-year loan at Westerlo. The question I get asked the most is if De Cuyper will be a sure starter. His competition is Bjorn Meijer, one of the best players in Belgium in that position and also named in the Golden Boy index. It'll all depend on coach Deila, his play style, and the opponent.

Meijer is more reliable defensively and De Cuyper is stronger as an attacking wingback.

Goalkeeper is of course Simon Mignolet. Brugge might be looking for a new backup goalkeeper though, Schmidt from STVV is the name that is heard the most.

Prediction: Play-off 1 - A new coach and a very strong team. Once again the team to beat.


AA Gent

AA Gent wants to do better next season than it did last one, as every team I guess. In Europe, the 'Buffaloes' kicked it into the quarter-finals of the Conference League, but domestically they grabbed next to a ticket for the Play-off 1. The main problem was a lack of squad depth, nothing a few incoming transfers won't fix.

Gent reinforced themselves mainly at the back for now. Ismaël Kandouss was snatched from Union. Also added to the club is the last season's Japanese revelation Tsuyoshi Watanabe (KV Kortrijk). Gent also secured the services of midfielder Gerkens from Antwerp.

The biggest name that already left the club is Vadis Odjidja, he left the club on a free to Hajduk in Croatia. Other key players that might end up leaving are of course goalscoring phenomenon Gift Orban. He's being associated with Lille. Okumu left for Reims. Second goalkeeper Davy Roef is shouting from the rooftops he wants to leave, but for now, there aren't much-interested parties. Paul Nardi will remain the first goalkeeper.

Prediction: Play-off 1 - If they can keep Gift Orban and add a few reliable backups. They'll make it a lot of teams difficult.


Cercle Brugge

Together with Westerlo, Cercle Brugge was a revelation last season. They played very strongly after New Year. The team wants to continue that momentum but there is obviously also the necessary interest in certain players.

Japan national team regular Ayase Ueda is one of the top scorers in Belgium, 15 goals in 31 games. He's on the list of several other teams, mainly Feyenoord which see him as the replacement of Danilo, if he would move to Rangers after all

No big transfer news to report, so far. The biggest transfer is Ecuadorian midfielder Alan Minda.

Are you looking for reliable u23 players, look at Cercle. They have a very young and talented group of players and play every game with high intensity and pressure. A fun cheeky stack to have for sure.

The 'marriage' between Cercle and Monaco is visible in the goalkeeper carousel. u23 goalkeeper Majecki finished his loan and went back to Monaco where he'll be battling Philipp Köhn who joined from RB Salzburg for 10 million. Didillon did the opposite and went back to Cercle. After the signing of backup goalkeeper Maxime Delanghe, I doubt there will be space for Didillon and he's looking to leave the club.

The first goalkeeper for Cercle is fan favorite Warleson. Finally the Brazilian will get his well-deserved chance between the sticks, or at least thats how it looks at moment of writing.

Prediction: Play-off 1 - The intensity and high pressure of the youngsters will cause trouble for a lot of teams in the Jupiler Pro League.


Standard Liege

Standard certainly did not have a great preseason behind them. Standard lacks quality in attack. Guys like Perica and Emond are hard-working players, but not players who make a difference. The Rouches want to add another striker to the squad, but a real passer is also needed. The loss of Philip Zinckernagel, whose loan ended and went back to Olympiakos, is a big one.

Standard already showed themselves actively in the transfer market and already brought in several newcomers with the likes of Japanese midfielder Kawabe who joined from the Wolves, youngster Mundle joined from the u21 team of Everton, and fanfavorite Zinho Vanheusden. With Laifis on the verge of leaving and Dusenne to Lausanne, their defence will have a big change. Prediction: Play-off 2 - Last season, Standard surprised everyone and performed rather well. I don't think they'll do the same this season. Competition is hard for play-off 1.



Westerlo

We are from De Kempen, we come by bike and we like to eat tripe. This is the slogan painted on the 'picturesque' stadium of Westerlo and it's true the stadium is surrounded by bikes of the locals. Westerlo wants to continue its momentum from last season. Unfortunately, they already lost a few key players who were on loan. Dorgeles Nene re-joined RB Salzburg and Reynolds went back to AS Roma, however, Westerlo is trying to get him back on a permanent deal. Maxime De Cuyper and Chadli also went back to their clubs. Vetekole's contract ended. The goalkeeper situation is clear: Bolat will be the starting goalkeeper and a good, cheap pick for your CAP240 team. A striker is one of the most important positions to fill. In fact, at the end of last season, they were almost without players due to injuries (And they sold Foster mid-season). Matija Frigan has not yet been officially introduced at Westerlo, but his name already featured on the match sheet for the practice game. He will be Westerlo's most expensive incoming transfer ever. They also need two more wingers and another defender, and they still need to fill the right wingback position as well.

As the club has Turkish owners, a lot of Turkish players are being named in the media. I'll highlight two of the most interesting names so far. Westerlo has their eye on Emin Bayram, a central defender and star player at Galatasaray. The 17-year-old Stassin, a clever striker with a nose for goals with wonderful stats in the Belgian second division. Prediction: Play-off 2 - Can someone inform the Turkish owners that the season starts next week? In any case, I've started running again so if they need an extra right winger, I live close by and can come by bike as well.


Charleroi Coach Mazzu's team wants to secure a spot in the Play-Off 1 again in the coming season. So the Carolos are aiming for a good start to the season, but still have some work to fix up before the opener against OHL. Both ambitious and well ran teams are facing each other in the opening game. Not much going on during the Mercato so far. They added Badji from Club Brugge as a permanent deal. The biggest transfer so far is left-back Kayembe who joined RC Genk. They are still looking for a replacement. Charleroi already finalized the arrival of Dabbag (Arouca), Rogelj (WSG Tirol), and Antoine Bernier (Seraing) and a fourth new face is also already in place. Julien Maggiotti will also make his appearance soon. There were some rumors (Anderlecht, ...) about goalkeeper Koffi, who enters his last contract year. None of them were solid. Prediction: Play-off 2 - One of the many outsiders for Play-off 1.


Oud-Heverlee Leuven

"We always want to get better, we are never done." This is a quote straight from the mission statement of this well-run club. OHL has a clear vision and how to get there. They've been chiseling their way to the top of Belgium for years.

Keita is definitely not going to stay at OHL. Antwerp loaned him from January and the Belgian youth international played very well, but the €10 million purchase option was too expensive (so far). Patris left for Anderlecht. Thorsteinsson is named as a possible transfer but no big rumors so far. The most potent striker of last year, Super Mario Gonzalez, was on loan from Braga and returned to his home club, who just sold him to LAFC in the Mls. The Sorare goat, Casper De Norre, has left the club for Millwall.

Key players, Mathieu Maertens and Siebe Schrijvens, already signed a new contract before the Mercato. And there are a few exciting 'new' signings. Striker Nathan Opoku, a Leicester mercenary, rejoined the club for another year. Banzuzi is a Dutch youth international, coach Marc Brys sees in him a key player for the future. Ndri from Eupen is a big signing for the club, other Belgian teams like Gent were interested in him as well, but he choose Leuven, someone to watch this season. Holzhauser is back from his loan spell, although it seems clear his time is over at OHL. He'll be looking for new horizons.

Goalkeeper is Cojucaru, pretty set in stone although we're not a huge fan of his abilities. Jackers is the backup goalkeeper. Coming from RC Genk goalkeeper factory and once famed for his talents.

Prediction: Play-off 1 - Will this year be the year they finally can compete with the top teams in the league?


Anderlecht

I could write an entire Lord of the Rings-like trilogy about Anderlecht these past few years. What a complete shitshow. New owners, money troubles by overpaying mediocre players, atrocious management, supporter riots, ... In the past Anderlecht has had some crises, but the club always came out of them stronger, until these last few years when each crisis pushed them deeper into the swamp.

A new goalkeeper was needed after three(!) goalkeepers left the club. Bart Verbruggen made a transfer to Brighton, we'll be watching his career with interest. Van Crombrugge left for RC Genk and Timon Wellenreuther joined Feyenoord. Half of goalkeeping Europe was linked with Anderlecht but they recently finalized the transfer of Maxime Dupé (Toulouse). Other incoming transfers are right-back Louis Patris (OHL) and Danish striker Kasper Dolberg. After a few disappointing stints, Dolberg joined Anderlecht to restart his career. A crazy gamble from Anderlecht in my opinion. A bad-performing striker in this team/tactic is fatal. That's why they are being linked with another striker. Luis Vazquez from Boca Juniors, is reported to be the new striker of Anderlecht for a whopping 6 million. Hopefully, money well spend. Still, a couple of transfers have to be finalized: a creative midfielder is highly needed after the injury of Verschaeren. And an extra winger is no luxury.

Prediction: Play-off 2 - I am not very optimistic about the future. The first five/six games (Union, Antwerp, STVV, Westerlo, Charleroi, and then RC Genk) are already do-or-die. Most of them are home games but with the critical fanbase, it won't be an advantage. Bad results will set the tone for the rest of the season.

STVV Daniel Schmidt is the starting goalkeeper at the moment. That goalkeeper could still leave as a few clubs are showing interest.

The thirteen-time A-international Schmidt is under contract at STVV for another year. Turkey's Ankaragücu showed interest and Club Brugge also made an offer that was rejected. Club Brugge wants him as a second goalkeeper behind Mignolet.

If Schmift ends up leaving a very interesting name that is rumored as a replacement is Zion Suzuki. U23 and backup goalkeeper of Urawa Reds in Japan, Suzuki was also rumored at Manchester United. But STVV did see quite a few players leave already, especially at center-back. Leistner, Bauer, and Teixeira. Up front, Hayashi and Bruno left in turn. Konaté transferred to KV Mechelen.

Coach Hollerbach is no longer there either, he was replaced by Thorsten Fink. With Godeau, Fink already got a new central defender, up front he got Barnes and Ananou. And with Ito, Yamamoto, and Ogawa, a new bus of Japanese players has arrived. Prediction: Play-off 2 - Another mid-table season seems likely.



KV Mechelen

As the song goes: No money, Mo problems.

Alarm bells are ringing in Mechelen. Not only did the relegation lurk around the corner last season, but the situation is also especially unstable off the pitch. If KV Mechelen wants to get through this season without financial problems, money has to be pumped into the club. Only that is proving to be a difficult process.

A few games last season the bench of coach Steven Defour had an average age of 18.3. There is no extra money invested in the club, nor big outgoing transfers realized. This is clearly visible in transfer politics, where only youngsters and/or players from the second or third division are being brought in for free. The biggest transfers so far: the talented offensive right-back Rafik Belghali, who was the best right-back in the Belgian second division last season. He joins from Lommel. Konaté joins the club from STVV and adds some much-needed quality to the team. Lion Lauberbach comes over on a free from Eintracht Braunschweig. The German signed a three-season contract with Malinwa. The 25-year-old striker was active in 2.Bundesliga last season. The year before, he forced promotion from the third to the second division in Germany with Braunschweig. He then scored 12 times in 32 games.

Update (forgot to write something about the goalkeepers): Coucke is still the starting goalkeeper despite his wish to leave the club. The biggest rumor about a possible transfer is Club Brugge, where he would be the backup for Mignolet. Although Schmidt of STVV is also named for that position. Coucke is entering his final contract year at Mechelen. KV would like to keep him, but negotiations on a new contract are proving difficult. After three seasons at Malinwa, the goalkeeper wants to keep his options open. Since the precarious financial position KVM is in, it's not unthinkable Thoelen would be the starting goalkeeper if Coucke ends up leaving.

Prediction: Relegation play-offs - I think it'll be a hard and long season for the Kakkers, ( = fans from KV Mechelen)


Kortrijk

Kortrijk is looking for a new owner. There were some interested parties; Burnley made an offer that was refused. There was an American investment group involved but they didn't pay the funds. The club remains in limbo.

They do have a new coach, Edward Still, he is on his third assignment in the first division. In his debut season in 2021, he led Charleroi to sixth place, last season he was coach of Eupen. Faïz Selemani was a key player at KV Kortrijk for several years. He left the club for Saudi Arabia. Revelation Watanabe left for AA Gent. Goalkeeper Marco Ilic left the club, he joined Colorado Rapids in the MLS. Three main team players are gone with no replacements, because of the instability and there are almost no incoming transfers so far. Not unimportant for Sorare: the new starting goalkeeper will be Vandenberghe. Some good news then, I've added Youssef Challouk to my roster. After dominating the Belgian second division for two years, it's time for his break-out season. Prediction: Relegation play-offs - The clouds off the pitch need to disappear real soon, it's putting the entire season in jeopardy.

KAS Eupen

The goalkeeper situation is about 45/55% Moser or Nurudeen. Nurudeen played most games in preseason and Moser had a few stinkers at the end of last season. In June 2012, the club was purchased by the government of Qatar and its Aspire Zone Foundation. They invested in some quality players and overpaid them. Now the contracts of midfielder Stef Peeters and striker Prevljak (Herta Berlin) are finished and they are both looking for new teams. Two huge losses for the club. The end of an era.

To make things worse: Drama for Eupen and their new striker Bialek who suffered a serious knee injury and needs surgery. The other striker of the East Cantonners, Ndri, left for OH Leuven.

Any good news then? No.

Prediction: Relegation play-offs - Well maybe some good news then, the transfer market is still open.



RWDM

In recent years, the promoted clubs have done well in 1A every time. It is up to the third Brussels club at the highest level to continue that trend. Last season a bus of Brazilians arrived at RWDM, a gift from sister club Botafago, almost none of them made it to the first squad and they all left again.

The starting goalkeeper between the sticks will be team captain Théo Defourny.

RWDM reinforced this summer with goalkeeper Guillaume Hubert (KV Oostende), defender Abner (Farense), and rough diamond Pierre Dwomoh (Antwerp, loan). Another Japanese player has landed in the Belgian League. Shuto Abe joins RWDM from FC Tokyo. The initial agreement of Alexis De Sart (Antwerp) was converted into a permanent contract. Further reinforcements are definitely expected at Sint-Jans-Molenbeek.

Kylian Hazard, the brother of Eden, who played at a very high-level last season, has suffered a heavy setback. Six months of injury is the heavy verdict.

There is some quality in the squad: Biron, who was the team's top scorer last season is one to watch. As well as El Ouahdi who had a good season with RWDM last year. Prediction: Relegation play-offs - A new team has a history of performing well in the league their first year but the issues off the pitch may be problematic. Avoiding relegation would be good.

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