George Nott

Thu, 6 April 2017

Belgian Pro League: Team of the Regular Season



The Team:

Coosemans

Derijck – Martos – Colley

Vormer – Pozuelo – Dendoncker – Tielemans – Henry

Teodorczyk – Dimata


Honourable mentions: Boubacar Barry (Lokeren), Hendrik Van Crombrugge (AS Eupen), Nicolas Penneteau (Sporting Charleroi), Aleksandar Bjelica (Mechelen), Luis García (AS Eupen), Renato Neto (KAA Gent), Souahilo Meïté (Zulte-Waregem), Lukas Lerager (Zulte-Waregem), Mats Rits (Mechelen), Stef Peeters (Sint-Truidense), Sander Berge (Genk), Ruslan Malinovskyi (Genk), Adam Marusic (KV Oostende), Knowledge Musona (KV Oostende), José Izquierdo (Club Brugge), Sofiane Hanni (Anderlecht), Mbaye Leye (Zulte-Waregem), Idriss Saadi (Kortrijk), Ishak Belfodil (Standard Liege), Jelle Vossen (Club Brugge)

GK: Colin Coosemans – Mechelen

Belgium have a great history of producing world-class goalkeepers; Thibaut Courtois springs to mind in recent years but the likes of Jean-Marie Pfaff and Michel Preud’homme were also at the peak of their position in the 1980s and 90s. Now, I am not suggesting that Colin Coosemans is near to reaching the level of those esteemed keepers, but if he continues his meteoric rise of the last six months he has the potential to get somewhere close. Coosemans’ first 18 months at Mechelen were very difficult and he failed to make a single appearance in the 2015/16 season as Jean-François Gillet – signed just a matter of weeks after Coosemans – was installed as the no.1 by former boss Aleksandar Janković. This season, after Gillet had moved to Standard Liège, Coosemans remained no.2 as young Luxembourger Anthony Moris was handed the gloves by Janković. When Moris suffered a bad knee injury in October of last year, Coosemans seized his chance with both hands, pulling off a string of outstanding displays for his new manager Yannick Ferrera. Despite only starting 18 league games, he is third in the clean sheet rankings and his agile performances in goal have played a huge part in Mechelen’s fantastic form in the latter half of this campaign. They were very unlucky not to reach the top six but with the 24-year-old being discussed as a candidate for the national team squad, he will want to make his mark in the Playoffs and aim to impress Belgian boss Roberto Martinez.



CDEF: Timothy Derijck – Zulte-Waregem

Despite a decent 2015-16 season in which they reached the Championship Playoffs, Zulte-Waregem had the worst defensive record of any Belgian club, conceding a ridiculous 73 goals in their 40 league games. Their porous backline was duly addressed in the summer as manager Francky Dury brought two experienced full-backs in Davy De Fauw and Brian Hämäläinen back to Zulte for their second spells at the club. But the most vital acquisition was definitely that of Timothy Derijck, who joined on a free transfer from ADO Den Haag. Derijck has spent much of his career in the Netherlands, but the return to his native Belgium has arguably been the most successful spell of his career. Zulte conceded just 13 goals in their first 15 league games and this stingy defensive record helped take them to the top of the table. Their form noticeably dropped off after the winter break and much of this was down to Derijck’s seven-week absence with a nasty knee injury. He made his timely return for the Cup final in mid-March and his opening goal and successful spot-kick in the shootout helped lead Zulte to victory. Dury’s men are definitely the outsiders for the title this season but with Derijck marshalling the defence they could spring a surprise.



CDEF: Javi Martos – Sporting Charleroi

At only 5”9, Martos is hardly your conventional centre-half. Nonetheless, the diminutive Spaniard has gradually established himself as the general at the heart of a watertight Charleroi defence. Charleroi have a fraction of the budget of most of the other sides in the Championship Playoffs and, until the recent arrival of Hamdi Harbaoui, their attacking options were some of the worst in the league. There must be, then, one clear reason for their success this season: only reigning champions Club Brugge have conceded fewer goals in the regular season – 24 to Charleroi’s 29 – and Martos’ influence in this record cannot be underestimated. Martos has looked equally comfortable playing in a back three or a back four, with his exemplary ball-playing skills particularly evident in the former. Voted Player of the Season at Charleroi last year, his dominance at the back has only developed further in 2016/17, as he has helped to turn Mambourg into a fortress. He wears the captain’s armband with pride and it is no surprise that the 33-year-old is the first name on Felice Mazzu’s teamsheet.



CDEF: Omar Colley – Genk

If you were instructed to build the perfect centre-back in a laboratory, the result would likely bear a mighty resemblance to Omar Colley. The Gambian captain is 6”3, dominant in the air, quick, strong and he also reads the game very well. Colley was effectively a replacement for Christian Kabasele, who moved to Watford in the summer, and the 24-year-old has proven to be an absolute bargain, with Genk paying Swedish side Djurgårdens just €1.7m. Players who move from Sweden often have difficulty transitioning to the more physical, high-tempo Belgian league, but Colley has flourished phenomenally well in this new environment. Whether playing alongside Sébastien Dewaest or the Czech Jakub Brabec, Colley has been a constant at left-sided centre-back all season and has brought significant composure and steadiness to the Genk back four. Before Kabasele, the likes of Kara Mbodji and Kalidou Koulibaly have moved on to more prestigious clubs after impressing at Genk, and if Colley’s form continues he will undoubtedly be the next centre-back to earn a big money move.



RMID: Ruud Vormer – Club Brugge

Ruud Vormer is the epitome of what every football fan wants from a midfielder in their side. He has the perfect blend of so many vital attributes in his position and he is as industrious as he is technically gifted. The Dutchman’s best role is in the hub of central-midfield but due to various injuries he is often called upon to play right-midfield or even occasionally at right full-back. As Vormer is so humble and always wants the best for the team, he is more than happy to undertake these roles with no fuss whatsoever. The performance that summed up Mr. Consistent this season was at home to Zulte-Waregem in mid-February. He was chosen at right-back and somehow managed to score twice in the first half, arriving at the back post to finish off two crosses with aplomb. With 40-year-old stalwart Timmy Simons likely to leave either this summer or the next, Vormer is a natural replacement to be captain as his performances already lift those around him on a week-to-week basis. He is a stunning footballer who is often underrated but this season he has received the recognition he deserves and, considering his national side’s current disarray, a Holland call-up should definitely come sooner rather than later.



DMID: Leander Dendoncker – Anderlecht

Much of the media attention in Anderlecht’s stellar young midfield has been focused on Youri Tielemans, and Tielemans’ own place in this Team of the Season shows that this attention is far from unwarranted. However, just as much credit ought to go to Leander Dendoncker. Affectionately nicknamed ‘Robocop’ by the Anderlecht fans for his tireless industry in the centre of the park, the energetic defensive-midfielder is destined for big things. Barring a suspension for a cup tie in December, the 21-year-old has played every single minute for Anderlecht in all competitions this season, totalling a staggering 4,027 minutes on the pitch. By mid-March he had already clocked up 45 appearances for the season, which also earned him 90 minutes for the Belgian senior team in November after Roberto Martinez was duly impressed by his exploits. What’s more, his abilities are by no means limited to his defensive capabilities; in Anderlecht’s first-leg tie against APOEL Nicosia in the Europa League Round of 16, it was so often Dendoncker’s driving forays into the opposition third that caused the Cypriots the most problems. Much of Dendoncker’s work goes unnoticed – his best moments are understated and rarely make the highlight reels – but he has been one of the most quietly influential players in the Pro League this season.



CMID: Youri Tielemans – Anderlecht

Perhaps the most recognisable name in this list is that of Youri Tielemans. Touted as the next big thing seemingly from birth, the youthful Tielemans seemed to feel some of the pressure of being in the spotlight last season and often failed to produce. This season, however, a totally new player has emerged. For a central-midfielder, Tielemans’ attacking statistics have been truly remarkable. In all competitions during the regular season, he has 17 goals and 10 assists in 41 appearances and was joint-5th top scorer in the league after 30 games. Furthermore, he is still just 19 years of age. He is now a regular in the Belgian squad and won plaudits for his recent performance in their friendly against Russia. Whilst a number of his goals have been from the penalty spot, he also has a penchant for a worldie; in the space of a week in February he scored not one, not two, but three long-range strikes, each strong contenders for goal of the season in their own right. His game has matured no end this season and, whilst Sofiane Hanni holds the role of club captain at Anderlecht, Tielemans is a more than capable deputy, with manager René Weiler having no qualms in handing Tielemans the armband when Hanni is not involved. Whether he remains at Anderlecht next season remains to be seen but, either way, if Tielemans continues on his current trajectory, the very top clubs in the world will soon be fighting for his signature.



AMID: Alejandro Pozuelo – Genk

Genk’s phenomenal run to the quarter-finals of this season’s Europa League started way back in mid-July against Montenegrin side Budućnost Podgorica, and a massive part of their progression through the tournament has been the form of their ‘bearded magician’: the Andalusian playmaker Alejandro Pozuelo. Many will remember Pozuelo from his brief stint at Swansea City a couple of years ago, where he showed flashes of his talent but couldn’t quite nail down a consistent starting spot. After a year at Rayo Vallecano, Pozuelo moved to Genk in the summer of 2015 and has since developed into one of the best midfielders in the country. Up until Christmas the Spaniard was playing as one of two deeper central midfielders alongside the current Leicester City stalwart Wilfred Ndidi and, although he was playing well, he was forced to reign in some of his natural attacking instincts. New manager Albert Stuivenberg installed Pozuelo as a traditional no.10, allowing him to focus on driving from midfield and releasing runners with beautifully weighted through-balls. He can now leave the defensive responsibilities to the Norwegian man-mountain Sander Berge and Ukrainian set-piece specialist Ruslan Malinvoskyi, and these three players now form the most well-balanced midfield in Belgium with Pozuelo at the forefront. His stats this season speak for themselves: 8 goals and 21 assists is a ridiculous output and he will surely garner interest from the top leagues in the summer, especially if he helps Genk to progress even further in the Europa League.



LMID: Henry Onyekuru – AS Eupen

Henry Onyekur-who? If you’ve not heard of the young Nigerian yet, you soon will. A product of the ASPIRE Academy, owners of Eupen, the 19-year-old winger played a key role as the small-town club won promotion to the Pro League last season. However, no one could have predicted Henry’s astronomical rise this season. At last count, he was being courted by Celtic, Chelsea, Arsenal, Sevilla, Borussia Dortmund, Lille and CSKA Moscow, with other top European clubs also reportedly keeping tabs on him. Given his record this season, this comes as no surprise. Eupen finished the regular season just 13th in the league, yet Henry was the season’s 5th top scorer with 12 goals, as well as another 7 assists to boot. More impressive is the fact that he rarely plays as a striker, and largely plys his trade on the left-hand side of midfield. Only one outfield player under 20 years of age in the top 31 European leagues has played a higher percentage of minutes for their side than Henry, a testament to his influence on the team. He routinely drifts past players with consummate ease and his pace on the break is frightening. He has confirmed that he will not be at Eupen next season and, if he does move to a top European league this summer, his name will surely be much more familiar to the global footballing audience this time next year.



ATT: Łukasz Teodorczyk – Anderlecht

When it comes to goalscoring, no one in Belgium has come close to Teodorczyk this season. The imposing Polish striker is comfortably out in front as the league’s top scorer; Club Brugge’s Jelle Vossen has 15, whilst Teodorczyk has 20. The Europa League has also proved fruitful, with Teodorczyk registering 5 goals in 9 appearances. Another two goals will see him become the highest scoring Anderlecht player in a season this century, a feat he will surely achieve barring any injury. His recent goalscoring form might not match up to his barnstorming opening to the season, but this has not been to Anderlecht’s detriment; so often opposition defences over-extend their resources in trying to keep him quiet that space opens up for those playing in support to pop up and score. Brought in on loan from Dynamo Kiev, his contract at Anderlecht was made permanent at the end of March to the delight of Anderlecht fans. He is a strong contender for signing of the season and, whilst Robert Lewandowski and Arkadiusz Milik might be keeping him out of the national set-up, Teodorczyk’s terrific form may soon see him competing for a spot in that formidable Polish front line.



ATT: Landry Dimata – KV Oostende

Bought from Standard Liège over the summer, the 19-year-old striker has been the spearhead of KV Oostende’s magnificent season in the Pro League. Dimata began the season as back-up to seasoned Pro League striker Zoro Cyriac, but since January Cyriac had been loaned out to Fulham after finding himself simply unable to compete with the Belgian U21 forward. With 13 goals in 29 appearances this season, Dimata has already found himself attracting the interest of big European clubs and, at present, a move to Wolfsburg in the summer looks an increasingly realistic prospect. His combination of pace and raw power have drawn comparisons to his compatriots Christian Benteke and Romelu Lukaku, and the parallels are clear: a little like the latter, his ability to turn a defender surpasses anyone else in the league. Although the Kustboys eventually lost the final of the Croky Cup on penalties to Zulte-Waregem, Dimata’s performance showed that he can turn it on in the biggest games, as he netted a brace, one goal of which was a back-heeled flick of sublime quality. The fee of around €500,000 paid for him by Oostende in the summer already looks pocket change in light of the fees Dimata will surely fetch in the future.


Alastair Gartenberg and George Nott (Belgian Pro League Analysts)
For more insights on the Belgian top tier including updates and opinion on the Playoffs, follow Alastair and George: @FRVoetbalAli & @FRVoetbalGeorge.

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