It’s already started again at the highest level of Belgian football because of the winter World Cup. Flanders favorites to win a fourth consecutive national crown… For lack of real competition.
Two months to the day after the curtain fell for the late season, the Jupiler Pro League is back this Friday July 22 with a poster between Standard and La Gantoise. This 2022-2023 vintage is likely to be significant in more ways than one with a program shaken up by the first “winter” World Cup in history, but also with a battle at all levels of the competition.
The latter presents an 18-club format for the last time, which results in the relegation of three teams. In the upper echelons of the ranking, Club Brugge is once again the favorite for its own succession. The people of Bruges are counting on snagging a 19th title on their list, the 4th in a row, and can count on a solid squad among which there are still very popular names like Charles De Ketelaere and Noa Lang.
Alongside the two young nuggets were added players like Ferran Jutgla, Cyle Larin, Bjorn Meijer and Casper Nielsen. The biggest change for the Blauw en Zwart happened on the bench, with the advent of Carl Hoefkens at the head of the team. The former defender of the Club and the Red Devils took over from the Dutchman Alfred Schreuder, who returned to the country on the side of Ajax.
The surprise effect of the Union exceeded, the flight of Mazzu to Sporting?
Surprise of the late championship and opponent of the Bruges for the title until the final days of the Champion’s Playoffs, the Union Saint-Gilloise will have to confirm their extraordinary 2021-2022 exercise completed in second place. This season, the Unionists will no longer benefit from the element of surprise and will now be expected at the turn, especially with a workforce that has seen the departure of its top scorer Deniz Undav to Brighton or one of its best players, Casper Nielsen, in northern Venice.
Great architect of the rise in D1A, then of the fight for the title last season, coach Felice Mazzu has also left the yellow and blue ship for Anderlecht. He was replaced by his former deputy Karel Geraerts.
With the arrival of Mazzu, Anderlecht is also starting on a new footing after the Vincent Kompany era. The former Red Devil has settled in Burnley in English D2, taking with him midfielder Josh Cullen. In addition to the departure of the Irishman, Mazzu will also have to compose a new offensive line since the departures of Joshua Zirkzee and Christian Kouame, at the end of loans. To do this, the Mauves have hired the young Italian Sebastiano Esposito and the Portuguese hope Fabio Silva. Under the guidance of their new coach, the residents of Lotto Park will be keen to do better than their third place finish last year.
Fourth in the Champions’ Playoffs, Antwerp is once again showing enormous ambition, materialized by the arrivals of Vincent Janssen and the Red Devil Toby Alderweireld, but also the Dutch Mark van Bommel as coach (replacing Brian Priske) and Marc Overmars as athletic director.
For its part, La Gantoise just missed the train for the Champion’s Playoffs and consoled itself with the Belgian Cup. Although handicapped by several injuries, Hein Vanhaezebrouck’s squad will be counting on the arrival of Hugo Cuypers, from Mechelen, to get on the right track this season.
Genk expected at the turn, the unknown for the Rouches
After a disappointing year, Racing Genk hopes to raise the bar and do much better than eighth place. To achieve this, the Limburgers have brought in coach Wouter Vrancken from FC Mechelen and the Argentinian Nicolas Castro. The latter will have to make people forget the departure of Kristian Thorstvedt to Sassuolo. In the offensive sector, the Genkois also record the return of Cyriel Dessers, who will be able to make the powder talk with Théo Bongonda and the former Golden Shoe Paul Onuachu.
Standard also remains on a disappointing season and, after their takeover by the investment group 777 Partners, the Rouches will be in a period of transition and reconstruction with a fairly calm transfer market for the moment with only one arrival: the Dutchman Noah Ohio.
For the descent, the suspense will be complete with three ejection seats this season. Teams like Zulte Waregem, Ostend, Eupen, Kortrijk or even Seraing will have to show a much better face than last season to avoid being scared until the end. Promoted, Westerlo returns to the top flight after five seasons in the lower echelon. The people of Campin hope to ride this good wave and, why not, imitate their Brussels predecessors.