Royal Antwerp v Union Saint-Gilloise
The first game of two Pro League Play-Off I fixtures on Sunday sees current league leaders Union Saint-Gilloise head to Antwerp. The hosts have been out-of-sorts lately and look to be the weakest side in this play-off group by some margin. They fought hard last time out against in-form Club Brugge but a deflected goal from Tajon Buchanan was enough to seal the win in a tense 1-0 encounter.
Having played much better than they had for weeks preceding the play-offs, to have lost this game must come as a bitter disappointment, not least as they now find themselves 10 points from the title and 7 points from second with just 5 games to play.
The Reds also head into this game without centre-back Abdoulaye Seck, after his last gasp sending-off against Club Brugge. He has started the last 7 games in a row, and his absence on the left side of the defence will no doubt be exploited by Union’s attacking talent. Deniz Undav has 3 assists in the play-offs alone after a single game, and right-sided attackers Dante Vanzeir and Bart Nieuwkoop both benefited from their top scorer turning provider.
Union on the other hand regained their grasp on the title after weeks of struggling at home, putting Anderlecht away 3-1 in a convincing victory. If we exclude the 5-0 win awarded to them in the final game of the season (which was abandoned due to crowd trouble in the away end at 0-0 with 10 minutes to play), then this was their first win at home in 4 attempts, and the perfect start to what will be a tense play-off campaign.
The visitors have won 14 of 17 away games this season, and have lost just once on the road, a 3-1 loss against Mechelen way back in August last year. From October 2nd through until the end of the season, they have dropped just 2 points as a visiting side, those 2 points coming in a tough 0-0 against title rivals Club Brugge.
Antwerp meanwhile have struggled for consistency, and have only won 1 of 3 home games against fellow top-4 sides during the regular season. They have just 2 wins in their previous 5 home games, both against sides that finished in the bottom-3. With their potential for European football now looking likely to be limited to the Conference League, they may struggle for motivation, whilst their opponents Union are near-guaranteed the chance to play in the Champions League, and need every point they can muster to hold off a superb Club Brugge side for the title.
An Antwerp win here would be an enormous upset. It would be Union’s first away loss in almost 9 months. The hosts have just 4 goals in their previous 5 Pro League fixtures, the same number they have conceded across that span. Union meanwhile have scored 14 in their last 5 completed league games. Running up the score seems unlikely, and this game could remain tight, but the visitors appear to be back in the kind of form that allowed them to disappear off into the distance at the top of the table earlier this season and it is hard to see any scenario in which Antwerp emerge with the 3 points.
Anderlecht v Club Brugge
The final game of the Pro League weekend in Belgium should be a really interesting affair. Anderlecht on their day can cause any side problems, but their defensive frailty continues to undermine their attacking talent. Vincent Kompany’s defensive ability doesn’t appear to be rubbing off on his young squad, and they face a tough test against the league’s most in-form side.
Club Brugge are on an absolute tear, having won 9 league matches in a row. Their last dropped points came in February, making up for an inconsistent season up to that point. This 9-game winning run has included 4 games against sides also competing in the play-offs, and apart from last week’s 1-0 win against Antwerp, the champions have won them all by at least two goals. They have won their last five away games in a row by an aggregate score of 15-3.
Despite this, it will be a tough test this week, with Anderlecht having an incredible record at home this season, losing only twice. They have drawn plenty of games however, and have not been convincing in either of their previous two outings, firstly against cross-city rivals Union last weekend, nor the week before in the Belgian Cup final when they were lucky to even take Gent to the penalty shoot-out that they eventually lost.
Anderlecht have not beaten either of the top-2 in 5 attempts this season, drawing twice with Brugge and losing 3 times against Union. This woeful record only improves slightly if you also include Antwerp, where they won once and lost on the other occasion. Brugge meanwhile have an impeccable record against the other play-off sides, unbeaten in 7 games.
Even if Anderlecht were able to take the lead, their defence is so shaky that it would be a huge surprise if they were able to hold on against the league’s most effective attacking unit. Brugge were admittedly not at their best last week, but they knuckled down and ground out a win against a disciplined and tough to beat Antwerp side. On the back of a monster winning run, and with 3 points the gap to their title rivals, they cannot afford to slip up, and I can’t see Anderlecht having enough to take all 3 points for themselves.
A draw would be a small surprise, but having drawn twice already this season, not entirely unexpected. If you want to push the boat out a little, Club Brugge to Win outright at well over evens is a very appealing price, but personally I’ll be sticking with Double Chance as it is fantastic value at 1.53.
Written by an Andy verified content writer
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