Mechelen v Gent
This midweek round of Pro League play-off games features the return fixtures from the weekend’s games. Gent defeated Mechelen 1-0 at home on Saturday, leaving today’s hosts 4 points behind Genk and the chance to play in Europe next season.
The weekend was yet another game in which Gent withstood pressure and came away with a perhaps undeserved win, they have now won 2 of their 3 play-off ties despite producing less xG in all 3 fixtures so far. They are likely to face a tougher test away at Mechelen today however, with de Kakkers having the second-best home record in the entire division during the regular season, and picking up their only win of the post-season in their home tie against Charleroi.
Mechelen have won 11 of 18 home games throughout the whole season, whereas on the road they have picked up maximum points just 5 times in 19 games, losing 11 times. Playing at the AFAS-Stadion is clearly a huge boost and they will be hoping today provides more of the same.
However, injuries are mounting for the hosts, with the team from just outside Antwerp now without a recognised left-back, or their starting right-back. Lucas Bijker looks as though he will be out for some time, whilst Sandy Walsh leaves a huge hole on the right side of defence, having played all but 4 league games so far and chipping with 10 G/A. Backup Iebe Swers has started just 5 full games in the Pro League this season, so will need to get up to speed quickly.
Gent have no real injury concerns, and likely will have the fresher squad owing to their consistent rotation so far through the play-offs. Mechelen meanwhile have had to stick with their strongest XI for all 3 games so far and having played just 3 days ago they will no doubt be tired and nursing knocks heading into this matchup.
Gent have seen a number of low-scoring games since the end of the season, drawing 0-0 with Anderlecht in the Belgian Cup Final and seeing a 1-0 defeat and victory respectively in 2 of their 3 play-off ties. The one exception was the 3-1 win over Charleroi, where the side from Ghent somehow managed 3 goals from 1.48xG, certainly something of a fluke.
Through the season they have scored 1.22 goals per away match, whilst conceding less than a goal per game to boot (0.83). This looks likely to continue with Mechelen searching for solutions to their defensive struggles and the simple fact that Gent are the best side in this play-off group by some margin. They have kept clean sheets in 8 of their 19 away games this season, and it would be no surprise to see them add to that today.
Gent are likely to keep tight control over this game, with a tired Mechelen side forced to come forward and attack against one of the division’s meanest defences, whilst attempting to fend off an attacking unit responsible for 60 goals already this season. A goalfest seems unlikely, especially given the quick-fire nature of this game.
Throughout the season so far, under 2.5 goals has landed in 11 of their 18 games against fellow top-8 opposition, a record that looks set to grow as this play-off series continues. Mechelen have seen under 2.5 goals in just under half of their 18 games against top-8 sides, and in the 3 games between the two sides, under 2.5 goals would have landed on 2 of 3 occasions.
Genk v Charleroi
Tuesday’s second fixture sees Charleroi making the cross-country trip from Hainaut to Limburg to face Genk. The two sides played out a fascinating 2-2 draw on Friday night, where Genk looked to have won it before conceding a 93rd minute equaliser to Vakoun Bayo. They thought they had won in a minute later but the goal was ruled out for offside. It was a really exciting game with some extremely well-taken goals, but ultimately leaves Charleroi still 5 points behind Genk.
The two sides will face off again on Tuesday evening and Genk will know a win here would be a huge step towards that European play-off spot, which must be appealing to every team right now, knowing it is likely they will face off against an extremely inconsistent Antwerp side.
In 4 away games against fellow top-4 sides Charleroi have just one win and one draw to sit alongside their 2 defeats. By contrast Genk have 3 wins from 4 games, their one home defeat coming against Gent. This side were huge in the play-offs last year, starting 10 points behind eventual champions Club Brugge and missing out on the title by just one point. They are showing that same form again, now unbeaten in 3 games and pulling out a gap of more than 3 points over both of their rivals.
The hosts have lost only 4 times at home this season, and drawn just 3 games. That leaves them with a record of 11 wins in 18, impressive for any side but considering they only finished 8th, this is a much better record than you may anticipate. They are the fourth-highest scorers in the division, and have seen plenty of high-scoring home ties this season.
In 8 games against top-8 opponents at the Luminus Arena they have seen over 2.5 goals land on 5 occasions. They have so far averaged 1.6xG per game in the play-offs, and have scored 2.3 goals per game. Their opponents have been able to generate 1.2xG per game, whilst scoring 1.3 goals per game. They have kept only one clean sheet so far, against the most-heavily rotated Gent side we have seen this post-season, and have conceded 2 goals in both of their other ties.
Charleroi meanwhile have seen over 2.5 goals in 6 of their 8 games away to top-8 opposition, and conceding at least 2 goals in 3 of 4 away games against their fellow members of this European play-off group. They have conceded an average of 2 goals per game in these play-offs, and have seen over 2.5 goals land in 2 of their 3 games so far.
The away side really do have to win this game to have any real chance, but their away form is very poor, having last won on the road away to relegated Beerschot on February 25th. I expect a similarly open game to the Friday night 2-2, and hopefully plenty of goals to go with it.
Genk are more than capable of exploiting any spaces Charleroi may leave in their hunt for maximum points, and know that a win would eliminate Charleroi from contention, being 8 points off Genk with 2 games left to play. Even a draw leaves them 5 points behind with 6 to play for, so expect the visitors to go all out for the 3 points. They may attempt to sit back and hold a lead if they can steal one, but Genk are a real threat and Charleroi’s defence is not great so I would expect Genk to find a way through at least once.
Written by an Andy verified content writer
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