Lesser-fancied European Teams to watch this season #6 - Anderlecht
The European football season kicked off last weekend and with the big leagues such as the Premier League starting on Friday, here is a team you may want to keep an eye on this season from the rest of Europe - R.S.C Anderlecht.
In the heart of Brussels, les Mauves et Blancs are the most successful Belgian team in history. They have the won the Belgian First Division an extraordinary 34 times, which is more than the three other normal contenders for the league - Standard Liège, Genk and Club Brugge - put together. The Belgian First Division has a very different system to most leagues across Europe. There are 16 teams in the division, with only one team getting relegated. The teams play each other twice and then the top six would qualify for the championship play-offs, while the other nine teams would contest for play-offs for the Europa League play-off rounds. The nine teams are also joined by the the top three of the second division and then they are split into two groups. The winners of the two groups then play each other in a semi-final. The winner of that semi-final then play the fifth placed team of the championship play-offs, for a place in the Europa League qualifying stages. The championship play-offs is the six best teams from the regular season, in one mini league. The points earned in the regular season is halved and then the teams play each other twice. The winning team qualify automatically for the Champions League, while the second go to the qualifying stages of the Champions League, the next three teams get Europa League football, while sixth gets nothing.
Last season, Anderlecht finished in sixth spot, so for the first time in over 50 years there is no European football at the Constant Vanden Stock Stadium in the 2019-20 campaign. The club went through three managers last season, first Belgian Hein Vanhaezebrouck was sacked in December whilst they were fourth in the league, then Karim Belhocine was the caretaker manager until January when Dutchman Fred Rutten was hired before being sacked in April. This came after their match against Standard Liège was abandoned after Anderlecht fans threw flares and smoke bombs on the pitch, whilst Anderlecht were losing 2-0. Therefore this season is a rebuild and rebound season.
The Brussels-based team have somewhat taken a gamble but a trusted one. They have brought back the imperial centre-back Vincent Kompany as not just a player, but as a player-manager. This move shocked world football as Kompany had just led Manchester City to another Premier League title and an unprecedented domestic treble.
His influence and statute, despite the lack of European football, has been able to attract some strong players for Anderlecht. The team needed to improve offensively after scoring only eight goals in the play-offs round, the worst in that league table. They have brought in striker Landry Dimata from VfL Wolfsburg and attacking midfielder Michel Vlap from Heerenveen. However the headline signing was the capture of Kompany's former Manchester City teammate Samir Nasri, which could prove to be critical in re-establishing Anderlecht back in Europe.
Anderlecht are famed for their academy, with players such as the new Leicester signing Youri Tielemans, Wolves' Leander Dendoncker and Manchester United striker Romelu Lukaku coming through the youth ranks of the club. To do well this season, Kompany will need the likes of Nasri and Dimata to be hugely influential. Anderlecht are certainly one of the challengers for the league title.