Just seven games into the new league season, manager Rene Weiler was sacked after a surprisingly poor start from last season’s champions. It means a lot of the information gathered on Anderlecht since the draw was made will now be out of date, with interim boss Nicolas Frutos promising a different style of football and trying out two different formations in his first two games.
It’s been a rapid fall from grace from a side which won the Belgian title by seven points last season. Having managed to keep hold of most of their top players there were few warning signs ahead of the campaign. Playmaker Youri Tielemans had departed the club, but in many ways Sven Kums - a full Belgian international - was a rightful successor. But instead of dominating the opposition, Anderlecht struggled badly, leading to Weiler’s exit.
“A lot of players wanted to leave,” said Stéphane Vande Velde, a journalist for Le Soir. “A lot of players thought that it would year to leave to go to Germany, England or Spain. One of these players was Leander Dendoncker. He was the other young star along with Tielemans, and when he saw Tielemans leaving he thought that was a good time for him to leave, but the transfer never came. Anderlecht wanted £25million and nobody wants to pay that. Dendoncker wasn’t good during August.
“It was the same for defender Kara Mbodji. He’s a physically strong defender but he’s got a problem with his knee, and that put off a lot of clubs. So, a lot of players weren’t in a good mood to play well in the month of August.”
Another reason for Weiler’s exit, if not for the slide in performance, was the style of play, something which puts Rodgers at a difficult position as he tries to figure out how Anderlecht will operate on Wednesday evening.
Weiler liked his team to play organised, defensive football. Just as fans would rebel at Celtic if they lined up in such a manner throughout the Scottish football season, the same goes for Anderlecht. They are the big club in Belgium and fans expect the biggest clubs to go out and attack the opposition. This is something they’ve been promised under Frutos. Whether they get it or not is a different story.
“Weiler said it was the way to become the champions because there were a lot of changes last year, and the best way to do that was to organise and then to have better football for the year after. This year we’re waiting for good football, better football, and it never comes,” said Vande Velde. “It’s his [Frutos] first experience as a head coach. He wants to play more offensive football, but he’s only got four matches to show his skillset and Celtic is the third. We may see another coach in a week, but that may depend on what the result is tonight.”
When asked about whether there had been an improvement in the side since Weiler’s sacking, Vande Velde was emphatic in his answer: “No, no, no. Maybe better in the cup, which they played last week, but it was against a lower league team.
“I think they’ll go attacking tonight because that’s where the better players are. The defence might be weaker. Kara was carrying an injury and now has a lack of rhythm, he might not play. The left-back [Ivan Obradović] is also injured. With only two defenders out of four, it’s difficult to play defensively.
“For the moment the defence is the weakness, but that’s very strange because it was the best part of the team last year. The pairing of Kara and Uroš Spajić is very good, they compliment each other. But this year there have been a lot of goals conceded. Maybe that’s to do with injuries and the players having to change a lot. For the moment it’s not the best sector in the team.”
One familiar face for Celtic, if newspaper reports from January were to be believed, is attacker Henry Onyekuru. The Nigerian was on Celtic’s radar and they were even said to have made a bid for the young player who eventually signed for Everton from Eupen, before returning to Belgium for a loan spell with Anderlecht.
“He’s a mix between a striker and a winger,” explained Vande Velde. “He’s very quick, fast, has good technique but he’s someone who loves playing deep, he’s not always in the box. He can score, which he proved last year, but he’s not a killer. Sometimes he can lose three, four, five big moments to score. When he plays he plays well. But in the one striker system it’s difficult to find a position for him, and when he plays he plays on the wing.”