Can Royal Antwerp end a six-plus decade Belgium Pro League title drought?

    Can Royal Antwerp end a six-plus decade Belgium Pro League title drought?
    Chedko / Shutterstock.com
    15/08/22 988

    It has been 65 years since Royal Antwerp won the top flight of Belgian football. A lot has happened in the six-plus decades of football since the team last lifted the league title.

    Now, with a hearty sum of money spent on players over the last 18 months, Royal Antwerp look like strong contenders to win the Belgium Pro League this season.

    Four matches have been played in the Pro League with Royal Antwerp sitting atop the standings with a perfect 12 points from 12 points available. No team has won all four matches other than Antwerp.

    Manager Mark van Bommel signed in the offseason to take over the reins of the team after Brian Priske left at the end of last term.

    Priske lasted a mere one season and when he couldn’t deliver a title or Champions League football, the club parted ways with the Danish coach. Van Bommel arrived with baggage, however.

    After a strong start to the 2021-22 Bundesliga season with Wolfsburg in which the team topped the table, the Wolves nosedived and Van Bommel was sacked. The Dutchman has got the best out of Antwerp this season so far, but the club has spent a large sum of money to sign top players.

    In the summer of 2021, Antwerp signed Belgian midfielder Radja Nainggolan after his contract with Inter Milan expired. Michael Frey, Bjorn Engels, and Sam Vines were all recruited in the summer transfer windows to strengthen the side.

    After a fourth-place finish last campaign, Antwerp spent heavily again (for a Belgian team) to sign former Tottenham Hotspur defender Toby Alderweireld. Jurgen Ekkelenkamp and Gaston Avila also joined in the offseason of 2022. Former Spurs striker Vincent Janssen also signed for the club.

    While Antwerp have a strong attack, it is the defence that is winning games for the Reds. Antwerp have the Pro League’s best defence with an average of 0.5 goals conceded per game.

    In four matches, Royal Antwerp have conceded a mere two goals. Meanwhile, the attack has scored eight goals and the team averages 2.0 goals per game.

    Forward Michael-Ange Balikwisha and Frey have combined for six goals, three apiece, and are the keys to Antwerp’s attack. There is a worry that if either of those players stop scoring, then the team will stop picking up points.

    Van Bommel is a defence first coach. He will hope the side can continue to play well on the defensive side of the ball and that the attack will do just enough to ensure the team wins matches.

    The Pro League isn’t straightforward to win. The top team at the end of the 34-game season doesn’t win the title. Rather, the Pro League makes use of a playoff round featuring the top-four teams at the end of the campaign.

    Royal Antwerp could finish the regular season in the lead, but Van Bommel needs the team to keep scoring. If they make the playoffs once more, then the title could be anyone’s once again this term.