Maja Hitij
expert view

A superb European youngster and the Polish Zlatan: how Anderlecht can conjure a surprise

Youri Tielemans is crucial but there’s more to the team than just him, as Belgian football expert Mark Rodden explains.

THE LAST TIME Manchester United travelled to Belgium to play Anderlecht in a European game, they were taught a footballing lesson as the likes of Tomasz Radzinski and Jan Koller pulled them apart.

And though it’s been a few years since the club has won some silverware, they still pose a threat.

Mark Rodden, who commentates on the Jupiler League and covers European football for ESPN, says Anderlecht can certainly conjure a surprise.

Q: Who’s the most crucial ingredient in the Anderlecht team? Who makes them tick?

A: “The best player for Anderlecht this season probably needs no introduction at this stage.

Youri Tielemans won’t be 20 until May but with a new manager and a leaner look, the central midfielder has been in devastating form this season for the record Belgian champions.

RSC Anderlecht vs FSV Mainz 05 Maja Hitij Maja Hitij

He has 13 goals and nine assists in the league and has chipped in with five goals in Europe as well. He has great vision and is capable of finding the net from distance with either his left or right foot.

He is guaranteed to get a big move in the summer if he wants it. Anderlecht will be expecting at least €25-30 million in return but that asking price could well rise if he performs against United.”

Q: Do they have enough to worry a solid Manchester United defence? If chances do come their way, can they rely on a player to take them?

A: “Anderlecht usually play with one striker and were heavily reliant on him earlier in the season.

Lukasz Teodorczyk might not be a household name yet but there has reportedly been plenty of interest in him from Premier League and Bundesliga clubs.

He has 28 goals in all competitions in his first season at the club and his influence has been similar to that of Zlatan Ibrahimovic at Manchester United.

RSC Anderlecht vs FSV Mainz 05 Maja Hitij Maja Hitij

The 25-year-old picked up a shoulder injury during the weekend draw with Gent though and did not take a full part in training on Wednesday morning.

His form has dipped slightly in recent weeks and – with the league Anderlecht’s priority – he could be rested tonight.

If that is the case, Swedish forward Isaac Kiese Thelin should be much easier to deal with. He hasn’t set the world alight since joining on loan in January, although he did get what proved a late winning goal against Dundalk’s conquerors Zenit St Petersburg in the last 32.”

Q: Manchester United are consistently relying on Zlatan Ibrahimovic to step up and deliver. So, how can Anderlecht cut the supply line?

A: “Anderlecht have a plethora of attacking midfielders such as Romanian pair Nicolae Stanciu and Alexandru Chipciu – the former is a record Belgian signing.

Tielemans, Sofiane Hanni and the pace of Frank Acheampong, if he plays, can all pose problems.

But to allow players like that to flourish, the Belgian side have a hugely talented defensive midfielder.

Soccer - UEFA Europa League - Group J - Tottenham Hotspur v Anderlecht - White Hart Lane Adam Davy Adam Davy

Leander Dendoncker is still only 21 and has a bit to learn but he has a great engine and hasn’t missed a minute of league or Europa League action this summer. I like his attitude too.

Ibrahimovic scored four goals with PSG the last time he visited Anderlecht in a 5-0 Champions League win in 2013. But Dendoncker wasn’t playing in that game and his side are much stronger now than they were then.

“Zlatan is something special,” he said in the build-up to this one.

“But he only has two feet, like us”.

The main thing going against Anderlecht tonight is that they haven’t won the league since 2014 and they’re in the middle of a crucial play-off series. In contrast, United are probably focusing on this competition but that could make Anderlecht dangerous too as they will be able to play without much pressure.”

For more updates on European football, you can follow Mark on Twitter here

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