R. Standard de Liège and RSC Anderlecht declared a truce earlier this season following a particularly bruising encounter, and new-found friendly relations will be tested this weekend when the Eerste Klasse gets under way after the winter break.
The campaign was in its infancy when the sides – champions and runners-up for the last two seasons – met on 30 August. Even by the fixture's exacting standards it was a bruising encounter, a 1-1 draw overshadowed by injuries for Anderlecht's Jan Polák and Marcin Wasilewski. Standard midfielder Axel Witsel was banned for eight matches for the tackle which left Wasilewski with a broken leg, but the clubs have been rebuilding bridges ever since. Key figures met for a symbolic exchange of shirts, and the goodwill was extended on Thursday when Anderlecht coach Ariël Jacobs sent newly crowned Golden Boot winner Milan Jovanović a message of congratulation. "This is a positive sign with Sunday's match coming up," said the Standard striker. "This is a beautiful gesture of fair play. It should always be like this."
Sunday will be the true litmus test. Despite the loss of two key players, Anderlecht have gone from strength to strength since August. They went into the winter break three points clear of the pack and 17 ahead of a Standard team less able to cope without Witsel and the injured Steven Defour. However, Witsel is back, the skipper is nearing full fitness and the new format in Belgium where points are halved after 30 games and the top six play off for the title means there is still hope. Not that Defour is getting ahead of himself. "Anderlecht are no more important to us than Gent, Club Brugge or Genk," he said. "We must focus on ourselves. Seventh, where we are, or eighth is unacceptable. Missing the play-offs would be a catastrophe."
Standard will have their work cut out at home on Sunday, with Anderlecht showing no signs of slowing after Tuesday's 5-0 friendly victory over Dutch leaders FC Twente in La Manga. "It was a good conclusion to winter training but nothing more," cautioned Jacobs, who has signed Honduran midfielder Mario Martinez on loan until the end of the season. "We've worked well and the quality was there – all very positive given our program for the next four months. Standard is the first match in a long run."