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#FirstTeam #EuropaLeague #PreMatch #Opinion #RoyalAntwerp

Royal Antwerp analysis with European football expert Andy Brassell

Wed 28 October 2020, 12:54|Tottenham Hotspur

As we step back into European action and the group stages of the UEFA Europa League, we’ve again tapped into the knowledge of European football expert Andy Brassell, a regular on the panel of BT Sport's Live UCL Goals Show and the pages and podcasts of the likes of The Guardian, Football Ramble and talkSPORT.

Next up, Matchday Two opponents Royal Antwerp, who qualified for the group stage of the tournament after beating champions Club Brugge in last season’s Belgian Cup Final. They also beat Bulgarian champions Ludogorets 2-1 away in Razgrad on Matchday One.

Andy on Royal Antwerp

“Antwerp qualified by winning the Belgian Cup and, a bit like what happened in France, the final was meant to happen in March, but it ended up being a curtain-raiser to this season instead. The Belgian league was stopped as soon as everything came to a halt due to the coronavirus, the Belgians were the first to write off their league season.

“Antwerp finished in fourth, but you have to take that with a little pinch of salt. They could have gone on to do better. Antwerp are a sleeping giant. They are a big team going back 30, 40 years, but then in the 1990s they had a partnership with Manchester United to look after some of their younger players, quite a few went over to Belgium, and they slipped below the levels of Anderlecht, Standard Liege, Club Brugge and clubs like that.

“But then they got to the cup final, a real effort for them as they lost some big players at the end of last season. Stephen Defour, who played for Burnley, was one of them. Eight of the players who would have featured in the original cup final had left by the time the final came around. So, for them to go out and beat Club Brugge, the champions, was a real effort..."

“Part of how they managed to do that was Ivan Leko, a really good coach, a former Club Brugge coach who won the league with them going back to 2017/18 before he went off to the Middle East (Al-Ain, Abu Dhabi, in 2019), he has a little pulling power when you look at some of the players they’ve been able to bring in like Birger Verstraete, who has come in on loan from Koln, he’ll do a good job in midfield, he does a lot of unglamourous work in there.

Ritchie De Laet, people will know from his spells at Stoke and Leicester, but I think the main man for them is Dieumerci Mbokani, who played for Norwich and Hull. He’s 34 now, and he’s played for some big clubs down the years, Dynamo Kiev, Standard Liege, Monaco, Wolfsburg, he’s played at a really good level and continues to score a lot of goals in the Belgian league.

“He’s a player who will really relish playing an English side with his height, his power, he loves getting stuck in and whoever plays centre-back for Spurs will know they’ve had a game when they come off having played against Mbokani. I find it quite astonishing how he can keep scoring so consistently at his age, and he’s very experienced, which will be a big thing for them as well.”