Your guide to Belgian football

On Friday, the Belgian football league kicked off with the match between Club Bruges and Charleroi (Bruges took it 2-0). In this article, a brief summary of everything you have to know about the Belgian league.

Anderlecht are the favourites, again

Anderlecht are the defending champions and are hoping to clinch a third successive crown. However, the Brussels club lost a lot of experience after midfielder Lucas Biglia and strikers Milan Jovanovic and Dieumerci Mbokani left the club. Can some young Serbian players take over their role?

Other members of the "big five" ready to challenge Anderlecht

Club Brugge, Anderlecht's eternal rivals (photo on top from last-season's clash), are being considered as Anderlecht's main challengers, although the Bruges club sold the league's top scorer, the Colombian striker Carlos Bacca, to Sevilla. Other challengers for the title include the 3 other clubs that are traditionally part of the "big five": KRC Genk of Limburg, Standard of Liège and AA Gent.

KV Oostende, against all odds?

There is one newcomer in the top flight this season: KV Oostende. Ostend takes the place of Beerschot. "KVO" as the club is dubbed, has the smallest budget in the top flight, with only 4 million euros. Compare this to Anderlecht's budget of 35 million euros or Standard's budget of 30 million, and you will understand why KVO is considered by many to be the first candidate to be relegated. However, in the past, newly-promoted clubs have often created the surprise by staying up, thanks to their enthusiasm.

A first for AA Gent

The Belgian football league has a bad reputation where the infrastructure is concerned. There are many old stadiums that are not at all up to modern standards. However, Belgian football welcomes one brand new stadium this season, the Ghelamco Arena in Ghent.

The new stadium has a capacity of 20,000 and offers modern comfort to the spectators. It's the first new stadium in Belgium in 14 years, as at the end of the nineties the Waterschei stadium was refurbished to create the Cristal Arena for KRC Genk. Insiders believe the new stadium can give AA Gent a boost and some believe the team will be one of the surprises of the new season.

How does it work?

The football season has two parts: first, there is a "preliminary stage" consisting of a round-robin competition for the top flight's 16 teams. After 30 days of play, it's "money time" at the end of March. The best 6 teams will battle it out for European football and for the league title in a competition with 10 days of play (Play-off 1).

The bottom two will fight against relegation, while the other clubs (numbers 7-14) will play a mini-competition which will see the eventual winner play against the number 4 of the Play-off 1 competition to battle it out for the last European ticket. This season is the last one under the present regulations (which were introduced to create more suspense and generate more cash).

The system will be the subject of evaluation and will probably be adapted for the season 2014-2015. One of the things that is being criticized, is the fact that the points are divided by half for Play-off 1 after the first competition. Anderlecht, a winner of the preliminary phase over the past years, was the biggest victim of this system that was created to bring the clubs closer together in the standings and thus create more suspense.

West-Flanders is the place to be (if you like football)

The league sees 16 teams competing, from which 12 are located in Flanders, 3 in Wallonia and 1 in Brussels. West-Flanders boasts 5 clubs and heads the list (Club Bruges and Cercle Bruges, KV Ostend, Zulte-Waregem and Kortrijk). East Flanders has 3 (AA Gent, Lokeren and Waasland-Beveren) and Antwerp 2 (Lierse and KV Mechelen). Brussels has only one club left in the top flight (Anderlecht), just like Limburg province (KRC Genk) and Flemish Brabant (OH Leuven).

Hainaut province has 2 clubs (RAEC Mons and Charleroi), and Liège just one (Standard). Note that the city of Antwerp, the largest city in the Flemish region, has no club in the top league, after Beerschot was relegated last season.