Bring on the sleeping giant

  • by Staff Writer
  • Thursday, 6th October 2022

Anderlecht's veteran Jan Vertonghen is a player who knows a little bit about West Ham United.

The 35-year-old centre half spent eight seasons at Tottenham for whom he made 232 appearances in all competitions, including several against the Hammers.

One of Belgium's most experienced players, with no fewer than 141 international caps under his belt, he is a player who had seen it all during his long career as a professional that began with Ajax some 16 years ago.

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So when Vertonghen - who returned to his home country in the summer following two seasons in Portugal with Benfica - says that his current club's latest opponents have the capacity to trouble the Premier League's top six, it would be wise to sit up and take notice.

"I see West Ham as a sleeping giant," he said during Wednesday's pre-match press conference. "It's a team with a lot of resources and a big fan base. They have the potential to attack the top six in England, so tomorrow’s game is just a very interesting fixture.

"The external expectations about our chances might be more moderate than in the domestic league, but that doesn’t make a difference for us, the players. We really do want to show something."

Anderlecht go into tonight's meeting at the 22,500 capacity Constant Vanden Stock Stadium - aka Lotto Park - as underdogs, having struggled in the Jupiler League this season where they have lost half of their ten league games so far.

Yet Vertonghen maintains there are plenty of reasons for fans of Les Mauves et Blancs to remain optimistic ahead of tonight's meeting - the first of two between the clubs in the space of a week.

"Of course, I always want to win our games," he reflected. "But despite the results, I do see a lot of positives in our performances. I simply believe that we have a very good group.
"There are a lot of young players [in our squad] but they are so talented and have the right mentality. It is up to older players like myself and the staff to provide them with the necessary guidance. I needed that guidance too at that age.

"I am obviously frustrated when we don't win, but I would be even more frustrated if I would have felt that there is a lack of connection in the group. That’s clearly not the case, and that’s what keeps me and the whole group positive as well.

"I am convinced that with the combination of this group of players and this staff, we can achieve good things."

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Meanwhile Anderlecht's manager Felice Mazzu agreed with his experienced defender, while insisting that his team go into the game in a strong position having won and drawn their opening two Conference League group matches.

"My players remain positive and we are working together towards that particular turning point, towards a specific moment that can liberate us to win our games," he said. "I see the game mainly in that context: it's a chance to grab hold of a positive flow and keep improving.

"The Conference League is a different competition. We are certainly not in a bad position with four points from the first two games. Of course, West Ham is a very strong opponent with a lot of resources and a great history.

"But that doesn't take away the fact that we want to show [the best of] ourselves."

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