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Dead rubber: Standard Liege v OH Leuven shows greatest problem with Belgian Pro League play-off format



On Saturday afternoon Standard Liege will face OH Leuven at home in a game many would see to be a complete waste of time. Both sides are competing in the second play-offs in Belgium, where the winner gets a chance of European football in a game against the side that finishes either fourth or fifth in the first play-off, depending on the cup final.

After last weekends results, neither OH Leuven or Standard have any chance of making it into first place. As such, they have absolutely nothing to play for but pride at the end of a long season. The away side are just happy to be here, having avoided the relegation play-offs with the last kick of the game against KV Mechelen. For the hosts, their abysmal display against Gent in the opening week of the play-offs confirmed that they are well and truly ready for their disappointing season to end.

Yet for both sides, there is still a long way to go before they can start thinking about the summer break and next season. Including the fixture this weekend, there are still nine more games in the play-offs. At the moment, only Gent, KV Mechelen and Sint-Truiden have a realistic chance of winning the group. For Westerlo, Standard and Leuven, these are all meaningless games.

This shows the biggest problem with the leagues format. While the play-offs for the top six to get into Europe and win the league offer four/five chances of success, the slim chance of having anything to play for in the second play-off makes most of the matches redundant. Furthermore, even winning the mini-group doesn’t guarantee anything, as you could easily just lose that game to the side from play-off one. This also brings into question why a team who doesn’t finish in the top six at the end of the regular season should even have a chance of making it into Europe in the first place.

For example, if they played the team finishing fourth and maybe got a lucky 1-0 win, they would be in Europe over three teams who finished higher than them over the course of 30 matches. Moreover, teams above will have played more meaningful games over the course of the play-offs, which one would presume would have higher intensity and could thus lead to more injuries. This hardly seems fair or a good outcome for the Belgian coefficient going forward.

With the format constantly being discussed and tinkered with, perhaps this seasons experience in play-off two will see it finally scrapped. If there needs to be play-offs, keeping the top six and the bottom four makes sense for entertainment value, but this weekends match shows that for the rest, it can quickly become a series of dead rubber fixtures that no one wants to see.

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