Unlike most topflights in Europe, Belgium’s Jupiler League opts for a playoff to determine its champion. Belgium’s model is different from the MLS playoffs. The Jupiler League has a tiered playoff system to determine the league’s European spots, final table, and relegated clubs.
The top six finishers in the regular season playing each other home and away (Playoff I). The winner is the Belgian Pro League champion, regardless of who finished first in the regular season. Playoff 1 determines all of Belgium’s European places except for the final Europa League place. One other tweak. To set the Playoff I table, divide the regular season point totals by two and round up. This means that regular season points count in the playoffs, but not in the straightforward way you might expect. In 2011-12, Anderlecht finished first in the regular season with a six-point lead at the top of the table. That turned into four points when the playoffs started.
The Europa League playoff (Playoff II) is all the teams that finished 7th through 14th forming two groups. The groups aren’t straightforward. Group A is the 7, 9, 12, and 14th-place teams and Group B is the 8, 10, 11, and 13th place teams. This is also a home and away setup, with the two group winners playing a home and away series to produce a Playoff 2 winner. That team plays the Playoff 1 team that finishes in the final European slot for that spot in the Europa League.
The relegation playoff (Playoff III) is as convoluted as the others. Featuring only the bottom two teams, they play each other five times. The 15th-place team starts with a three-point advantage. The Playoff III loser drops to the second division. However, the winner doesn’t immediately stay in the topflight. What winning means in the relegation playoff is another playoff, this time against the top two finishers in Belgium’s second division.
What this means for Sacha Kljestan’s Anderlecht is ten more games with a chance at the Jupiler League title. Unlike the previous two seasons, Anderlecht didn’t finish the regular season at the top of the table. In 2013-14, they were 3rd with 57 points. Club Brugge finished 2nd with 63 points and Standard Liege topped the Jupiler League table with 67. Onto the playoffs, where that points difference translated into 38 for Standard Liege, 37 for Zulte Waregem, 36 for Anderlecht, and 35 for Club Brugge.
So far, it hasn’t been any easier for Anderlecht in the playoffs than it was in the regular season. They’re still 3rd, drawing 0-0 with Zulte-Waregem on Tuesday with Kljestan on the bench.