Club Brugge looking for Champions League spark vs. Benfica

Updated Feb. 14, 2023 8:39 a.m. ET

BRUSSELS (AP) — Three months ago, Club Brugge was hailed as the Bayern of Belgium.

Now it's only in fourth place in the Belgian league as new coach Scott Parker struggles to spark a revival, and the Champions League will provide another tough test when two-time European champion Benfica visits in the round of 16 on Wednesday.

After Brugge won the Belgian league title for the third season in a row in May — and the 18th time overall — with an enthralling attacking brand of football, hopes were high at the club that it was just the start of a soccer dynasty as strong as Bayern Munich's in Germany.

Placed in a tough Champions League group that also included Porto, Bayer Leverkusen and Atletico Madrid, Brugge lived up to expectations last autumn to advance to the the last 16 of the competition for the first time in three decades.


Led by goalkeeper Simon Mignolet's 31 saves in the group phase, Brugge produced five clean sheet while developing clinical efficiency up front as prolific striker Ferran Jutgla blossomed into the team's attacking leader.

But like the rest of his teammates, the up-and-coming Spanish forward got trapped in a domestic downward spiral that started in November and has yet to be stopped.

The club has won just two of their past 13 matches in all competitions and is 20 points behind league leader Genk. Looking for a jolt, club officials sacked previous coach Carl Hoefkens at the end of December to replace him with Parker, but the move has so far failed to bring a resurgence.

It has, however, restored stability as Parker drew five of his seven matches in charge, including an encouraging and lively 1-1 draw last week against second-place Union Saint Gilloise in a game with many scoring chances.

“Things are moving in the right direction,” said center-back Jack Hendry ahead of Benfica's visit to Jan Breydelstadion.

Parker had been out of work since being fired by Bournemouth in August. His ill-fated stint at Bournemouth included a 9-0 mauling at the hands of Liverpool that led to his dismissal following his comments about a lack of depth in the squad.

Parker seems to have left criticism behind since he settled in the “Venice of the North," despite mustering just one league win so far.

“What I can say is that I found a group disappointed with its results, but very receptive, with a great desire to progress," he told Le Soir newspaper. “I didn’t arrive in a club where the foundations were in sand, but it was necessary to consolidate all that, by working a lot. It takes time. At six years old, my son would have liked to learn to ride a bike in half an hour. That’s not possible.”

The Benfica test will show whether Parker has truly reinforced the foundations. Benfica is unbeaten in its last seven games in the Champions League, with four wins and three draws. It is trying to win three games in a row in the European competition for the first time since the 2005-06 season.

Despite losing Enzo Fernández following his high-profile move to Chelsea, German coach Roger Schmidt still can count on forward Gonçalo Guedes, and also possibly on new signings Casper Tengstedt and Andreas Schjelderup. Out injured is left back Mihailo Ristic.


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Tales Azzoni in Madrid contributed to this report.