Jiangsu Sainty began the 2013 season with a bang, defeating reigning Super League champions Guangzhou Evergrande 2-1 in the 2013 Chinese Super Cup. The traditional season opener at Evergrande’s Tianhe stadium may not be top of either sides’ list of priorities, but it is a result that will both help Jiangsu recover from a midweek humbling in Seoul and ensure Evergrande are aware of the difficult season ahead.
It was a result and a performance that will greatly please Sainty boss Dragan Okuka who saw his side emerge on top despite surrendering a massive advantage in possession to their opponents. Evergrande are almost undisputed in their status as the best team in China, but were casual in their approach to the encounter and were made to pay by a compact and well organised Jiangsu side.
The hosts had dominated early proceedings, keeping the ball well but failing to open up their stubborn opponents. They would, though, soon be made to pay for some of their lackadaisical play. Belarussian midfielder Sergey Krivets picked up the ball on the right and, in the absence of any defensive pressure, had time to pick out a cross towards striker Hamdi Salihi which was turned home by the unfortunate Zhang Linpeng. It was a goal that will greatly disappoint the Evergrande coaching staff.
And so, the game continued in a similar fashion with the hosts struggling to incorporate striker Elkeson into the game and offering too little quality with their final ball. On the half hour mark, they would be punished once more. The energetic Salihi beat marker Feng Xiaoting to a long-ball, heading down for the onrushing Krivets to add a deserved second goal for the underdogs. Once more, Evergrande’s defence was in disarray with midfielders failing to track runs and Jiangsu showing no mercy in clinically taking advantage of the space left in-front of the defence.
Lippi responded quickly and introduced Zhao Xuri into midfield to replace the ineffective Huang Bowen, with the hosts immediately looking more secure in defence. Elkeson, who by now had swapped role with Gao Lin, was beginning to show his quality and work-rate, and soon forced a fine save out of goalkeeper Guan Zhen. The follow up, gathered by Muriqui was chipped across goal where Gao failed to make meaningful contact on a simple header with the goal at his mercy. It was the story of the afternoon for Gao who continually gave the ball away and was removed shortly after half-time.
With his team 2-0 down at the break, Lippi gave it just 10 minutes before making adjustments. Feng Renliang, making his debut, replaced Gao and Paraguayan Lucas Barrios came on in place of Elkeson as the hosts switched to a 3-5-2 formation. While still commanding possession, the change which saw Feng and Sun Xiang operate as wing-backs brought more space in attacking areas. The wing-back duo, though, continually disappointed with their service into the area.
A goal came with 20 minutes remaining on the clock and, somewhat predictably, it was the excellent Muriqui who drew the mistake. The Brazilian surged into the box, drawing a clumsy foul from centre-back Ai Zhibo, leaving Conca to do the honours from the spot. With one goal rescued, the hosts continued to push forward with Barrios the target for numerous long-balls but it was on the flanks that success was coming.
With Jiangsu defending their box narrowly, Sun and Feng (Renliang) were able to find space time and time again on the wings but failed to produce any meaningful delivery into the penalty area. It is an area that will disappoint Lippi given his preference for the 3-5-2 setup that did alter the course of the encounter. Jiangsu hung on to their lead, with Uzbeki defender Kamoliddin Tajiev outstanding in defence, while midfielders Wu Xi and Liu Jianye offered industry in the centre of the park.
The visitors, sadly, may not receive the credit they deserve after bouncing back from what was a humbling 5-1 defeat to FC Seoul on Tuesday evening. The attention will fall upon Evergrande who were expected to win the fixture with ease, but rather failed to live up to their pre-match billing. Goalkeeper Zeng and the ever consistent Zhang and Muriqui apart, nearly all of the team disappointed. Lippi will no doubt make clear his feelings on the showing privately, but the likes of Gao Lin, Sun Xiang and Zheng Zhi are better players than they showed on the day. This match, if they weren’t already aware, should make clear to the title favourites that success certainly won’t come easy in 2013.
Guangzhou Evergrande: Zeng Cheng; Zhang Linpeng, Feng Xiaoting, Kim, Sun Xiang; Zheng Zhi, Huang Bowen; Gao Lin, Muriqui, Conca; Elkeson.
Jiangsu Sainty: Guan Zhen; Ren Hang, Ai Zhibo, Tajiev, Zhou Yun; Wu Xi, Krivets, Liu Jianye, Ji Xiang; Salihi, Bari.