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CSL 2011 Season Preview: Southern Edition

The Chinese Super League 2011 season is now of course already underway (see video, official opening ceremony footage). The first Shenhua Chinese Super League game kicking off on Friday night instead of the Saturday caught us off guard somewhat in terms of publishing a season preview before any balls were kicked in anger. But undeterred, gives you the run down on each club and their chances in the forthcoming competition. The Wikipedia entry on the 2011 Chinese Super League season is a pretty good starting point for finding out the basic facts about what’s what, so this post will carry some extra info on each club gleaned from the net together with an assessment of their prospects for the year.

Shandong Luneng

Last year: 1st
Chinese Super League 2011 prediction: 1st
Close season transfer spending: $7.6 million

Last season, Shandong Luneng clinched its 4th Chinese domestic league championship, led by Croatian coach Branko Ivanković, and backed up on the field by 17-goal striker Han Peng and midfield dynamos Roda Antar of Lebanon and Chinese international Zhou Haibin. This all-conquering quartet are still in place which is why Shandong are ‘s favourites to win the title again this year.

Guangzhou GAC

Last year: China League (2nd tier) champions
Chinese Super League 2011 prediction: 2nd
Close season transfer spending: $18.2 million

Guangzhou have set the Chinese Super League on fire with a massive investment in playing staff. Since being bought a year ago by Chinese real estate company Evergrande, the club acquired Chinese national team players Gao Lin (striker), former Charlton Athletic midfielder Zheng Zhi, and defender Sun Xiang from Shanghai Shenhua. This trio meant Guangzhou walked the China League last season, which is where they found themselves after being relegated in 2009 for their part in a match-fixing scandal. This close season however, Guangzhou have really gone for broke with a dazzling array of singings, including splashing out a Chinese record 3.2 million Euros on Cleo. The Brazillian striker was instrumental in Partizan Belgrade’s run to the European Champions League group stage last season and a player of his considerable talent must surely have Chinese Super League defenders quaking in their boots. Coached by former Beijing Guoan manager Lee Jang-Soo, Guangzhou are dead certs to at least finish in an Asian Champions League (ACL) place. However, “the Manchester City” of China may find that splashing the cash on top players doesn’t guarantee success.

Tianjin Teda

Last year: 2nd
Chinese Super League 2011 prediction: 3rd
Close season transfer spending: $4.56 million

Coached by former Holland international Arie Haan since 2009, Tianjin will look to build upon their highest-ever Chinese Super League finish last year when they pipped Shenhua to the runners-up spot on the last day of the season. They have brought in seasoned defender Li Weifeng, whose commanding presence recently earned him a recall to the national team, and promising young striker Yu Dabao, who returns to China after a largely fruitless spell with Benefica where he found himself loaned out to several lesser Portuguese sides.  Perhaps a surprising prediction to finish as high as 3rd but your correspondent feels Tianjian have continuity on their side.

Shanghai Shenhua

Last year: 3rd
Chinese Super League 2011 prediction: 4th
Close season transfer spending: $4.56 million

Perennial title challengers Shenhua surprised everyone last year, including their own fans such as ‘s editor, with a creditable campaign following a mass clear out of established players. This year however, its going to be hard for the club to build on this success, particularly with the departure of wild old coach Miroslav Blazevic, who is now coaching China’s olympic team. He’s replaced by Xi Zhikang, who is something of an unknown quantity. Much will depend this season on the form of young sensation Feng Renliang, and last year’s Chinese Super League player of the year and golden boot winner, 20-goal Columbian Duvier Riascos, who Chinese Super League defenders may be more wary of this time around.

Hangzhou Greentown

Last year: 4th
Chinese Super League 2011 prediction: 5th
Close season transfer spending: $3 million

Hangzhou have had the rug pulled from under their feet by being forced to play games in Yiwu and Jiaxing instead of in their home city. That’s unlikely to help them this year, but under the stewardship of former Shenhua boss Wu Jinggui, the Zhejiang province side look good value for a top-half finish. The Shenhua connection of course runs strong, aside from Wu at the helm, and the two sides being just a couple of hours’ travelling distance apart, Hangzhou have Chinese national team captain and former Shenhua number 4 Du Wei marshalling defence, with Sun Ji and Shen Longyuan in midfield. Honduran Luis Ramírez also turned out for Shenhua a few seasons ago and has been scoring prolifically in the Chinese Super League for a number of years now and he will play a key role in making Hangzhou difficult opponents this year.

Beijing Guoan

Last year: 5th
Chinese Super League 2011 prediction: 6th
Close season transfer spending: $3 million

Beijing will enjoy the advantage of a refurbished Gongti (Workers’ Stadium) this season – the aging venue is being converted to a football-specific stadium, dubbed the Chinese San Siro by the Chinese newspapers. Curious media monikers aside, this post at Modern Leifeng will give you an in-depth assessment of the capital sides’ chances. ‘s editor is of course less kind about their prospects – losing promising youngster Huang Bowen in the close season to the K-League is a big blow, and the club’s foreign signings seem rather top-heavy with three strikers amongst their number. A fruitless season for Guoan beckons unless their new Portuguese coach turns out to be a tactical genius.

Dalian Shide

Last year: 5th
Chinese Super League 2011 prediction: 7th
Close season transfer spending: $2.28 million

Dalian are reportedly on big win bonuses this season but the eight-time Chinese champions haven’t won a title for six years now. South Korea’s 2002 World Cup hero Ahn Jung-Hwan remains on their books this year, but he, like Dalian, are largley a spent force these days.

Shaanxi Renhe

Last year: 10th
Chinese Super League 2011 prediction: 8th
Close season transfer spending: $3.6 million

Xian-based Shaanxi are always backed by one of the league’s biggest and most vociferous supports but sadly for them the Terracotta warrior city has never seen much success on the pitch. Last season the club invested heavily in several big signings, of those, former Manchester City defender Sun Jihai, and ex-Shenhua winger Mao Jianqing, will play key roles this season. If this pair play well and stay injury free, Shaanxi could make up for the dissapointment of last season and make a run to the ACL qualification spots. That’s unlikely though as the other teams seem too strong. But again, like most Chinese Super League teams, the strength of their foreign contingent will have a major bearing on their fortunes and their abilities are beyond assessment at this point.

Shenzhen Ruby

Last year: 12th
Chinese Super League 2011 prediction: 9th
Close season transfer spending: $2.28 million

Shenzhen raised eyebrows during the close season with the appointment of former Japan national coach Philippe Troussier, and J-League veterans Takashi Rakuyama and Seiichiro Maki, the first Japanese players to play in China. The club flirted with relegation last year and it looked for a while that the 2004 Chinese Super League winners would go down. But they welcome back Kiwi striker Chris Killen who scored eight goals in 12 games in the second half of last season, and his contributions should be enough to keep them out of trouble this year.

Henan Construction

Last year: 8th
Chinese Super League 2011 prediction: 10th
Close season transfer spending: $3 million

Henan appointed Korean Kim Hak-Beom coach during the close season, but with a lack of familiar names in their squad, foreign or Chinese, another season of mid-table mediocrity beckons for the northern side.

Jiangsu Sainty

Last year: 11th
Chinese Super League 2011 prediction: 11th
Close season transfer spending: $3.6 million

The Nanjing-based side have some pretty hardcore fans amongst their number – a smashed bus window during Shenhua’s away trip last year evidence of that. But its doubtful they can cheer on their side to anything more than another mid-table finish as they enter their third Chinese Super League season after 15 years spent in the second tier division.

Liaoning Whowin

Last year: 7th
Chinese Super League 2011 prediction: 12th
Close season transfer spending: $3 million

Liaoning are one of China’s more established football teams having won honours in Asian continental competition before the game turned professional. But despite their history, they seldom threaten to break into the top four. Hard to see them doing much this season, they have a good young team who can threaten on occasion, and with former Everton defender Li Tie on their books, they could take points off the big boys.

Changchun

Last year: 9th
Chinese Super League 2011 prediction: 13th
Close season transfer spending: $2.28 million

Changchun risk making their 2007 Chinese Super League championship success look like a flash in the pan if they don’t improve upon their mid-table finish of last year, but that is what looks most likely to happen this season with a lack of big signings. Last year they struggled a bit due to their ACL involvement, this year they can concentrate on the league and they will need to do just that to avoid getting sucked into the relegation dogfight.

Chengdu Blades

Last year: China League One (2nd tier) runners-up
Chinese Super League 2011 prediction: 14th
Close season transfer spending: $1.52 million

Frankly, information on Chengdu is rather scant – the club were having financial difficulties, as it seems that Sheffield United sold their stake in the club and now have nothing more to do with it. Although there seems to be no mention of this on the English language internet. The club’s Chinese site doesn’t seem to work either. It’s all very mysterious. The club are alive and kicking though, with Scottish /Australian Lawrie McKinna in charge, and a trio of hiterto unheard of to your correspondent, Aussie signings. That said, can’t see Chengdu doing much in the league this year.

Nanchang Hengyuan

Last year: 9th
Chinese Super League 2011 prediction: 15th
Close season transfer spending: $2.28 million

And so to the relegation places then. Nanchang are most likely to land in one of them – they had their first ever Chinese Super League campaign last year and only narrowly avoided going straight back down. They will struggle again to avoid the drop this time round and are your correspondents’s favourites to return to the China League.

Qingdao Jonoon

Last year: 9th
Chinese Super League 2011 prediction: 16th
Close season transfer spending: $2.28 million

One of the smallest clubs in the league, Qingdao are almost always at the wrong end of the table, and their 13-year run in the top division is really in danger of coming to an end this year. Korean Chang Woe-Ryong is the man charged with preserving their top league status their year, he’s managed several teams in the K-League and in Japan and will have to draw on all his experience to keep his side out of trouble.

Conclusion:

So there you have it. Obviously information on all teams is uneven and such bold predictions will doubtless be proven to be completely wrong in some, if not most, cases come the end of the season. That said, its hard to see the winner not coming from the top four. As for the relegation places, well, these are harder to predict to be honest. It was a very tight finish last year at the bottom last seaon and injuries and suspensions can play a big part in deciding who limps over the finishing line to safety, and who doesn’t make it. We will link back to this post at the end of the season after the fat lady sings, and see how the predicitons stood up.

UK trained journalist and long-time Chinese football observer Cameron Wilson has been writing about Chinese football for over a decade...

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