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CSL Season Preview: Northern Edition

Chinese Super League logoWe’re already a week into the Chinese Super League season and I’ve yet to do my picks, so here goes. Much respect to your Editor in Chief for picking the rankings, I’ve tried that before and don’t have the cojones to do that anymore, so I’m not going to pick’em based on exact finishing position, that’s too complex and they’re all sure to be wrong, instead I’ll just call it as I see it.

The Champions
Shandong Luneng (山东鲁能)
The Chinese Super League has never seen a repeat winner (you’d have to go back to the Jia A days and Dalian’s early 2000s 3 peat), but the smart money is on this side to repeat. They’ve kept all their top talent and some of their youth players are developing fast. If Shandong can match the consistency they showed last season, there’s no reason why they won’t win the league again this year.

The Contenders
Tianjin Teda (天津泰达)
Tianjin is coming off an impressive runners up campaign in 2010 and made a major addition in the off season, bringing in former Chinese national team captain, Li Weifeng. Li’s experience will benefit the young squad, including potential up and comers Chen Tao, Wu Wei’an, and Yu Dabao. While there are some concerns about Arie Haan, who was almost fired last season, the team went on a good win streak late in the season. Look for them to put up a serious challenge this season.

Guangzhou Hengda (广州恒达)
I don’t want to admit that they are contenders, but they probably are, solely due to the massive amounts of cash they splashed around in the close season. They are serious about wanting the title, but much like their women’s volleyball team failed to deliver the prize, I don’t think they’ll do it either (at least not this year). Some of their imports might need time to adjust to the league and their failure to buy Yang Zhi in the offseasonis going to really hurt them going forward.

Hangzhou Greentown (杭州绿城)
Wu Jingui has his charges firing on all cylinders, having miraculously been saved from the drop in 2009, last season they surprised everyone to earn an Asian spot with their side of Shanghai cast offs. If anybody can surpass Shandong this season, don’t be surprised if it’s Hangzhou that does it.

Asian Champions League Contenders
Beijing Guoan (北京国安)
I’m a massive Guoan fan, but they’ve lost some crucial midfield talent in the offseasonand their defense is too old and not deep enough. If they all stay healthy, this team could be a title contender this year, but if they lose anyone in the defense, a top 5 finish wouldn’t be that bad.

Shanghai Shenhua (上海申花)
They lost way too many quality players two years ago, but Miroslav Blazevic, the club’s manager last year, had the team overachieving all season long. This year, a new manager and no real improvements is going to have the side struggling, optimistically they may sneak into 3rd, but like Guoan, if they can finish in the top 5 that should be a satisfying season.

Almost There
Dalian Shide (大连实德)
A new sponsor who is paying out bigtime rewards, a disciplinarian Korean manager who keeps his side in line, and some solid scoring threats means Dalian is going to win some games they shouldn’t, but they’re still a move or two away from mounting a real title threat.

Shaanxi Renhe (陕西人和)
They should have served as the fable for Guangzhou, spending money won’t necessarily win you the title, though Guangzhou may have doubled the expenditures Shaanxi paid out in the 2010 offseason. Players like Sun Jihai and Qu Bo are aging and this offseasonthey didn’t get the support they need. A year of playing together should help them gel and keep them toward the top of the table, but I can’t see them up there when the season ends, unless they come up with a big pickup when the transfer window reopens.

The Pretenders
Changchun Yatai (长春亚泰)
This club had it’s worst season ever in the top flight last year, coming off two straight years of ACL football. It’s a miracle Shen Xiangfu is still at the helm up north, but if he can’t do something with the admittedly mediocre talent he has, he’s unlikely to make it through the season.

Henan Construction (河南建业)
Teams have struggled going to Zhengzhou to face off against Henan the past few seasons, while the side does have some talent, it’s not enough to be anything more than a top 10 team. Zeng Cheng is a phenomenal goaltender and Netto will keep netting them (forgive me that), but they aren’t going to earn many points on the road.

Shenzhen Ruby (深圳红钻)
The hiring of Phillipe Troussier as head coach is bound to make a difference, as well as their Japanese and Australian imports. Unfortunately, outside of their imports,Shenzhen is still a young team that doesn’t have enough talent. Perhaps this is wishful thinking that they’ll stay away from the relegation zone and instead keep themselves challenging at the higher end of the table.

Mid Table Mediocrity
Liaoning FC (辽宁宏远)
Again, this might be wishful thinking, but since Liaoning was able to keep its two talented youngsters, Yang Xu and Yu Hanchao, they should be able to stay up with ease. It’s a good mix of aging know how (Li Tie and Zhao Junzhe) and youth, as well as adding Valdo, who will hopefully do better than he did at Guoan. I don’t think they’ll match their 7th place finish last season, but the top 12 is definitely realistic.

Jiangsu Sainty%C

WEF is greatly honoured to have aboard B. Cheng aka A Modern Lei Feng – a name which may be familiar to many in the Chinese bloggersphere. Cheng has been the other lonely soul blogging in English about Chinese football over the last few years. With both Cheng and WEF’s editor linking back and forth to each others’ sites on a regular basis, it was probably inevitable that they would eventually join forces to try to illuminate and decipher the curious world of Chinese football, with their combined musings. Cheng’s credentials are second to none – his blog focuses not only on the fortunes of his beloved Beijing Guoan FC, but a multitude of other aspects of Beijing life. He’s deservedly built a reputation in the Chinese bloggersphere as an insightful observer of not only Chinese football, but also the wider picture of life in modern China and its many layers. Cheng very generously decided to climb aboard and give WEF his views on the issue of the Chinese footballing day.

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