The Chinese Super League went on a bit of a holiday and so did I, but I’m back and ready to go, just in time for a big weekend. I thought before we look ahead at this weekend though, it would be best to look at Guoan (and the league at the halfway point in the year (okay, it’s actually) one past halfway.
Beijing currently sits in 2nd place, having only lost one match this year. They are well behind leaders Guangzhou, but just being as high as they are is an achievement considering how unrealistic it seemed at the start of the year. Let’s look position-by-position at the squad 16 games into the season
In his two previous years with Guoan, Joel Griffiths scored 8 and 9 goals, respectively, but this year, he’s been on target like never before, with 7 goals halfway through the season. This year he’s regularly scored big goals and has been a greater threat and finds himself in the top 5 of scorers, where we’d expect to see a Guoan striker. His since departed backup, Roberto, impressed during his time in the capital, regularly looking dangerous in his role as super sub.
This is a harder grade, but overall it has to be a solid B. When it’s the right 5 on the pitch, Guoan has looked unstoppable at times. Major offensive assistance has come from Walter Martinez and Xu Liang while Wang Xiaolong and Piao Cheng are having breakout seasons. I’ve said all this without mentioning Darko Matic, a rock in the middle. Unfortunately when it’s not this prodigious five, the midfield hasn’t always looked great. That said, they are the main reason the club is currently in an ACL spot.
At the start of the year I was most worried about the back four and to be honest, they’re still a cause for concern, but they get the job done. Even at his advanced age Zhou Ting has been solid at the back. Xu Yunlong has been Xu Yunlong and Zhang Yonghai has looked good most of the time. On top of that, youngster Lei Tenglong has proven he’s ready for the bigtime and comforts fans that when Xu an Zhang are ready to retire, Guoan’s back four won’t go to pieces. Zhang Xinxin doesn’t attract a lot of fanfare, though the national team is finally giving him a look, his defensive skills are important, but more important are his runs up the wing and ability to get involved in the offense. The defense has its holes, its still aging and slow, but it has done a great job of coming together as a unit all year.
How do you not give Yang Zhi an A? He gave up 5 goals in two matches (2 against Guangzhou, 3 against Hangzhou), but in the other 14 matches, he’s only given up 5 goals. He’s been guilty of a few mistakes, but I think they live longer in the minds of fans due to the fact they are so few and far between. Yang is the one name (along with Darko Matic) that you know will always be in Guoan’s lineup.
In my mind, there’s no debating this grade. Jamie Pacheco took over a weaker side than his predecessor had and has managed to turn it into a winner. His tactics and influence are evident and the side, at times, has played some really beautiful football. He’s also shown himself to be intense and a real personality on the sidelines, though its gotten him in trouble, the league needs more guys like him.