Back in March, I mapped out Beijing Guoan’s title prospects by making predictions as to how many points the club needed each month if it wanted a serious shot at the title. When I made those picks, I said Guoan would need 66 points for a shot at the title (as it turned out Guangzhou won with 68 points). Early on, it looked like Guoan may be able to reach that mark, but a rough summer killed that hope. Here is what the “predictions” were and how things actually ended up:
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When I made those predictions, it was based more on utter optimism than reality, Guoan would no doubt be a top 5 club, but it was hard to envision them contending for the title after losing Huang Bowen and Yang Hao, two national team midfielders, in the offseason and with a defense that was aging it looked like an uphill battle. The one major summer signing was Piao Cheng, a youngster who’d never left his home club in Yanbian, and though he’d played for the Olympic team, he didn’t seem ready for the Chinese Super League yet. The signing of Brazilian Davi was a unmitigated disaster (and ‘s Biggest Waste of Foreign Player Slot). Most of all, after a managerial search that was frought with problems, the club hired Jaime Pacheco, who was new to the Chinese Super League and was a definite x-factor.
The club got off to a winning start against Jiangsu, but then got crushed by Hangzhou at home, leading fans to start worrying what the season was going to be like. The next match, away at Guangzhou, was one of the season’s better matches, though it was spoiled for Guoan fans by Guangzhou’s late equalizer. If there were any concerns about the team, they were very quickly answered by a string of four wins in five matches where Guoan scored more than once and shut out the opponents. The one non win was a 0-0 draw away at Liaoning, a match cursed by pathetic refereeing, but one that would serve as an omen for things to come.
There are a few reasons why Guoan didn’t lift the title this year and one of the biggest was seen in June and July. The club was hard to defeat, but at the same time, they weren’t getting wins. Guoan was streaky this year, the Liaoning draw in May started one of the club’s most unfortunate streak, which saw them go six away matches without a victory. It was over four months, from May to September, between Guoan away wins. Their home form in the summer wasn’t much better. From June to August, Guoan drew 7 of 12 matches.
The other major reason why Guoan only finished second this year was the inability to deliver a knockout blow. Though Guoan were often able to find an equalizer, the club failed to come from behind to win a match in 2011, a striking stat. At the same time, more than one opponent was able to get a late equalizer or winner against the Men in Green, giving up late goals against Guangzhou, Shandong, Shaanxi, and Shanghai. This is in direct contradiction to the situation in Guangzhou, a team that seemingly never failed to get the late equalizer or winner. This has a lot to do with a side’s mental state and the coaching, Pacheco’s known as a man who always wants to win, hopefully he can impart that into the side next year.
I’ve focused heavily on the negative so far, but let’s look at the positives. For one, the “Liang Ma Qiao” combination of Xu Liang, Walter Martinez, and Joel Griffiths provided 27 of the clubs goals and were a massive trio. Yang Zhi’s amazing streak of 620 minutes without giving up a goal (with credit to the defense) impressed as well. A number of youngsters were trusted with important roles in the side this year and they didn’t disappoint, Piao Cheng, Zhang Xizhe, and Lei Tenglong all look like they’ll have a great future in Guoan green.
Second place and Asian Champions League football is nothing to sneeze at, especially in light of expectations at the start of the season, but Guoan promised so much in the early months that it’s easy to see why fans started hoping for more. Now the focus turns to 2012 and building on this year’s momentum.