Are you excited? It’s now just over a week until we first see our Men in Green take the field in the Asian Cup and an extra few days before the 2012 Chinese Super League season kicks off. We don’t know what will come after the opening match on March 10, but at least we know that one will be on the road to Guangzhou Fuli.
This year the team is considerably more stable than it was going into last season, when second seemed too good to be true, expectations are high, but the following are the most important five questions the team faces during the 2012 season.
1. How will Jaime Pacheco handle his sophomore season?
Pacheco took a side that looked like a mid table team with a lot of problems and turned them into a contender for the league title. He had a tough task last year, coming in late and setting up the side, now he’s gone through a season and had the entire offseason. Plus, Guoan management has supposedly given him complete control of the roster. There may not have been much pressure on him last season, but this year it’s going to be a different story. The club will be looking to qualify for Asia again, a solid ACL performance, and a good cup run. Hopefully a better understanding of how the Chinese Super League operates will mean that Pacheco spends more time on the bench and less in the stands, last year he was suspended for almost half the season after a variety of incidents. The pressure is on, but Pacheco should have no problem handling it.
2. How will the goalie situation play out?
There has been one constant for Guoan over the last few seasons, Yang Zhi has been in net. The games he hasn’t appeared in over the last three seasons can be counted on a single hand, so it’s going to jar the system a little that he is unlikely to feature so often in 2012. An injury in a charity tournament in Guangzhou will keep him out for the first month of the season and kept him from being added to the club’s Asian Champions League roster. There has long been a belief that backups Hou Sen and Zhang Sipeng were more than capable and could be future stars, but remaining behind Yang Zhi has meant the pair is slowly getting older without getting a shot to play. After Hou was injured in training last month, the need for another goalie was all the more apparent, the club brought in another keeper, Bai Xiaolei, from Nanchang Hengyuan. Unlike the Guoan pair, Bai has over 30 Chinese Super League matches under his belt, but mostly split time in Nanchang. It’s now looking more likely that Yang will stay in Beijing for the 2012 season and once he’s healthy he is sure to start, though the club will start needing to groom his successor. How Pacheco handles the situation and how the trio of Bai, Zhang, and Hou perform will have a major influence on the season.
3. What can we expect from Andrija Kaluderovic and the other new foreigners?
When Joel Griffiths and Walter Martinez left Guoan, they lost a pair who were responsible for nearly 20 goals. Expectations are high for Kaluderovic, or AK25, to come in and shine this season and the potential is there for him to be the best foreign signing of the 2012 offseason (and that includes Shenhua’s signing of a famous Frenchman). How he and Reinaldo work together is going to be a crucial factor in Guoan’s success in the upcoming season as the club is going to need the pair to score. Manu is likely to be a super sub type coming off the bench and could be a speedy threat on the wing. He’s also the one I’d be most nervous about adjusting to China as AK25 will benefit from having Darko Matic serve as a mentor (and even translator), while Reinaldo has spent time in Asia and moved around enough that he should be fine in Beijing.
4. Will the team’s killer instinct and away form return?
Despite a surprising second place finish last season, Guoan still managed to frustrate fans by showing so much promise early and then falling short in the later months of the season. Having played 30 matches, the team failed to come from behind and win a match in 2011 while they gave up late goals to give the other team a tie or win in five matches. The club’s 7 draws and 3 losses on the road also added to the disappointment of what could have been in 2011. If Guoan has serious title ambitions in 2012, they are going to need to solve their road woes in the new season. Pacheco being such an energetic figure, perhaps having him on the bench instead of in the stands will help push his players to better performances. This killer instinct late in the game is something Lee Jang-Soo instilled in his Guoan sides and is what helped Evergrande to the 2011 title, hopefully Pacheco, known as an intense competitor can help bring that knockout punch back to the capital.
4. How will Mao Jianqing fit in?
Guoan is a Beijing team through and through, and that extends to its players, with a number of the players coming from Beijing. Those who aren’t Beijing natives are almost always northerners, Yang Zhi the one major exception. Mao, the first native Shanghainese to play for Guoan, will be expected to step in and fill Walter Martinez’s role from last year, creating off the wing. From the start it never really seemed Mao was overjoyed by coming to Beijing and he’s had a hard time fitting in so far. He’s sure to be a key part of Guoan’s plans during the 2012 season, so how well they can incorporate him into the team is going to be important for the side’s success.
Bonus Question: Will Zhang Xizhe be able to break the curse of the #10 shirt?
Guoan youngster Zhang Xizhe decided in the offseason that he wanted to switch from #16 to #10. Over the past ten years or so, the number 10 shirt has cursed pretty much every Guoan player who wore it, and most recently even affected those who got close to it, as Davi selected the number 10 and quickly had to return to Brazil. Now Zhang has decided he wants the shirt, here’s hoping he’ll be able to end the “curse” once and for all, but if I were a Guoan player, I’d stay away from him