Beijing Guoan enters the 2012 season with a lot of hope after a surprising season last year, though after the match in Ulsan, fans are now starting to temper their predictions going into the start of the season. No matter what happens on the pitch, Guoan will be backed up by a full house at every home match, for the first time in years, the upper part of the 1st stand will be open and new seating to make Worker’s Stadium a more “soccer-specific stadium” will finally be completed and ready to use.
A Sophmore Slump for Pacheco?
Jaime Pacheco came in as an unknown entity after a long coaching search last season and fans didn’t expect much, but right away the short Portuguese showed that he was a winner, losing only one match in the first half of the season. He had the team firing on all cylinders and was able to balance the talent well, getting the most out of a couple of youngsters, including U-23 captain Piao Cheng and teammate Lei Tenglong.
Last year, Guoan was able to catch some sides by surprise, but will Pacheco be able to do the same thing this season? On top of that, last year he struggled with behavioral issues, being fined and suspended by the league multiple times. He is admittedly a very emotional guy, it has yet to be seen if he can keep his emotions in check and keep himself out of trouble for the entire season. He’ll also have to deal with problems in goal, with Yang Zhi out injured and likely to leave at the end of the season, longtime backup Hou Sen looked nervous in his debut match against Ulsan Hyundai, hopefully that won’t be the case if he’s chosen to face Guangzhou Fuli over the weekend.
They Come, They Go
Guoan lost two of its main goal sources when Joel Judas Griffiths and Walter Martinez left in the offseason, replaced with new arrivals Manu, Reinaldo, and the impossible to spell Andrij K (AK15). AK looks like he’s pure quality, but we’ve yet to see him on the pitch in a Chinese Super League match. If he can take up some of the scoring burden and give Guoan a double digit scorer, the team will be headed in the right direction. It was interesting that the manager chose to start the other new signings Reinaldo and Manu instead. We didn’t see much of Manu and what was seen of Reinaldo didn’t impress, but perhaps he’ll be capable of doing even more against Chinese opposition. The pair will be who Beijing relies upon for goals, though they’ll also expect to score plenty from the midfield with Xu Liang and Shao Jiayi, who is making good on his ten year old promise to retire with his hometown side.
Another new arrival, Mao Jianqing, will be expected to help out in attack on the wing or possibly even up top as a striker. Guoan’s going to need some good performances from him, and not just against Shanghai.
Questions about the young midfield are going to need to be answered as well. As mentioned already, Piao Cheng looked like his pre-injury self against Ulsan, Guoan is hoping the youngster will be ready to step up and if he can, the national team will definitely come calling. Another youngster who should get plenty of playing time is Zhang Xizhe, whose been promising but still raw.
Defense That Could Go Either Way
The Men in Green’s defense always looked to be like it’s strongest suit, but after the Ulsan match many are questioning how they’ll hold up. Further, the sale of Zhang Yonghai and Lu Jiang are two decisions that have fans wondering what’s going on in Guoan’s front office. While neither were likely to get much playing time, both are veterans who offer cover to an old defense. While Francois was expected to be the rock in central defense, he was very porous against Ulsan and at times he’s struggled to impart his full physical force on matches. If he plays like he did against Hangzhou and Shandong in the CFA Cup last year, Guoan will be safe, if he plays like he did against Ulsan, there will be blood.
It’s all the more imperative to have a solid defense because of the questions in goal. Yang will be out for awhile but even when he comes back, he probably won’t be starting week to week, so it will be important that those playing in front of whoever is in net are solid and don’t allow any easy chances. Last season, the rest of China finally found out what Beijingers have known for awhile, Zhang Xinxin is the truth. “Sister Xin” is a highly talented player, a good left back who can also get forward and influence the attack. On the other side, despite his age, Zhou Ting showed that when needed, he was ready to step up, absolutely shutting down such talented players as Conca and Feng Renliang. The defense gave up the fewest amount of goals in the Chinese Super League and if all four starters can stay healthy, they should be able to come close to matching that feat this season. Youngsters Lei Tenglong, Yu Yang, and Lang Zheng are capable of providing cover when needed, though it has yet to be seen how Lang will do. He was a big part of the lineup at the start of last season, but struggled in a match against Hangzhou and never got his spot back.
What It All Means?
Other than Guangzhou, there isn’t a side in the Chinese Super League who can field a better starting XI than Beijing Guoan. Combine that with the intelligence of their manager and you have what is sure to be a deadly combination. If Yang Zhi comes back soon or if the other goalies can keep their nerves, this team is going to be very hard to beat. While it isn’t quite as deep as it was last year due to a number of players leaving, it still looks strong and can re-arm when the summer transfer window opens up. The ACL will be a point of stress and the travel will have an impact, but bottom line, this side should finish in an ACL spot and have a good cup run.