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Jiangsu Sainty 2012 Season Preview

One of the memorable stories of the 2011 Chinese Super League season was Jiangsu Sainty turning around a dreadful start to shoot up the standings with the club eventually finishing in fourth place, one spot out of the Asian Champions League. During the off season the club made relatively few personnel changes, keeping the core of the squad intact. With the bar being raised Jiangsu fans have also raised their expectations of what the team can and should achieve.

Key Returners
One question on many peoples minds during the off season was whether or not Jiangsu would be able to keep the forward combination of Cristian Dănălache and Aleksandar Jevtić intact. Much to Jiangsu fans delight, the two eastern Europeans remained with the club and will both look to improve upon a successful 2011 season. Dănălache finished third in goals scored last season in the Chinese Super League with 13. His partner in crime, Jevtić, finished sixth in the league with 11 goals, an incredible feat seeing as the 26 year old striker joined Jiangsu midway through the season!

In the midfield captain Lu Bofei will be entering his fourth season with Jiangsu. At 32 years of age Lu is no spring chicken but he is still a very capable center mid and a fan favorite. Also returning to the midfield will be Chinese national team player Liu Jianye. The 24-year old played in all but two matches last season and will be an important piece of the puzzle in 2012.

Last season Jiangsu gave up the fourth fewest goals in the league and with the defense remaining mostly intact the 2012 season looks bright. Fan favorite and vice-captain Eleílson returns for his fourth season. The tall Brazilian is very physical and always a threat on corner kicks. Joining him will be Ren Hang, Zhou Yun, and Uzbek Kamoliddin Tadjiev. Defense should be one of the strong points for Jiangsu in the upcoming season.

Goalkeeper Deng Xiaofei will look to continue his solid form in the 2012 season. After taking over the position from Guan Zhen midway through last season Deng preformed admirably and will most likely be the starting goalkeeper at the start of the season.

Key Losses
Midfielder Paolo de la Haza was the only foreigner to leave the team during the off season. In one year with Jiangsu the Peruvian made over 20 appearances while netting a single goal. With clubs only being allowed to field four foreign players at one time (one of whom must be Asian) De la Haza would usually come on as a substitute late in matches. His departure means the midfield will be made up of entirely Chinese players.

Longtime Jiangsu fans will be disappointed in the loss of forward Tan Si. A Jiangsu native who hailed from Yangzhou, Tan was a vital member of the 2008 Jiangsu team that team won League One and gained promotion to the Chinese Super League. Last season Tan was a third wheel to Cristian Dănălache and Aleksandar Jevtić, normally coming on late in a match as a sub. His loss will be more sentimental than anything else.

After being picked up midway through last season the departure of defender Liu Yu came as a surprise. The 26-year old Chinese national team player made a number of starts for Jiangsu last season and looked to have a promising future. The fact that he was traded to CLS new comer Dalian Aerbin seems like a good fit for Liu as he sees to get a hefty amount of playing time.

Key Acquisitions
Filling the fifth and final international player slot for the 2012 season is Serbian striker Miljan Mrdaković. The 29-year old transfered from Cypriot club AEK Larnaca after playing in the Cypriot First Division for three years. Prior to playing in Cyprus Mrdaković played for CLS side Shandong Luneng from 2008 to 2009. It is unclear how Mrdaković will fit into the lineup. After scoring a combined 25-goals last season Cristian Dănălache and Aleksandar Jevtić seem to have cemented their positions as the two strikers up top. Regardless of his role with the team head coach Dragan Okuka seems to be having his way when it comes to recruiting fellow Serbians to join Jiangsu.

The return of Deng Zhouxiang to Jiangsu was great news for the club. Deng had spent the past two season playing for Shandong Luneng after being transfered from Jiangsu in 2009. The midfielder has earned 29 caps for the national team, but is currently injured. I must admit I’m unsure of the nature of his injury or the length of his recovery time. Hopefully for Jiangsu his injury won’t result in him missing a significant portion of the season.

As editor Shanghai Ultra reported earlier Jiangsu recently signed China under-23 international Jiang Jiajun. The young wideman previously played for rival Shanghai Shenhua. To read more about this transaction read Shanghai Ultra’s article here.

2012 Schedule
The most highly anticipated match of the season just might very well be the season opener on March 10th when Jiangsu face rival Shanghai Shenhua. After last seasons heart breaking loss in Hongkou Stadium Jiangsu will look to upset Shanghai this weekend and walk away with some points. The following is a list of key matches throughout the 2012 season.

March 10, @ Shanghai Shenhua – Will the visitors be able to knock off Anelka and company?
March 17, vs. Hangzhou Greentown – The second Yangtze delta derby opponent in two weeks.
April 28, vs. Henan Jianye – The team that everybody loves to hate. Expect a tense atmosphere in the stadium.
July 8, vs. Shanghai Shenhua – Should be one of the largest crowds of the season for this derby match.
August 18, vs. Shanghai Shenxin – The former Nanchang squad visits Nanjing for the first time.
September 30, vs. Dalian Aerbin – After playing to a 3-3 draw in a friendly last season to two sides meet in the Chinese Super League for the first time.
October 20, vs. Guangzhou Evergrande – Last season Jiangsu knocked off this juggernaut 5-2 at home. Will there be a repeat?

After being born and raised in Seattle, Kenneth came to Jiangsu in 2008. His first CSL match came back in 2009 when Jiangsu Sainty faced Shanghai Shenhua on the road. Despite going to the match as a neutral observer, the passion and heart displayed by the visitors turned Kenneth into a Jiangsu supporter.

For the past two seasons Kenneth has been a season ticket holder for Jiangsu and been a regular with the main supporter group 12th player. Besides going to every home match he also tries to make it to away matches that can be made in a day or two (Shanghai, Hangzhou, Henan, etc.)

The other club Kenneth follows is his hometown team Seattle Sounders FC. Supporting your local club is something he believes in strongly and constantly tries to convince skeptics both in Nanjing and Seattle that there’s nothing better than following your hometown team through the thick and the thin.

Unlike the other contributors to this blog Kenneth does not have a solid understanding of the local language. His posts will mostly be geared towards what he knows best, Jiangsu Sainty.

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