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Pub Talk: Here we go…

The excitement in the pub is unbearable this week as the dynamic duo of Bcheng and Shanghai Ultra salivate at the prospect of the most anticipated Chinese Super League season in history. But Guangzhou’s jaw-dropping feat in their first ACL game is first up, along with some bold statements from C, and the pair pick out the most interesting games on the weekend’s opening fixturecard. A certain Yangtze delta derby is the obvious game this weekend, Anelka isn’t mentioned much and there’s time to discuss up-and-coming players. Meanwhile, the pair leave the pub early to finish off their season previews…

S: So lets get straight to the hot topic – what about Guangzhou’s 5-1 spanking of Jeonbuk last night?

B: It was definitely an amazing result, quite possibly one of the biggest surprises of the season.

S: Yes, we said before it would be in the ACL that Guangzhou’s true worth would be assessed – well, although its only one game, I think its proven what they are capable of, I don’t think its an exaggeration to say that they are in with a very good chance of lifting the trophy come the end of the year.

B: In the ACL?!?

S: Yes.

B: I wouldn’t go that far. It was an impressive win, their trio of South Americans were absolutely dominant, but the game could have been very different Jeonbuk had two excellent chances in the first half. I still want to see a bit more before I’d go that far.

S: Yeah I know its early, but that’s my verdict. I don’t think its a one-off result, you don’t sign players of the calibre of Conca, and then go and beat last year’s finalists and call it lucky. Certainly they won’t steamroller everyone, but I’d be very surprised if they don’t make it out of their group after this result.

B: I think they’ll make it out of the group, I’m not sure what to attribute it to, but the Thai champs took down Kashiwa as well, an equally impressive accomplishment that should help Guangzhou’s chances.

S: Yes indeed. Your lot didn’t fare to well in Korea though, unfortunately for China.

B: Away matches in Korea are never going to be easy, a 2-1 loss isn’t a horrible result and Guoan was able to regroup and played a lot better in the second half. It’s the first match of the year, but there is a lot of room for improvement. I think we’ll see for sure how good they can be when they face Fuli this weekend.

S: Right, so the big kick-off is finally here. This really is going to be a massive season, and people are actually going to be reading these pub talks from now on. Can you feel the pressure ?

B: The drinking helps to numb that.

S: Yeah it does (hic).

B: It’s certainly not an easy start for Shenhua, starting off with a big derby match that could really set the pace for the season.

S: It’s a tough one for sure, Jiangsu fans really hate Shenhua and they still haven’t forgotten THAT game from last year.
B: You mean to say the hatred isn’t mutual?

S:I don’t think the feeling is mutual. Shenhua fans don’t like Jiangsu, but the rivalry is only a few seasons old, Shenhua fans are much more concerned with Guoan, and then to a lesser extent, Hangzhou. The Hangzhou rivalry has been getting nastier in recent years, the Jiangsu one is heading that way but not so fast.

B: I see, it will be interesting on the field though. Jiangsu is likely to be a contender once again this year, if not for their bad start before they re-armed in the June transfer window, they probably would have earned an ACL spot.

S: That was last year, this year it’s harder to call, I can’t see past Beijing, Guangzhou and Shenhua for the top three spots. Jiangsu will be a good outside bet for an ACL place, alongside Shandong.

B: It is harder to call, but I can’t see Shenhua in the ACL next year, I won’t bet on it, because everything changes when the summer transfer window opens up, but I would bet that Shenhua won’t be in an ACL position in June. Then again, I think they were in an ACL position last June, that didn’t last for very long though, so it just shows how everything can change.

S: That’s true. But Shenhua’s decline in form coincided with Riascos leaving, that was clearly no coincidence. Anelka is on another level completely to Riascos, who himself was easily a cut above the average Chinese Super League foreigner.

B: Yes, so I can see them spending big cash when they aren’t in the top 3 to try and find a way to get back into it.

S: Although Shenhua went on a shockingly bad run last year, I think their final position was false, they have some very good young players – many of whom you predicted would be leaving. But it appears all of them will find themselves in Shenhua’s starting XI on Saturday…

B: Part of that was a bit of ribbing, but I did think that Shenhua wasn’t going to be able to keep all their star players, especially with how much the team spent on Anelka. We’ll see what comes of those young players, though.

S: Heh heh. Well Feng Renliang is in the Chinese NT as is Wu Xi, Cao Yunding most certainly should be and the chance to combine with Anelka will put the spotlight on him this year. At any rate, if Shenhua are prepared to spend big in the summer again, as you say, then they hardly need the money from player sales, it would make no sense to sell promising young Chinese players unless the sums offered were truly ridiculous.

B: Yes, this is what we didn’t know at the time of Anelka, the extent of the investment in the club, which allowed them to keep their players (that and the big surprise of the transfer window, Guangzhou Evergrande’s failure to spend). Feng is quality, but he’s too streaky and can be amazing or go silent for entire matches. I’m not sure about Cao, I respect your views on him, but from what I’ve seen, he just hasn’t struck me as being the next great thing, I don’t rate him over Piao Cheng.

S: It’s hard to say anything definitive about player’s future prospects. So many players anywhere in the world get touted as future stars… most fail to live up to the hype.

B: As a longtime Guoan fan, I understand this more than most, our youngsters are often highly rated and then fade out or fail to improve as they get older.

S: One thing is for sure, Chinese football needs more young players coming through, the likes of Anelka will help spark more interest in the Chinese Super League, but if the money being spent on him doesn’t help improve things at grassroots level, the cash will be wasted.

B: Very true, any other matches from this weekend that excite you?

S: I think the Yangtze delta derby really sticks out, Anelkas first game etc etc, so with all due respect, I can’t really get that excited about other games this weekend.

B: I can understand the excitement for you lot down there, I’m equally interested to see Guizhou’s opener, they should still be a pretty decent side and we’ll see if we’re really rating Shandong’s young squad properly.

S: Yeah that is the one other game that sticks out, to be honest though the rest of the fixture card looks quite bland, most of the games have one team much stronger than the other, but that just means we are sure to see more exciting clashes in the coming weeks to talk about.

B: Hmm, I’d hardly call it bland, I’m excited to see Hangzhou, who really struggled last year, but are reinvigorated after the arrival of Okada, against Qingdao, who were a shock side last year and have a new manager as well. Also, the Tianjin-Aerbin match, what a way for Yu to start his Aerbin career, by returning to Teda Stadium.

S: That is true and to that I would add the other newly promoted team, Guangzhou Fuli, will attract interest to see how they fare in their first match.

B: Haha, yes, I obviously have a rooting interest in that one. Actually, I think with the exception of “Shanzhai” Shenhua against Evergrande, there is reason to be excited about all the other matches, its really hard to call things this year. I think that’s why we’ve both been delaying the posting of our season previews.

S: Shanzhai Shenhua will surely take a tanking from GZ.

B: I think that’s the only given of the weekend.

S: Yes that game is predictable, speaking of which, we also should make predictions before the season kicks off. It would be better to leave that for outside the pub though, sober heads are required this year!

B: I’ll predict there will be a lot of complaints about refereeing and Conca will win the golden boot. I’m also going to take the under on Anelka scoring 20 goals. That’s about all I’m capable of predicting (or guessing) right now

S: Yeah that’s one of the reasons the season is going to be so exciting – there are so many fresh and unknown elements this year. Alright B, well, shall we get out the pub early and get our previews and prediction posts ready for tomorrow?

B: I think that’s a good idea. Any chance next week’s pub chat will be a live event?

S: That could be an exciting affair for our readers. There will be certainly be a lot to talk about then. Tootle pip for now!

B: Cheers, enjoy the weekend and all the hype.

S: Cheers. Here is to a great season ahead.

A leading international commentator on Chinese football frequently quoted by the world's top media. Offers piercing and resolutely honest insights into the bustling crossroads where football, society, economics and politics meet in contemporary China. Based in Shanghai since 2005, observer of the Chinese game since 2000.

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