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North Terrace Preview: Shanghai Shenhua v Shandong Luneng

This week’s fan’s-eye Shenhua preview is feeling fickly optimistic following a welcome three points. A sterner test awaits on Saturday in a battle between two staggering traditional Chinese Super League powers.

Last Time Out

Three points! And away from home! A trip to struggling Dalian Shide provided the platform for a welcome boost for all of a Shenhua persuasion last weekend. In a poor game on a terrible pitch, Shenhua won with that rarest of all goals – not only scoring from a set-piece, but from the head of Feng Renliang.

Whoever is picking the team these days opted for a solid 4-2-3-1 line-up strong on effort and short on real flair — although the waterlogged surface and palpable lack of confidence on each side can’t have been helpful factors.

Luneng’s new-look youthful side became only the second side to see off the impressive Guangzhou R&F with a win in Jinan, two first-half goals leaving Luneng sitting alongside Shenhua on a mediocre eight points at this stage.

Causes for Optimism…

Someone, perhaps the man himself, realized that playing Nicolas Anelka up front might not be a bad idea. While starved of service, the Frenchman was crucially too far up the pitch for much of the game to get in the way with his midfield ditherings. The Shenhua defence continues to look much firmer than anticipated at the start of the season, and the general workrate and commitment of the side hinted at a group of players looking  less disjointed than in their previous shambolic performance.

… and for Concern

A number of important players missed out through injury or minor knocks — a sodden bog not being the best surface on which to risk tired or recovering legs. If the injury list doesn’t clear up soonish, the paucity of depth across Shenhua’s squad will begin to show. There’s a limit to how many holes even the admirable Yu Tao can plug, and Zheng Kaimu, while solid thus far, was surely not expecting the be among the top-featuring midfielders for the Hongkou side.

And Jiang Kun is still Jiang Kun — commendable workrate and belief, lamentable touch and ‘pace’.

Watch Out For…

The midfield area could be key for Shenhua. With a semblance of continuity and organization behind them and a misfiring attack in front of them, a lot will come down to whether Shenhua’s midfielders can hold onto the ball and make better use of it (both through clever running and controlled passing) than was the case against Dalian. If Mario Bozic and Jiang Kun are as slapdash with their use of the ball, and Wang Fei as reckless with his positioning and tackling, then Shenhua could be in for a very long evening chasing orange shirts around Hongkou.

Whoever is selected will need to bring their A game to the table this Saturday — the defence can be trusted but only so far, and the likely lone forward (why Shenhua insist on playing variants of 4-5-1 is a North Terrace Preview rant for another day) will need a lot of support.

The Verdict

The head says 1-1, the heart 2-0. North Terrace Preview makes no pretence against optimism and bias, and is looking forward to a Saturday evening cheering on a Shenhua team returning from an away win — not something we’ve had too many chances to do of late.

For the betting public among you, a wager on Anelka’s Hongkou drought to continue may not be a bad call, however — whatever the combination of a lack of fitness or trust in team-mates and unwillingness to leave the comfort blanket of the center-circle, the big-money signing hasn’t looked close to hitting the target at home just yet. Yet another reason to pin hopes on the midfield…

Steve hosts the Chinese Football Podcast, having joined the WEF team as correspondent for Shanghai Shenhua, the side he has followed since moving to Shanghai in 2010. Exiled from the Victorian town-centre idyll of Feethams along with his childhood football team, Steve spent many an (un)happy year on Hongkou's North Terrace along with the Shenhua Element Crew and Blue Devils before relocating to Sydney from where he continues to follow the Chinese game from afar.



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