Your weekly Shenhua preview returns in optimistic spirits ahead of this Friday’s bottom-half clash.
Last Time Out
Shenhua’s tricky start to the season continued with their second early-season local derby. Tigana opted for a more orthodox 4-4-2 featuring Cao Yunding and Feng Renliang from the start, and Anelka and Griffiths paired up front. Despite being rewarded with an early Anelka goal, Shenhua were quickly pegged back and the match petered out into a 1-1 draw.
Tianjin, meanwhile, sank to a 2-1 home loss against Guangzhou R&F, who continue their high-flying start to the season.
Causes for Optimism…
The season could start here for Shenhua — following on from fixtures against a combination of traditional rivals and Cantonese table-toppers, Shenhua must go into this one as clear favorites. Teda sit on four points from five games played, with last season’s cup winners having a record of 1 win, 3 draws and 5 losses in all competitions so far.
Not only did Teda lose Arie Haan and Yu Dabao (scorer of a cracker in this fixture last year) over the close-season, but they replaced the latter with Darlington flop Akpo Sodje.
Back to matters Shenhua: North Terrace Preview is standing firm against the anti-Tigana bandwagon for the time being. While Shenhua have been less than stellar going forwards, a much-maligned backline has looked increasingly composed over the season, aided in part by Tigana experimenting with a more defensive-mided midfield at times.
…and for Concern
If the fact that Shenhua have only fleetingly looked dynamic going forwards of late is the main on-pitch concern, this is somewhat overshadowed by the speculation and implications regarding this week’s mass exodus of Tigana’s coaching staff.
Not beating Tianjin might mean that Shenhua can effectively write off this season in terms of competing at the right end of the table. Not nipping in the bud any potential knee-jerk managerial sacking or player-power unrest might mean that even the foundations for rebuilding are more rotten than previously thought.
Anelka & Griffiths. This would be a perfect opportunity for Shenhua’s big-money strike partnership to build on the flickers shown so far and fill their boots. Having both Anelka and Griffiths make intelligent use of space in advanced positions gives the opposing backline some uncomfortable questions to answer, and creates space for midfielders like Cao, Feng, Bozic and Wang Fei to get forwards.
Anelka & Griffiths are also important because the alternative option up front is Mathieu Manset, whose contribution is neatly summed up as “Salmeron without the goals”.
That translates into “a big fat lad who runs around a lot” in plain English.
While an all-guns-blazing approach isn’t to be expected, this could be a great opportunity for Shenhua’s emerging solidity to develop into more attacking confidence, particularly if there isn’t too much of a personnel change from the Hangzhou game (although Song Boxuan and Dai Lin are very much welcome back, particularly if the latter’s injury has cleared up). North Terrace Preview is boldly predicting a Shenhua victory by a couple of goals.