Nicolas Anelka sat out with a late injury as Shanghai Shenhua laboured to a 0-0 draw with Shandong Luneng at Hongkou Stadium on Saturday night.
He took his place in the directors box, and not in the technical area – that was the domain of the mysterious Jean-Florent Ikwange Ibenge, who became the latest occupant of the Shenhua hot seat following the club’s announcement on Thursday.
Anelka was one of four regulars ruled out through injury – Joel Griffiths, Cao Yunding and Song Boxuan were the other absentees as several unknowns from Shenhua’s youth side were awarded rare first team outings, including Wang Guanyi and Fan Linjiang who found themselves starting in midfield. This week’s obligatory player being played out of position was Yu Tao at left back.
The absence of Griffiths and Anelka left Shenhua toothless. Mathieu Manset started the game a outs lone striker, but his criminal lack of basic footballing ability meant the home side were always going to struggle – where were Shenhua’s goals going to come from? No-one, and none were scored.
Shandong must have won the toss because Shenhua were shooting towards the north terrace in the first half which is extremely rare. The visitors started brightly and Yuan Weiwei eluded several challenges in the box and somehow fashioned a turn and shot which Wang Dalei had to look sharp to keep out in the opening stages.
With the Shenhua line-up again the subject of a major reshuffle, albeit due to injuries, it was no surprise that the team looked disjointed and out of sorts. They made very little headway in the first half, Jiang Kun managed a run down the wing in the 12th minute, but his cross wasn’t met accurately by Feng Renliang.
Yu Tao managed a nice lob in the 35th minute down the wing for Feng Renliang to chase. He couldn’t beat his man but got the ball back again via Jiang Kun, his cross looked dangerous but Shandong keeper Geng Xiaofeng just about managed to grab the ball as it skidded on the turf in front of his hands.
The second half saw Shenhua up their game somewhat, but still Shandong looked the more dangerous side. Wu Xinghan was unlucky not to score, when a penalty box stramash saw the ball fall to him at the edge of the box, but Wang Dalei was again the hero for Shenhua when he pulled off another great save.
Jiang Kun made way on the hour mark for 20-year-old midfielder Wang Yang, who spent last year on loan to Lithuanian top tier side FK Suduva. Midway through the second half, Manset somehow managed to beat a couple of defenders, in what appeared to be a matter of luck rather than skill. But, in an act of ineptitude, he wasted his good fortune by electing to shoot from a ridiculously tight angle rather than passed to unmarked Wang Yang who had a clear goalscoring opportunity.
That was about it in a game which Shandong edged in terms of possession and shots on goal. The highlight of the match probably came in the final five minutes when Shandong’s Brazilian forward Gilberto Macena was booked for a pathetic dive in the Shenhua penalty area.
And so the contest finished 0-0, and Shenhua failed to score at home for the 3rd consecutive game. Again, not a terrible performance by the home side, certainly better than in their last home outing against Tianjin, and key players were missing. But the performance shows the lack of strength and depth in the squad.
With the exception of the defeat against Tianjin, none of Shenhua’s individual performances in their eight games so far have been particularly poor. It’s just that, with fans paying more than double for season tickets to sign the likes of Anelka and goodness knows how much money burned on hiring Tigana then firing him after just five games, expectations on the terraces are higher.
Shenhua continue to play without much purpose or fluidity. Is Jean-Florent Ikwange Ibenge the man to turn things around? Time will tell, but it’s already running out on hopes of Shenhua taking any positives from this season.
Ground: Hongkou Football Stadium, Hongkou District, Shanghai
Capacity: 35,000 (26,000 for football)
Honours: Chinese top-tier league champions: 1995
Chinese top-tier league runners-up: 1996, 1997, 1998, 2000, 2001, 2005, 2006, 2008
Chinese FA Cup winners: 1998
Chinese FA Cup runners up: 1995, 1997, 2015