It’s another long trip north for Shanghai Shenhua this weekend. With reports of their big-money foreign strike force back on the pitch, will the boys from Hongkou have what it takes to overcome last season’s surprise package in Shenyang?
Last Time Out
While Liaoning became the latest side to leave Guangzhou R&F with nothing to show for their efforts in a game pitting last season’s surprise Chinese Super League package against this year’s plucky upstarts, Shenhua snoozed their way through a stalemate of the slumbering giants at home to Shandong Luneng.
Given that Shenhua were missing their first-choice front three and only naturally left-footed player, the performance and result weren’t too disappointing — Shenhua contained a slightly superior Luneng side with reasonable comfort, but lacked any hint of a cutting edge going forwards. Good at the back and limp in attack — this season’s Shenhua incarnation is taking some getting used to.
Causes for Optimism…
North Terrace Preview risks becoming a weekly copy-paste, but this bears repeating: this defence looks genuinely assured. In the longer-term picture, it’s encouraging to see three of last season’s talented disappointments putting in a lot of effort and coming good: Wang Dalei adds composure and catching to his undoubted shot-stopping flair, and seeing him ending up benched for comedy fatman Qiu Shenjiong is unthinkable in 2012. Dai Lin seems to have remembered to screw his brain in of a morning, and combines the best bits of both hard-tackling and ball-playing centre-backs.
And, particularly evidenced at Dalian Shide and at Hongkou last weekend, Feng Renliang seems to have decided he does want to be a footballer — this columnist is pleased by a marked improvement in his work rate and running, and willingness and ability to put in some kind of left-footed cross without falling flat on his face.
And, best of all, with Griffiths and Anelka reportedly back to fitness, Mathieu Manset should get nowhere near a football field in Shenyang.
… and for Concern
Shorn of Cao Yunding, Shenhua lack willing midfield runners — the 4-5-1 experiment works only if there are numbers supporting from midfield. Feng is a willing runner, and Jiang Kun would be if his geriatric frame allowed him to keep up the pace, but otherwise Shenhua continue to look markedly flat going forwards. If professional stooge Jean Ibenge doesn’t send Anelka’s team out with two up top, it could be a long 90 minutes up in Shenyang.
Watch Out For…
North Terrace Preview is taking a break from weighing in with further Anelka criticism, giving the Frenchman one last chance to see if he can put in a half-decent shift without being interrupted by exchanging all those lazily-earned RMB to Euros in his head.
Instead, we this week introduce you to Mario Bozic Bingo (TM): keep a close eye on the Bosnian, and give yourself a point for each time he:
– Lunges into a two-footed tackle and gets nowhere near the ball
– Decides not to track a runner and gets nowhere near the play for a couple of minutes
– Receives a pass and runs with the ball at a speed which makes Jiang Kun look like Usain Bolt
– Sprays a hopeful 30-yard shot several feet high and wide, acknowledging the crowd’s chants of “Mario”
– Takes a set piece and hits the first man
– Gives the ball away with a sloppy pass and uses furious gestures to make it look like a team-mate’s fault
For those watching with a friend, divvy up these and take three each — see who completes their checklist first. Everyone’s a winner within the first 20 minutes.
Despite having possibly the worst name in the Chinese Super League, Liaoning are a proper football team, and both Shenhua’s resilience and returning strike force are in for a big test. Expect another low-scoring affair decided by one goal — likely a one-niller if the Shenhua attack don’t find their feet. A second away win would be very welcome, but North Terrace Preview wouldn’t be unhappy with a point.