Chengdu Blades (5th) – Shanghai East Asia (1st)
On paper, this should be a daunting tie for the unlikely league leaders but the hosts’ standing in the table is somewhat misleading – Chengdu are going through a tricky run and have lost three of their last five games, most recently an embarrassing 2-1 loss to Beijing Baxi, who themselves had not picked up a win since March.
East Asia on the other hand, remain the team to beat in China League One. Talismanic playmaker Wu Lei continues to be among the best players outside the Chinese top flight whilst at the back, East Asia have only conceded seven goals all season. That said, the team were clearly rattled when Harbin put them under direct pressure in their previous fixture and this will not have skipped the attention of the sides looking to knock the younger pretenders down to size. Saturday’s game will certainly be a tight game for the visitors but one they need to win if they want to confirm their championship credentials.
Chongqing Lifan (8th) – Yanbian Tigers (13th)
Having got off to an awful start to the season that saw the team go winless for the first seven games, Chongqing have suddenly burst into life and will be coming into the Yanbian fixture with five wins on the trot and a sixth successive victory would help them get into the chasing pack behind East Asia. Australian striker, Brendan Santalab, is Lifan’s key player and his six goals are vital for a team that despite their recent run of success, haven’t been able to blow teams away (all but one of their victories this season have been by a single goal).
Yanbian have got off to an equally bad start. After ten games, they had taken eight points from a possible thirty and their leaky defence is threatening to drag them further towards the drop zone. The tricky Xu Bo ( who was last seen in Shanghai sporting an impressively bad bleached blonde mop top) will be expected to carry the team in this game and his goals and guile are one of the few things keeping the Tigers from returning to the basement of CS1. Expect Lifan to win but not by much.
Bejing Baxy (14th) – Beijing Institute of Technology (11th)
Whilst the previous games will involve getting on a plane for at least one set of fans, Sunday’s choicest fixture is probably the clash in the capital between the two Beijing teams not called Guoan. Following their unexpected 2-1 victory over Chengdu last week, Baxy climbed further away from the drop zone and will be hoping Chen Haowei’s winner will be the spark to further good results further down the road. However, looking to spoil the party are cross-down neighbours BIT, and the students will want to turn their own form around after three draws and a defeat in their last five games.
As with most derbies, there should be a generous dollop of needle drifting around the stands, especially as Baxy’s Chaoyang Sports Centre Stadium only holds 8,000 people. The game could go either way although BIT will desperately want to get some momentum going before the following week’s home game against East Asia or else they could starting drifting even lower down the standings.