Hunan Xingtao (2nd) – Chongqing Lifan (6th)
Following Tianjin Songjiang’s sudden loss of form, Hunan Xiangtao have reclaimed the second promotion spot in the CL1 after a good run of form during in the last couple of weeks. Hunan’s captain, Emil Martinez (one of three Hondurans in the team) is a formidable player at this level and his intelligent runs and decent passing ability are critical to his side. Manchester United’s greatest ever Chinese striker (cough, cough), Dong Fangzhou is also in the Hunan line-up but has struggled to bother the score sheet. However, Uruguayan Claudio Cardozo has chipped in with some crucial goals this season and will need to be watched carefully.
The problem for Hunan is that they are facing Chongqing Lifan, who continue to have the best run of form in Chinese football following their sixth win in a row, a 2-1 scrappy home win (as predicted) over Yanbian. Brazilian striker, Augusto scored his fourth goal of the season in the victory and between him and Brendan Santalab, Lifan’s first choice strikers have scored ten goals between them- a tidy partnership for a team that relies on scrapping out narrow victories.
The clash between the two high flying teams has real ramifications for the rest of the league. A Hunan win would cut off Lifan from the group of clubs trying to fight their way into a promotion spot whilst defeat for the home side would allow league leaders Shanghai East Asia to potentially extend their lead at the top to eight points.
Though incredibly tough to call, home advantage is probably the only thing separating two teams that win games the ugly way. Hunan should come out on top but the game won’t be appearing on any highlight packages…
Yanbian Tigers (13th) – Shenzhen Ruby (5th)
Life has been tough for Shenzhen Ruby since their arrival in the world of second division Chinese football. A bad run of games derailed a promising start but having come into an easy part of the schedule, Phillipe Trousier’s side have rediscovered their mojo and are looking for their third win on the bounce.
To be blunt about the hosts, Yanbian are still rubbish. They need to win to avoid drifting further down the table towards the relegation spots but probably won’t.
Shenzhen have beaten up the weaker sides they’ve faced in the division and Saturday’s match probably won’t be any different. The visitors are an offensively minded team and experienced playmaker Benjamin Gavanon should be able to pull apart the Tigers’ paper-thin back line and allow Babacar Gueye and Rony Flores to score the goals required for what should be a simple victory.
Beijing Institute of Technology (10th) – Shanghai East Asia (1st)
The wildly inconsistent BIT overcame their city rivals Beijing Baxy last Sunday with a solid 3-1 away win and will be coming into this game with renewed optimism that they can cause a real upset against a swaggering East Asia side that has won its last four matches.
However, the visitors aren’t league leaders for nothing and a well-marshalled defence and the ruthlessness of attacking midfielder Wu Lei are the cornerstones of a team with real eyes on winning promotion.
East Asia should be expected to win this game comfortably but the statistics suggest this is going to be tight encounter played between two young teams with strong defences (BIT’s backline has only let in twelve goals themselves, the fifth best in the league) so it could well be decided by a single goal.
That said, East Asia obviously need to win, not only because they need to maintain their lead at the top of the table but also to ensure the team continues to gain momentum. Including the game against BIT, the next five matches will see East Asia square off against Hangzhou Greentown in the CFA Cup as well as Lifan and Shenzhen in the league. A narrow win for East Asia, methinks.