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R&F Review: A Tale of Two Cities

Or rather, of Guangzhou and everywhere else in China. After the first third of the season China Super League newcomers Guangzhou R&F sit second in the table mainly thanks to seven home wins. However, this disguises the fact that there has only been one victory on the road.

It’s been a case of agony or ecstasy for R&F after every game this season as they are the only club in the league not to have drawn a match. Most of the ecstasy has come at Yuexiushan where R&F have a 100% record. The most notable victory was a hard fought 2-0 win against reigning champions and city rivals Guangzhou Hengda in only R&F’s second game in the top flight, whilst the recent 5-1 demolition of Changchun was the most convincing performance.

All the agony has come away from home with R&F losing four from five; the sole win coming against Tianjin Teda way back on 8th April. Some of these have been heavy defeats too, so despite a respectable average of a goal a game away from home R&F’s goal difference on the road is -6. The defensive frailties were most obvious against Guizhou Renhe where some really sloppy set-piece defending led to a 3-0 loss.

Four of the five foreign imports have been central to R&F’s early season good form. The pair of South American attacking midfielders Rafael Coelho and David have both scored 7 goals which is almost half of the 15 goal season long target set for them by manager Sergio Farias. Royston Griffiths, an Australian who counts as the club’s Asian player, and the Brazilian Jumar have both performed well in defensive midfield. The fifth foreigner is Brazilian striker Leonardo but he has only managed 10 minutes as a substitute so far and with his contract due to expire shortly if any foreigner is to leave it is most likely to be him.

For R&F to sustain their current second place an improvement in defence is required and, if Leonardo does leave, this could be filled by a foreigner. However, it is less clear which current starter would have to make way. Captain Li Zhe has been a tower of strength in the air at home, if not away, whilst fellow centre back Xu Bo has done enough, despite injury and suspension, to earn a call up to the national squad. Likewise young right back Tang Miao whose attacking play is excellent. This leaves left back Liu Cheng although it’s hardly fair to saddle him with all the blame for the away defeats.

Instead an improved mental attitude may be what is required and this will have to be developed fast as three of the next four games are away from home, including trips to Beijing and Nanjing, so will not be easy.

Challenging times then for manager Sergio Farias, who must also deal with the move away from the historic Yuexiushan Stadium to the modern Guangzhou University City Stadium on the other side if town. One constant away from the R&F team on the pitch has been the passion of the fans and, sadly, the small numbers of them who turn up every other week. With attendance currently around 5,000 – 6,000 per game, the stadium move can only increase this and will hopefully spur the surprise package of this Chinese Super League season to greater feats in the second third of their campaign.

Donald began following Guangzhou R&F having moved to China in the same year that R&F moved to Guangzhou. The club's first foreign season ticket holder, Donald was able to watch three seasons at Yuexiushan before returning to the UK.

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