Shenyang Shenbei (15th) – Shanghai Tellace (1st)
These are interesting times at the Shanghai Stadium. The once all-conquering East Asia side have lost their aura of invincibility and an increasingly mortal side have started to show its weaknesses. ‘Te Laishi’ have not been helped by some curious decisions along the way- the decision to field back-up keeper Sun Ye backfired spectacularly against Shenzhen Ruby, whilst the decision to loan starting left-back Bai Jiajun to crosstown neighbours Shenhua has also been curious.
Having lost decisively against Chongqing Lifan, thrown away victory against Shenzhen after Sun’s circus act and only beat Guangdong Sunray Cave in the last-minute of the game, the league leaders desperately need a match that can help them rebuild their confidence.
On paper, the match against Shenyang Shenbei should be exactly the sort of game that allows East Asia to reassert their authority but it certainly isn’t going to be easy. Shenbei have not lost in their last four games and the results (all draws) have slowly helped them climb towards the light and get out of the CS1 relegation zone.
A win would lift the home out of the mire and it will take something special for Shanghai to beat them- Shenbei are still unbeaten at home, despite being second-from-bottom in the league. That said, East Asia need to win to rediscover their spark and will be coming out all guns blazing against a team they feel they can beat. Put me down for a narrow win for the league leaders.
Shenzhen Ruby (7th) – Tianjin Songjiang (2nd)
In the ongoing mayhem of a suddenly unpredictable promotion scramble, Tianjin Songjiang moved themselves up into second place after holding Chongqing Lifan to a 1-1 draw in Round 17. To cement their place in the promotion places, they will now have to travel to Shenzhen to face a Ruby side that hasn’t won a game in a month and is struggling to find any momentum.
However, it won’t be that easy for Tianjin, who for starters are absolutely terrible on the road and have only won once away from home all season- against bottom of the league Hohhot Dongjin no less. Moreover, Ruby’s form at home has been pretty strong with only two defeats coming at the Shenzhen Stadium so far this season.
Despite their position, this will certainly be difficult for Tianjin, who have been increasingly reliant on their captain Rong Yu to score goals from midfield. Shenzhen have settled into a 4-5-1 formation that aims to control the middle-third of the pitch and give space to deep-lying playmaker Benjamin Gavanon to dictate play. With all of this noted, the advantage probably lies with Shenzhen, who for once seem like the stronger team on paper when the standings are put aside. This writer’s money would be on a narrow Shenzhen victory.
Hohhot Dongjin (16th) – Dongguan Sunray Cave (10th)
Following their 2-1 win against Beijing Baxy, suddenly Hohhot Dongjin have made the relegation dogfight a lot more interesting and now both Hohot and Shenbei could leap ahead of the team from the capital if results went a certain way.
With that in mind, the visit of Guangdong Runray Cave is significant. In the last seven games, Guangdong have won only once. Were they to slip up again, the team that narrowly missed out on promotion last season could start to get closer to the bottom of the table than the top.
The emphasis is still on Hohhot, whose win against Baxy was their first at home all season. Guangdong, despite their poor form will still be bringing a reasonably strong squad with them and if the hosts don’t hold their nerve, they could get swept away by a team that has scored its fair share of goals this season (23- the sixth most in the league). An upset win for Hohhot would be nice but a draw feels far more likely.