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Grading Guoan at the halfway point

With Sunday night’s match, Beijing Guoan has played 15 games this year and has 15 remaining. It’s been an odd first half of the season for the Beijingers, if you told me they’d be where they are now in the standings at the start of the year, I would have been over the moon, and yet now it feels like a bit of a letdown. It’s midterm times, let’s hand out the grades.

With Yang Zhi out for the first part of the year, the pressure has been on backup Hou Sen to step in and take over. Hou didn’t have much in the way of experience at the start of the year and showed it, but he’s since settled down and been solid, even going three games without giving up a goal. He’s prone to weak decision making, over (or under)playing a ball, but he’s still young. With Yang unsure about his future in Beijing, I think most fans are comfortable with Hou in net. Offseason pickup Bai Xiaolei has been good when called in to serve as well.
Grade: B

With big foreign defender Francois completely forgetting how to play defense in the first two matches, then getting himself injured and forced out of the lineup for 5 months, it looked like things were going to be problematic at the back. With Lei Tenglong already out, things looked very nerve wracking at the back, the only options left were Yu Yang or Lang Zheng, but Yu has shown himself to be more than up to the task, even earning a national team call-up in the process.

The rest of the defense has been the aging trio of Xu Yunlong, Zhou Ting, and (slightly younger) Zhang Xinxin and they’ve demonstrated why nobody should underestimate them. Xu serves as the heart and soul of the team and even when it doesn’t seem possible, he finds a way to get back and make tackles. Zhou and Zhang have been effective both at the back as well as pushing forward. If there’s a weakness its in the lack of depth. More than once Darko Matic has had to come back from the midfield to play defense. Lei should be back around August, so things should get better.
Grade: B+

Darko was mentioned above, he’s been solid wherever they have him in the lineup. That’s about the end of the all-out positives when it comes to this area of the field. Wang Xiaolong has been on his game, though he hasn’t scored much, he’s turning himself into one of the league’s most consistent wingers while Piao Cheng is quickly becoming a top attacking midfielder. The problem with Piao is that he’ still young and his game isn’t completely there yet.

The rest have had their moments, but for the most part have generally been disappointing. It’s great to have Shao Jiayi back in Beijing and he can serve as a good option off the bench, but he’s not much beyond that. Mao Jianqing and Manu were both regrettable signings who’ve been disappointments. Xu Liang still can deliver an amazing free kick from time to time and when he’s up for it, he can play (as against Guangzhou), but he tends to be complacent. Zhang Xiaobin was an okay pickup, adding an alternative for one Xu’s heads not in the game. There’s not much to say about Zhu Yifan and I don’t want to get started about Zhang Xizhe.

The best thing I can say is that the midfield is finally starting to come together after putting in some really bad early performances. I’m in between on the grade, mainly because of how Wang and Piao are coming along.
Grade: C+/B-

What can I say, the two offseason signings up top, Reinaldo and Andrija Kaluđerović (or AK to make it easy) have failed to bring their scoring boots with them when they came to Beijing. Reinaldo’s a big guy, but he fails to use his size and he hasn’t been able to connect with the midfield. He may have been hurt by the midfield’s weak performance at the start of the year and/or by being forced to play alone up top, but whatever the reason, he hasn’t scored. AK’s been worse, there was much talk about his Golden Boot for Red Star in the Serbian league, but he’s yet to show that kind of quality in Beijing. Freddie Kanoute’s on his way and Reinaldo may be done in green, just need to hope that whoever’s playing in this position, they have one hell of a second half.
Grade: C-

Jaime Pacheco was the hero of all Guoan fans last season after fighting to second place and a position in Asia, earning the respect of the management and the ability to make demands like having complete control over transfers. Like a lot of managers, he gets set in his ways and can be stubborn at times, like his insistence on playing a 4-5-1 or his belief that Zhang Xizhe is a footballer instead of a curse from the gods. As talked about above, none of the signings brought in this year (except maybe Zhang Xiaobin and Bai Xiaolei) have really worked out. Despite all of that, he has Guoan hovering near the top of the table and playing good football. He’s proven he’s fallible this year, but Pacheco is still one of the league’s better managers.
Grade: B+

Outlook for the second half
Sunday night’s loss moved Guoan back two spots in the table, currently sitting in 4th on 25 points, they are one behind Guizhou, three behind Jiangsu, and 10 behind first place Guangzhou Evergrande. An Asian spot is clearly within reach and if the club fails to secure one, it would be a disappointment. A cup run would also be nice, since they have the advantage of starting out in the quarterfinals. I don’t see a long, protracted losing streak in the cards, but away form is going to be important. Fortunately, their away schedule is somewhat generous, the hardest games will be against Shanghai Shenhua (they’ve never won at Hongkou, the trip to Guiyang, and an away match at Jiangsu on the second to last matchday. They’re going to need a lot of help from the league to take down Evergrande, I just can’t see it happening, but if the Beijingers go on a run, it could make things interesting.

Brandon Chemers aka B. Cheng aka A Modern Lei Feng – is a name which may be familiar to many in the Chinese blogosphere. He currently serves as Editor-in-Chief for Wild East Football and is one of the lonely souls writing about Chinese football in English for the last 10 years. Chemers' credentials are second to none – his former blog focused not only on the fortunes of his beloved Beijing Guoan FC, but a multitude of other aspects of Beijing life. He’s deservedly built a reputation in the Chinese blogosphere as an insightful observer of not only Chinese football, but also the wider picture of life in modern China and its many layers. For WEF, beyond writing about Guoan, he often focuses on fan culture and the business of Chinese football.



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