With both sides coming off a big derby win in their last league fixture, we could be set for a tasty clash down in the south, with the potential of an African striker shootout looming.
Last Time Out
There has been a lot said on these pages following the China Derby last weekend at Hongkou – Shenhua demonstrated the welcome ability to capitalize on an against-the-run-of-play break in the first half, and came out the more focused and composed side in the second. This could be a direct result of the classy Giovanni Moreno finding his feet in the center of a solid midfield three – part of a 4-3-3 system which Batista is beginning to get Shenhua looking fairly solid in.
The midweek 0-0 draw and subsequent surrender from twelve yards in Changchun was less encouraging, while still solid – the real outcome from that match is the death knell being sounded on Shenhua’s ACL hopes, and the subsequent need to focus on preparing for 2013 and integrating Dogma into the side.
R&F had their own African EPL recruit on the pitch for the Guangzhou derby, with Yakubu’s faintest of touches to a wicked inswinging corner sealing an impressive 1-0 victory and even more impressive league double over their bigger-spending neigbours.
Causes for Optimism…
A qualified football manager with international experience; a hardworking midfield three; a team built on the basis of solidity in the center of the park and darting runs in and around the box; and a misfiring misfit Nic Anelka. It’s almost as if we’re back where we started under Tigana, whose sole Hongkou victory came over R&F back in Round 3. This time around Shenhua have the added class and drive in the middle of the park offered by Moreno, a more attack-minded version of 4-3-3, and the small matter of a new centre-forward who bullied Napoli, Barcelona and Bayern Munich on the way to a European Champions’ League victory this spring.
…and for Concern
First and foremost, this is Shenhua. 2012 vintage Shenhua, no less – a side who veer from table-topping quality to relegation-zone depths within a week, and tend to get stuck in a rut of the latter. Aside from a salary which looks more like larcenery with each passing week, the “what to do with Nicolas Anelka” question becomes more pressing with foreigner spots at a premium and Anelka’s touch beginning to go the way of his workrate and positioning – not so much downhill, more headlong-off-cliff.
As is becoming customary in this lopsided fixture calendar, Shenhua are also facing yet another very good quality CSL side here who will punish any sloppiness – back at the start of the season we may have had them pinned down as plucky upstarts, but consistent quality performances and results, particularly at home, have R&F marked down very much as a side to be respected and watched in this league.
Watch Out For
It has to be Didier, doesn’t it? This could be the Shenhua debut for a player who is currently still one of the top strikers in world football. Drogba’s debut, when it finally comes, will throw up some interesting questions:
– Just how match-fit can a man who last kicked a ball competitively in May be after only a week in China?
– Will integrating Drogba mean a re-shuffle for the increasingly settled system which Batista is employing?
– Anelka or Moises: who misses out? North Terrace Preview concurs with the boys in this week’s Pub Talk & says for footballing reasons, it has to be Nico.
Two decent sides in decent nick — were this match at Hongkou, calling the home win would be that much easier. R&F’s enviable home record and Shenhua’s pitiful away record are enough to call a reality check to over-optimism: North Terrace Preview is plumping for the 1-1 draw again, although with an illogical fantasy of Shenhua nicking a winner.
Ground: Hongkou Football Stadium, Hongkou District, Shanghai
Capacity: 35,000 (26,000 for football)
Honours: Chinese top-tier league champions: 1995
Chinese top-tier league runners-up: 1996, 1997, 1998, 2000, 2001, 2005, 2006, 2008
Chinese FA Cup winners: 1998
Chinese FA Cup runners up: 1995, 1997, 2015